Thursday, April 30, 2020

Court Rules Detroit Students Have Constitutional Right To An Education

It's stunning to think that the U.S. Constitution is silent on education as a fundamental right.  This case out of Detroit, Michigan, is one to watch.  -Angela

Students walk outside Detroit's Pershing High School in 2017. A 
lawsuit claims the state of Michigan failed to provide the city's 
students with the most fundamental of skills: the ability to read.
Carlos Osorio/AP
In a landmark decision, a federal appeals court has ruled that children have a constitutional right to literacy, dealing a remarkable victory to students.
The ruling comes in response to a lawsuit brought by students of five Detroit schools, claiming that because of deteriorating buildings, teacher shortages and inadequate textbooks, the state of Michigan failed to provide them with the most fundamental of skills: the ability to read.
For decades, civil rights lawyers have tried to help students and families in underfunded schools by arguing that the U.S. Constitution guarantees children at least a basic education. Federal courts have consistently disagreed. Until now.
The ability to read and write is "essential" for a citizen to participate in American democracy, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday. One cannot effectively vote, answer a jury summons, pay taxes or even read a road sign if illiterate, wrote Judge Eric Clay, and so where "a group of children is relegated to a school system that does not provide even a plausible chance to attain literacy, we hold that the Constitution provides them with a remedy."
"Like a daycare"
The 2016 complaint alleges that Michigan's then-Gov. Rick Snyder and the state's board of education denied Detroit students their fundamental right to literacy. It cites textbooks that were tattered, outdated and in such short supply that teachers could not send work home. The suit also describes school buildings that were in shocking disrepair: broken toilets and water fountains, leaking ceilings, shattered windows.
In warmer months, the complaint says, a lack of air-conditioning caused some students to faint; in winter, students regularly wore hats, coats and scarves to class. Students became accustomed to seeing cockroaches, mice or rats scurrying across the floor.
"You're sitting down in the classroom, and you see rodents in a corner. Or you can hear things crawling in the books," says Jamarria Hall, a plaintiff in the class-action suit, who graduated in 2017. "But the saddest thing of all was really the resources that they had, like, being in a class where there's 34 students, but there's only six textbooks."
Given these conditions, the five K-12 schools named in the complaint also struggled to retain teachers. Many classes were taught by paraprofessionals or inexperienced teachers placed through the Teach For America program. Often, Hall says, when teachers quit suddenly or didn't show up, students would simply be sent to the gym.
"For days on end — weeks on end — if the school didn't have a substitute or couldn't fill that gap, the gym was basically the go-to place. Or they would set students down in the classroom and really put on a movie, like Frozen... like a daycare," Hall remembers.
At one school, the complaint says, a math teacher quit soon after the school year began "due to frustration with large class sizes and lack of support. ... Eventually, the highest performing eighth grade student was asked to take over teaching both seventh and eighth grade math. This student taught both math classes for a month."
The complaint delivers a crushing assessment of these schools' failure to educate students: Proficiency rates "hover near zero in nearly all subject areas," it says.
"Illiteracy is the norm."
Previous legal efforts to argue that families in low-income, underfunded schools deserve better have run headlong into the U.S. Constitution, which makes no mention of the word "education," let alone a right to it.
One of the most famous cases, San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguezmade it all the way to the Supreme Court before the justices, in a 5-4 decision, ruled that families in poorer districts have no federal right to the same levels of funding as wealthier districts. They essentially said: The system isn't fair, but the U.S. government has no obligation to make it so.
In fact, the first judge to hear the current, Detroit case came to much the same conclusion.
U.S. District Judge Stephen Murphy dismissed the Michigan suit in 2018, writing that, yes, "literacy — and the opportunity to obtain it — is of incalculable importance," but not necessarily a fundamental right.
The students' lawyers disputed Murphy's reasoning and appealed his ruling, and, on Thursday, two of three judges took their side.
"We're not asking for a Cadillac"
In the past, many of the arguments used to pursue educational equity in the courts have been inherently comparative. Using the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, lawyers have focused on disparity — how one school or one district's resources compare to another's.
"This [case] is different," says Tacy Flint, a partner at Sidley Austin LLP and a lawyer for the plaintiffs. "It's not comparative. It's not a question of some people being treated worse than others. This fundamental right to a basic minimum education is a right that every child has."
Flint and her co-counsel focused more on a different pillar of the 14th Amendment, the Due Process Clause, saying the Constitution protects essential rights that "you can't imagine our constitutional democracy or our political life functioning without." And, Flint says, "access to literacy clearly fits that description."
Put simply: The plaintiffs' lawyers did not set out to level the playing field for all students. Instead, they attempted to use the appalling conditions of five Detroit schools to establish a floor.
"This case focuses squarely on literacy as the irreducible minimum," says Kristine Bowman, professor of law and education policy at Michigan State University.
And that minimum is pretty minimal.
"We're not asking for a Cadillac, or even a used, low-end Kia. We're asking for something more than the Flintstones' car," says co-counsel Evan Caminker, a former dean of the University of Michigan Law School.
In his dissent to Thursday's decision, Circuit Judge Eric Murphy argued that accepting literacy as a constitutional right would open a Pandora's box for states, and force federal courts to wrestle with questions beyond their purview: "May they compel states to raise their taxes to generate the needed [school] funds? Or order states to give parents vouchers so that they may choose different schools? How old may textbooks be before they become constitutionally outdated? What minimum amount of training must teachers receive? Which HVAC systems must public schools use?"
Murphy wrote that history, and legal precedent, are on his side: "The Supreme Court has refused to treat education as a fundamental right every time a party has asked it to do so."
After all, the judge reasoned, food, housing and medical care are also "critical for human flourishing and for the exercise of constitutional rights," but the Constitution "does not compel states to spend funds on these necessities of life." Why should education be any different?
A spokesperson for Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says her office is reviewing the court's decision before it decides what to do next. Whitmer's office also said in a statement that "the governor has a strong record on education and has always believed we have a responsibility to teach every child to read."
While the ruling is historic, it comes with several caveats. Basic literacy is a remarkably low standard to set for schools. As such, legal experts say, this ruling won't have an immediate impact on children in underfunded schools.
"We're not talking about the court having to recognize a broad-based, free-floating, generalized right to education," says Michelle Adams, a professor at Cardozo School of Law in New York City. This will not "open the floodgates of litigation. We're talking about a situation where students are being warehoused and required to be in school and yet they literally cannot read."
The case is also relatively young. The court's decision could be reviewed by the full 6th Circuit, appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, or returned to play out in District Court. Whitmer's office has not yet indicated how the state will respond.
"The fight is not done yet," says Jamarria Hall, who is now living in Tallahassee, Fla., and taking classes at a community college. "We were fighting just to get into the ring. Now we're in the ring. Now the fight really starts."

