Proskauer and co-counsel Disability Rights Advocates (“DRA”), a nationwide nonprofit disability rights legal center, triumphed in a Chicago court this month, obtaining a ruling that will lead to historic accessibility improvements for the more than 65,000 people with vision difficulties who live in Chicago. The Court granted summary judgment on claims that the City of Chicago discriminated against blind and low vision pedestrians under federal disability rights laws by failing to install accessible pedestrian signals (APS) at signalized intersections. American Council of the Blind of Metropolitan Chicago, et al. v. City of Chicago, No. 1:19-cv-06322 (N.D. Ill.).
In 2014, I had the privilege of representing two extraordinary young asylum seekers who had fled from Macedonia, where, because they are a gay couple, they had suffered extreme homophobic violence and sexual abuse at the hands of civilians and police officers. In 2021, I had the honor of helping them become U.S. citizens.
In reflecting on my clients’ seven-year journey to United States citizenship, I am reminded of how much has changed, but also how much has unfortunately remained the same and how far we have yet to go in the pursuit of LGBTQ human rights both at home and abroad.
The first of my two Macedonian clients arrived in the U.S. in 2012, and the second client joined him here in May 2013, just one month before the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in United States v. Windsor, 570 U.S. 744 (2013). In Windsor, the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), through which Congress had sought to define “marriage” and “spouse” in more than 1,000 federal laws and federal regulations in a way that excluded same-sex spouses, thereby depriving them of the benefits that would come with federal recognition of their marriages and imposing “a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter same-sex marriages.” Id. at 770. The Supreme Court found that DOMA deprived gay and lesbian married couples of equal liberty under the Fifth Amendment because it interfered with the equal dignity of marriages under State laws recognizing marriage between same-sex spouses.
An anxious mother, detained in a separate facility from her son, is informed that authorities had lost track of him. A devastated father is deported without his child. A crying child is ripped from his father’s arms and put into a cage-like metal cell. These Proskauer clients – all escaping violence in Central America – suffered those horrors not in their home countries but in the country where they sought asylum, in the United States.
Beginning in 2017 as a pilot project, the U.S. government began splitting thousands of families in an effort to deter immigration across the southern border. The practice became official in 2018 through the government’s “zero tolerance” policy which called for the detention and prosecution of all individuals – including those seeking asylum – who crossed the border anywhere other than an official port of entry.
While national outrage prompted an official end to the policy, the government did not stop, and to this day continues to separate families. In total, over 5,500 children have been separated from their parents since 2017, at least 1,100 of whom were separated after the policy officially ended. Tragically, the parents of 666 separated children still have not been found.
The idea that individuals with a felony conviction should be barred from voting for at least some period of time is widely accepted across the United States. But when you consider that current laws arose out of explicit racial animus following the Civil War and the end of slavery; when you look at the disproportionate effect the practice has had on people of color; and when you weigh the arguments in favor of disenfranchising millions of Americans – it becomes apparent that states should revisit this issue as part of broader criminal justice reform efforts and broader calls to address systemic racism.
Currently, over five million Americans who otherwise qualify to vote cannot do so as the result of a felony conviction.
Working alongside Freedom Now, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advocacy for prisoners of conscience around the world, Proskauer obtained a victory before the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (the “Working Group”) for our client, Shakthika Sathkumara, an award-winning author who had been detained by Sri Lankan authorities for the publication of a fictional short story.
Our petition to the Working Group alleged that Mr. Sathkumara’s detention was arbitrary and therefore impermissible under international law. As such, we requested that the Working Group direct the Sri Lankan government to cease its prosecution of Mr. Sathkumara’s case and end all restrictions imposed upon Mr. Sathkumara’s freedom of movement.
Last week, Proskauer’s Chicago office, in partnership with HSBC Bank (HSBC), hosted a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) clinic to assist 12 pro bono clients with preparing their DACA renewal applications.
The DACA program provides eligible, undocumented immigrants who came to the United States before the age of 16 with a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation, along with work authorization and the ability to apply for a social security number. While the United States government is not currently accepting DACA applications from new enrollees, individuals who are currently on deferred action status can re-apply to maintain their status.