Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, immigration, News

North Carolina dreamers heartened for their futures after Supreme Court ruling

Jocelyn Casanova

T he day before Jocelyn Casanova graduated high school, her mother told her she was an undocumented immigrant. She had crossed the desert with her when Casanova was just 4 years old in the hopes of finding a better life and of giving her daughter more opportunity.

“It was just kind of like ripping a Band-aid off,” said Casanova, 24, of finding out.

She wasn’t mad at her mother, but learning about her past meant her future was in jeopardy. She had already applied to colleges and wanted to pursue a career in law, but had to put those plans on hold because of her immigration status.

When the Obama administration created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects undocumented people from deportation who were brought into the country as children, she became a recipient, but there were still a lot of obstacles to her pursuing her goals.

She had to pay out of state tuition to go to a community college in North Carolina, where she grew up, and she couldn’t apply for federal aid. She worked three jobs to pay for school, and still, it wasn’t always enough.

“I’ve had to get really creative as far as bettering myself,” she said in a phone interview Thursday.

That includes putting aside dreams of becoming an immigration attorney in order to learn new skills and soak up all the opportunities she is afforded, in part because of DACA. Most recently, she was able to get an engineering degree through a company sponsorship and she works now as a software engineer in Raleigh. She continues to take classes at Wake Tech.

When the Trump administration rescinded the DACA program in 2017, it instilled a sense of fear in Casanova. She lived in the U.S. almost her entire life, but could suddenly be deported to a land mostly strange to her. She thought she was dreaming Thursday when she woke up to the news that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the administration’s decision to end the program was against the law.

“I had to do a double take; is this really happening?” she said. “I shed a couple tears because it was like a weight lifted off my shoulders.”

She said the decision is a victory, but immigrants and DACA recipients, also called dreamers, should not stop fighting for their future.

“We still need a permanent solution for our dreamers who are constantly trying to pursue the American Dream,” Casanova said. “It felt amazing to not be in limbo after walking down this path and not knowing where you would end up. Happiness is an understatement, especially during this uncertain time where we have a pandemic still going on, and our Black Lives Matter brothers are voicing their concerns with the justice system. Change is happening, and we should still continue to have these conversations as well as continue to count our blessings.”

Casanova is one of about 24,000 DACA holders who live in North Carolina, and among the 700,000 or so recipients nationwide. She said she is grateful to be in the U.S. and wants to continue to go to school, work and contribute to her community.

Oscar Romero is pictured left at a U.S. Supreme Court rally in the fall.

“Honestly all dreamers want, we’re hugging this country and we just want this country to hug us back,” she said. “Hearing this news was like getting a pat on the back. I definitely have a lot of hope and faith for the future. I know that we still have a long road to go down, but I’m very hopeful we’re going to see change.”

DACA is a temporary fix for recipients of the program, who don’t otherwise have a permanent path to U.S. citizenship. Last June, the U.S. House passed legislation that would safeguard the program and provide a pathway to citizenship. The bill has not been taken up in the U.S. Senate.

Still, the Supreme Court news from Thursday brought many people comfort this week. Oscar Romero, of Charlotte, said he was in complete shock when he read about the ruling.

“This was a turn of events that I don’t think anyone expected,” he said. “I just broke out into tears, just full joy. … While it doesn’t fix everything for us, it’s definitely a breath of relief for all of us who have been holding our breath this whole time.”I just broke out into tears, just full joy. -Oscar Romero Click To Tweet

The 25-year-old was brought to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 4. The DACA program changed the entire trajectory of his life, he said. Before the program, he couldn’t legally drive and he had to work jobs where he was paid “under the table.”

“It’s completely opened up so many opportunities for me,” he said, adding that he’s since finished college on a scholarship. “This is a great victory regardless of what lies ahead. Like Black Lives Matter, this is a topic that we shouldn’t just put away.”

Many of the dreamers who talked to NC Policy Watch had similar stories of how DACA helped them get to where they are.

Daniel Bello is no longer a DACA recipient — he has a green card now — but it was the program that helped him be able to go to college. Now he’s in his third year of law school at Campbell University.

He was cautiously optimistic Thursday about the high court’s ruling.

“I’m very happy, but I know that they’ll probably try to challenge it again,” he said.

Daniel Bello

Bello, 30, pointed out that DACA recipients undergo background checks and are required to meet certain standards to be eligible for the program. There are also a lot of misconceptions about immigrants.

“DACA recipients consider the U.S. our home, because we’ve been here our whole lives, and we love this country and just want a chance to participate,” he said. “Based on our record and education, we are likely to become a benefit to the economy in a very positive way.”

Carla Mena, also 30, told her story to Policy Watch on Thursday. She said there was an added pressure on the first generation DACA holders like herself to be successful and to pave the way.

“We are the oldest children of the first-generation immigrant community, and there’s a lot of responsibility in general when it comes to being the eldest in the line of children,” she said.