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Mexican Embassy and CAL Opens Doors to Hundreds of Free, Authentic Spanish Language Resources Online

Thanks to my colleague, Dr. Deb Palmer, for sharing information on this treasure trove of online resources to promote Spanish-English bilingualism and biliteracy.


-Angela Valenzuela 💖
NEW RESOURCE: Mexican Embassy & the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) Opens Doors to Hundreds of Free, Authentic Spanish Language Resources Online


On Monday, the Center for Applied Linguistics in collaboration with the Embassy of Mexico announced the free release of hundreds of online, authentic Spanish language educational materials for language teachers across the United States, including digital textbooks, movies, videos, audioclips, and more. 
“Being bilingual among the Mexican and Mexican American communities in the United States defines our identity and reflects an inescapable reality: we are sister nations united by a common history,” said Mexican Ambassador, Martha Bárcena. “We invite the public to discover so that together we can promote this shared identity through the learning of our languages.” Read the full press release.


Virtual Book Panel: Xicanx & Latinx Spiritual Expressions And Healing

Xicanx And Latinx Spiritual Expressions And Healing During COVID-19


Treat yourself to this healing opportunity from a Xicanx/ Latinx perspective. 

It helped me personally to listen to this presentation that is based on a powerful  and timely anthology authored by Lara Medina and Martha R. Gonzales titled, Voices from the Ancestors: Xicanx and Latinx Spiritual Expressions and Healing Practices published by the University of Arizona Press (2019), who also organized this extraordinary presentation by several of the authors who contributed to this volume.

This Indigenous knowledge is so incredibly germane in this moment of COVID.

Peace and blessings to all.
-Angela Valenzuela

#SelfCare #COVID #COVID19 #Healing

Bastrop County Sheriff’s Policy Leads To Jump In Immigrant Arrests

Though not an unfamiliar story, this one still made me feel very sad and angry.  All I ask is that us Texans all put ourselves in these families' shoes and feel deeply the terror, humiliation and inhumanity to which they are regularly subjected. This is unacceptable what's happening to our immigrant community.

Shame on Bastrop's Sheriff Cook for preying on these defenseless families who are here to make a better life for themselves and in the process, our country, too.  We must all surely know by now that in the current moment, immigrants are essential workers, holding jobs as agricultural workers, custodial staff, nursing home workers, construction, and so on.  

