2019: Our Strongest Year Ever.
Posted: December 20, 2019|
In addition to marking our 60th Anniversary, 2019 was also our strongest year ever defending the rights of all in the Ocean State. We were active in more than 50 lawsuits, lobbied on a record number of bills, and our work behind the scenes is more robust than ever. Our donors’ ongoing support makes all of this possible, so if you’re a donor, thank you. If you haven’t yet contributed to the ACLU of RI, please make a tax-deductible year-end contribution today. To give you a clear look at the impact that your support can have, here are three victories that stand out from our 60th year fighting for civil liberties in Rhode Island:
1) In support of immigrant rights, human rights and due process…
Claiming he was innocent and the victim of rampant government corruption, Christian Aguasvivas fled to the United States after being hunted by police in the Dominican Republic for allegedly shooting a police officer. Overwhelming evidence (including the murder of his brother by the police) supported a US immigration board’s conclusion that Aguasvivas would be tortured if forced to return to his native country. As a result, that board issued an order preventing his extradition, based on an international human rights treaty that blocks someone’s return to a country where they will face torture. The US is a signatory to that treaty, but neither that nor the immigration board’s order was enough to stop the State Department from trying to extradite Aguasvivas.
Our response: the federal government is not above the law. When Aguasvivas’ case was brought to our attention – he was being held at the Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls – we stepped in with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project to file a court brief supporting his rights as an asylee. A federal court in RI agreed– a direct rejection of the State Department’s position, and a welcome repudiation of the federal government’s well-documented anti-immigrant sentiment.
2) In support of educational equity, students’ rights, and equal protection of the laws…
As you may recall, at around this time last year, we were suing the Providence School Department for failing to provide transportation to students with disabilities during a lengthy school bus strike. We have long fought for equity in education, the rights of students, and equal protection for people with disabilities. This case touched on all of these issues, and when the school district tried to look the other way, we stepped in.
Our response: the district must honor its obligations to provide equal education to all its students. Throughout the ordeal, the impression we got from the District was that officials “had their hands full” with the bus strike, and that getting these students to school was not of concern to them. But the Providence School Department has a legal responsibility to provide free and equitable education to all, and we knew that any purported burden on the District’s time and resources should not fall on the most disadvantaged students. Our legal actions (three of them) against the school district resulted in favorable settlements that provided extensive compensatory educational services for all the affected students who had missed school, and prompt reimbursement to those parents who were forced to pay out-of-pocket for transportation during the strike.
3) In support of the First Amendment, due process of law, and women’s rights…
For years, Woonsocket-based Sojourner House, a social service agency that aids victims of domestic violence (DV), has received federal funds for victim advocacy and shelter operations via two municipal grant programs. Last year, however, earmarked funds that had been approved for the agency’s use were abruptly and arbitrarily rescinded by city officials, jeopardizing the organization’s important work as the only emergency DV shelter in Woonsocket. When Sojourner appealed the denial of funds and petitioned other officials for help in getting the grant money released, Woonsocket doubled down, permanently suspending the agency from applying for funds in the future. The organization then reached out to us for help.
Our response: bureaucratic retaliation is abuse of power and must be challenged. A review of the records made it clear to us that Woonsocket officials had blatantly abused their power, and then retaliated against Sojourner House when that abuse was challenged. Our successful lawsuit provided for release of the withheld funds and a rescission of the ban on future funding to the agency. In its resolution, our suit sent a strong and important message that bureaucratic abuses of power will not be tolerated.
These are just three of the dozens of critical issues that our Affiliate handled this past year – all thanks to donor support. We hope you will make a special year-end contribution today so we can continue – and continue to expand upon – this important work.