What I hope this COVID pandemic reveals is that they have always been critical infrastructure workers.  Our country relies heavily on them. We need them, as a country.  And rather than exploiting and persecuting them, we should honor them and compensate their work well.  
Note: Consider signing onto this Essential Worker Bill of Rights.
Moreover, our local sheriffs and police forces should look in the mirror and disavow these fascist, pathological, white supremacist ways of of treating people who are native to this continent. 

We didn't cross the border.  The border crossed us.  There's nowhere else for us "to go back to."  We are of this land.  We are Indigenous.  


-Angela Valenzuela

Sheriff Maurice Cook denies racial profiling as numbers of Hispanics jailed for minor traffic violations climb precipitously year over year

Story Brandon Mulder Austin American-Statesman
Images by Lola Gomez Austin American-Statesman

Published April 24, 2020

The humble life Karina Flores and her husband had created in Bastrop County crumbled on Sept. 19.

He worked installing insulation. She tended to their three children — two of whom were diagnosed with hemophilia — while taking occasional shifts in a food truck. Together, they had just bought a mobile home in western Bastrop County.

Before dawn on that September day, Flores’ husband had just pulled out of their new Del Valle neighborhood when flashing red and blue lights appeared in his rearview mirror. He had rolled through a stop sign, the Bastrop County Sheriff’s deputy told him. When the deputy asked for his driver’s license, he presented his Mexican ID instead. He was charged for driving without a driver’s license and arrested.
That was the last time Flores saw her husband.
At the jail, the sheriff’s office found he was an undocumented immigrant. He was turned over to federal custody for deportation proceedings. He broke the news to his wife over the jail phone. Instantly, she became a single mother, struggling alone to pay the mortgage while caring for severely ill children who require frequent hospital treatments.
Her eyes welled with tears when she recalled first hearing the news. “Se me cayó el mundo,” she said. My world fell.
Flores’ husband, whom she asked not to be named for fear of retaliation, is one of hundreds of people in Bastrop County who have found themselves in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody after being stopped and arrested for minor traffic violations.
An American-Statesman analysis of arrest records found that the number of immigrants the Bastrop County sheriff’s office turned over to immigration officials grew by nearly 80% in 2019 compared with the previous year. At the heart of that increase is a policy implemented by Sheriff Maurice Cook on Feb. 1, 2019, ordering the arrest of anyone found driving without insurance, without a driver’s license or with a suspended driver’s license — all Class C misdemeanors punishable by a fine only for first-time offenders.

Immigrant advocates say the directive encourages racial profiling and is a deliberate effort to target undocumented immigrants for deportation. Residents in the immigrant community say the sheriff’s measures are stoking fear in an already vulnerable population. This fear, they say, has irreversibly strained the relationship between the community and law enforcement and makes Bastrop County less safe. Seldom, now, do immigrants dial 911 to report crimes, advocates say.
Cook said the order is not racially motivated, but is aimed at improving safety on the county’s roads. In 2018, Bastrop County had the third-highest rate of traffic fatalities per capita among counties with populations of 50,000 or greater — higher than any of Texas’ major metropolitan areas, according to state data.
“Since Bastrop County is one of the leading counties in Texas for traffic fatalities, the intended purpose of this (policy) is to start with the basic premise that any driver not in compliance with our traffic laws is irresponsible and a hazard to those lawfully using our roadways,” Cook wrote in his policy memo, which the Statesman obtained under the Texas Public Information Act.
Cook’s policy launched as several Texas lawmakers have made efforts to curb arrests for fine-only traffic offenses in the wake of high-profile jail deaths, such as that of Sandra Bland, who died of suicide in a Waller County jail after being detained for failing to signal a turn.
For Flores, the pall of fear the Bastrop County sheriff’s office has cast permeates all corners of her life.
“It’s almost unbearable to be living with this fear — the fear of not knowing when they’re going to arrest me, and not knowing when I’m going to be deported, of not being able to actually enjoy a day with my kids,” Flores said in Spanish. “It’s a big fear, and it’s too much.”

Some candles with the images of the Virgin of Guadalupe and Jesus 
Christ are displayed March 4 on the dining room table in the small
 trailer where Miriam Jaimes and her three children live in Del Valle.

New directive
That September arrest sent Flores’ husband on a journey through the belly of the U.S. immigration system that ultimately spat him out into the perilous borderlands.
From the Bastrop County Jail, he was eventually transferred to a detention facility in Pearsall where, despite his clean criminal history, he failed to obtain an immigration bond. His request for asylum was denied, too. After about two months in detention, a deportation order placed him on a bus to Nuevo Laredo. Mexico.
Like many migrants deported to the cartel-dominated Mexican border state of Tamaulipas, he was abducted, Flores said. One month she was paying her husband’s immigration attorney’s fees, and the next she was paying his ransom.
In 2019, 430 people were arrested in Bastrop County for one of the three misdemeanors covered in Cook’s policy, up from 99 in 2018. About 70% of those arrested, 306, had Hispanic surnames.
Of those, 115 were transferred to ICE custody — a 505% increase from the previous year, when 19 people arrested for one of those three misdemeanors ended up in the hands of ICE.
In 2017, Texas lawmakers adopted a statewide ban on so-called sanctuary cities, requiring local law enforcement to cooperate with immigration officials. ICE detainees from the Bastrop County sheriff’s office have grown from 105 in 2017 to 343 in 2019, according to jail records.

Court records also show that drivers with Hispanic surnames were more than twice as likely to be stopped and arrested or ticketed for one of the three charges. Of the 3,217 people who were pulled over in 2019 and either arrested or ticketed for one of the three charges, two-thirds, or 2,202 people, had Hispanic surnames.
Austin-area advocates and immigration attorneys started seeing an unexpected increase in calls from Bastrop County shortly after the policy took effect. They say the sheriff’s office is unfairly targeting the county’s Hispanic populations. While 71% of those arrested for one of the three charges in 2019 had Hispanic surnames, only about 36% of the county’s population is Hispanic or Latino, according to census estimates.
The stories they heard from clients were uncannily similar: A Hispanic driver stopped for a minor violation, like failing to signal a lane change, leading to an arrest for driving without a license or insurance, resulting in immigration proceedings.
“It’s a very conscious and deliberate attempt to target and deport people from Bastrop,” immigration attorney Jose ‘Chito’ Vela III said.
To Vela, the policy smacks of the same racial profiling that immigrant activist groups say was behind a “zero tolerance” traffic enforcement operation in 2018 that targeted heavily Hispanic neighborhoods in Bastrop County.
It’s a very conscious and deliberate attempt to target and deport people from Bastrop.
Jose ‘Chito’ Vela III
Immigration attorney

That daylong operation was detailed in a memo in which deputies were instructed to arrest for driver’s license and insurance violations around the heavily Hispanic Del Valle and Stony Point neighborhoods. The result was 28 arrests and 16 ICE detainers.
Cook said in 2018 he was shocked by the number of people who were arrested for not having a driver’s license and then picked up by ICE. “That certainly wasn’t the intent,” he said at the time.
Cook said his 2019 policy is not intended to target Hispanic neighborhoods and does not encourage racial profiling. Deputies, he said, can use some amount of discretion when deciding whom to arrest. He said the policy was a response to an incident in which a deputy stopped a woman who was driving without an ID.
He said she gave false identification using the name and address of someone for whom she worked as a house cleaner. A deputy issued a ticket under the false name and, after the ticket went unpaid, the woman named on the ticket received notification in the mail that a warrant would be issued for her arrest. Upset and confused, she paid a visit to the sheriff’s office, and the sheriff’s office dismissed the charge.
I’m not going to apologize for enforcing the laws that the citizens of Bastrop County expect me to enforce. My goal is to make Bastrop a safer place to live and raise our families and work.
Maurice Cook
Bastrop County Sheriff

Arresting drivers without licenses, he said, will prevent that kind of mix-up.
“I’m not going to apologize for enforcing the laws that the citizens of Bastrop County expect me to enforce,” Cook said. “My goal is to make Bastrop a safer place to live and raise our families and work.”
The data indicate, however, that the policy did little to curb fatalities on Bastrop County highways. In 2018, the year the county ranked third statewide in per capita traffic fatalities, 32 people were killed on Bastrop County roads, according to state data. In 2019, that number climbed to 33, and the county ranked first in per capita fatalities among counties with populations of 50,000 or more. Thirty of those deaths occurred after Cook’s policy was adopted.

A Bastrop County sheriff’s deputy patrols between Pearce and Wolf lanes in Cedar Creek last month.

‘Papers please’
Miriam Jaimes’ husband, Miguel, was pulling into his Stony Point neighborhood in December when a deputy stopped him just blocks from his home. His vehicle’s window tint didn’t meet the legal limit, the deputy said. The deputy asked Miguel for his driver’s license which, as an undocumented immigrant, he didn’t have.
Miguel’s bad luck was compounded when the deputy discovered he had a warrant for an outstanding traffic ticket for driving without a license in 2017. The 30-year-old father and construction worker was arrested and placed under an ICE hold.
Miriam Jaimes and their three children — ages 2, 6 and 8 and all born in the United States — haven’t seen Miguel since that day.
Making ends meet without the household’s primary breadwinner has been a struggle, Miriam Jaimes said. She leans on her family to pay legal fees and holds bake sales to help pay bills. Miguel makes and mails from the detention facility keychains that she sells. Her church helps her pay for groceries.

In Jaimes’ Stony Point neighborhood, several families are missing their loved ones after they were arrested by Bastrop County deputies. The tension has changed their lives. Rarely does anyone dial 911 to report criminal activity for fear that inviting deputies into the neighborhood might lead to a deportation, she said.
“Whenever there’s something going on and the cops should be called, we’d rather not,” she said. “No one wants to be taken away from their family.”
The fear Jaimes and her neighbors feel is precisely the danger critics of the 2017 sanctuary cities ban predicted during a rancorous debate in the Legislature that led to near fisticuffs under the Capitol dome. The law requires local law enforcement to cooperate with federal immigration officials
Whenever there’s something going on and the cops should be called, we’d rather not. No one wants to be taken away from their family.
Miriam Jaimes
Bastrop resident

Police chiefs and sheriffs from the state’s metro areas opposed the bill, worried it would erode trust their officers had built within immigrant communities and push would-be witnesses and crime victims into the shadows.
Immigration attorneys and activists groups, like Grassroots Leadership in East Austin, say Cook’s policy is taking the ban’s authority too far.
Attorney Jeff Peek, whose office has seen a spike in demand from people needing legal aid after being arrested in Bastrop County, said the policy’s stated intent of curbing traffic fatalities is misdirection. Its clear purpose, he said, is to target undocumented immigrants.
“My concern, as an American, is this whole idea of ‘papers please,’” Peek said.
Cook said his department’s policy is only designed to target lawbreakers and is not aimed at any particular ethnic group.
“Where do we draw the line?” Cook said. “If you got a class of citizens that are violating the law more than others, then do we draw the line and say we can only go 30% on them?

Miriam Jaimes’ 8-year-old daughter, Mireya, cuts a drawing she made in a room in their Del Valle home that Mireya shares with her 6-years-old brother. Mireya’s father is in a detention center awaiting deportation to Mexico.

‘No humanity’
Miguel’s arrest that December day sent him down a similar path through the immigration system that Flores’ husband took. Jaimes paid an immigration attorney to represent Miguel during a bond hearing, which he lost. A DWI arrest the year before may have sealed his fate. Miguel had the option to win bond on appeal, but the effort would cost his family an additional $5,000 in legal fees and likely would fail.“It was either give my money to this lawyer and try (to appeal) or pay my rent and my bills and necessities that we have at home,” Miriam Jaimes said.
“It was either give my money to this lawyer and try (to appeal) or pay my rent and my bills and necessities that we have at home,” Miriam Jaimes said.
Now, as his wife struggles to house and feed their children, Miguel faces potential deportation to a country he hasn’t lived in since he was 14 years old.
State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, said a traffic stop for a violation as minor as the shade of a person’s window tint should not put them on a path to deportation.
“This is the type of conduct that we have cautioned people about,” Moody said. “Because you’re talking about setting someone up for deportation because they failed to signal a lane change.”
Since Bland’s high-profile death in 2015, Moody and other lawmakers have tried to limit officers’ ability to arrest for such minor offenses.

Karina Flores, 36, serves food last month at the taco stand where she works in Elroy. Her husband was deported after a Bastrop County deputy arrested him after he rolled through a stop sign.

Moody proposed a measure in 2019 that would allow judges to dismiss a person’s Class C charges if police officers don’t provide an explanation demonstrating why they made an arrest for a fine-only charge. Rep. James White, R-Hillister, authored a bill that would have prohibited police from arresting people for offenses punishable by fine only, including many traffic offenses.

Both bills died after vigorous opposition from police unions, said Moody, vowing to resurrect the effort during the next legislative session.

For her part, Jaimes says she’s looking to move across the Bastrop County line closer to Austin. She worries about the fate of her children if she, too, inadvertently falls into the hands of Bastrop County law enforcement. The Facebook group her neighbors created to warn one another of nearby police presence is not enough to provide comfort. She’s been in the United States for 18 years and, with no remaining family across the border, she’s reluctant to return to Mexico.

Flores said she wishes she could return to Mexico, even after living in the U.S. for 12 years. But her hemophiliac children need reliable access to medical care that her home country can’t provide.
“I know that if I was to go back to Mexico, I would be condemning my child to his death,” she said.

“It feels like there is no humanity left.”

American-Statesman data reporter Dan Keemahill contributed to this report.