They live bicultural and bilingual lives and feel at times as if they don’t belong in one world or the other. Only dreamers can really understand what they go through at times, Mena said. And they fought hard before 2012 to be an active part of their communities.

“We were marching; we were doing hunger strikes; we were occupying officials’ offices,” she said. “I think that the biggest takeaway is we are not just hardworking when it comes to our jobs, we are hardworking for what we believe is right. We believe that we deserve better, that our families deserve better.”We believe that we deserve better, that our families deserve better. -Carla Mena Click To Tweet

The elder DACA holders are teaching the younger dreamers to also fight and to build resiliency. They are taking care of one other. Mena said in a lot of ways, they had an even harder time with the Trump administration’s rescission, because they grew up with the program available to them and then had to cope when it could just be taken away.

Casanova, one of those younger dreamers, said she is thankful her parents made the choice to bring her to the U.S. so she could have a chance at a better future. She encouraged her peers to vote — because DACA holders can’t — and to be a champion for immigrants.

“They are the real dreamers who had the dream of a better life for us, their children,” she said of her parents. “They didn’t want us to suffer like they did. We owe it to them to keep fighting for the American Dream.

“Like my mom always says to me in Spanish with everything I do, ‘Mija, echale ganas,’ meaning ‘Daughter, do your best.’ We must continue to give it our all because the fight is not over yet. We have to be strategic and organized about the upcoming battles.”

Courts & the Law, News, race

Senate GOP unveils police reform bill that draws Democratic rebukes

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) is joined by fellow Republican lawmakers for a news conference to unveil the GOP’s legislation to address racial disparities in law enforcement at the U.S. Capitol June 17, 2020. Scott, the Senate’s lone Black Republican, lead the effort to write the Just and Unifying Solutions to Invigorate Communities Everywhere (JUSTICE) Act. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans unveiled a police reform bill Wednesday that takes a markedly different approach to police reform efforts backed by congressional Democrats.

The Senate GOP bill would incentivize police departments to ban chokeholds, increase the use of body-worn cameras, improve training in de-escalation tactics and take prior records into greater account when making hiring decisions.

It would also increase data collection on the use of force, weapon discharge and no-knock warrants and make lynching a federal crime, among other things.

“When Black Americans tell us they do not feel safe in their own communities, we need to listen,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the Senate floor Wednesday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), however, called the GOP bill “inadequate” in a statement. And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y) said the GOP approach “does not rise to the moment.”

“We have a tale of two chambers, a glaring contrast between a strong, comprehensive Democratic bill in the House, and a much narrower, and much less effective Republican bill in the Senate,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.

A ‘false, binary choice’

GOP Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina — a Black Republican who led the Senate GOP police reform effort — told reporters Wednesday that the bill aims to “restore confidence communities of color have in institutions of authority.”

Scott said Senate Republicans are listening to public concerns about law enforcement and noted that he has borne the brunt of racial profiling himself, such as when he was given a warning for failing to turn on a turn signal soon enough before changing lanes.

“We hear you,” he said.

But Scott also voiced strong support for law enforcement, saying the “overwhelming” number of officers are “good people” who work hard to keep communities safe and orderly.

Supporting either law enforcement or communities of color is a “false binary choice,” he said.

Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) co-sponsored the JUSTICE Act, praising its  ‘commonsense solutions’ for police reform.

Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC)

“The vast majority of law enforcement officials in North Carolina and across the country were also sickened by the murder of George Floyd, and they need to be a critical part of the solution,” said Senator Tillis. “I hope my colleagues on the other side of the aisle commit to working with us to find consensus and advance this bill so we can make progress and help heal our country.”

Sen. McConnell accelerated the timetable for floor consideration and now plans to bring the GOP bill to the floor for a vote next week — roughly a month after the death of George Floyd while being arrested by a white Minneapolis police officer.

The Senate GOP bill differs in key ways from a Democratic police reform package introduced earlier this month. That bill would ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants at the federal level and would address qualified immunity — an issue Scott called a “poison pill.”

The Democratic legislation would also bar racial and religious profiling, mandate police training in racial profiling and require state and local law enforcement agencies to report use-of-force data by race and other characteristics. And it would limit the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement officials.

The Senate GOP bill does not address racial profiling or the transfer of military equipment to police, Schumer said.

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee will mark up the Democratic measure Wednesday. It has more than 218 co-sponsors, virtually ensuring passage in the House chamber.

Scott said there is significant overlap between Democratic and Republican approaches to police reform and is working with Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, a Black Democrat, on the issue.

President Donald Trump said Tuesday he would support congressional action on police reform.

Trump signed a modest police reform order Tuesday that strengthens efforts to track police misconduct and uses federal funds to encourage police departments to improve training and certification standards and to work with social workers and other “co-responders” when responding to calls involving homelessness, mental illness and substance abuse.

Under the order, the U.S. attorney general will require police credentialing agencies to confirm that departments bar chokeholds except when use of deadly force is permitted by law.

It’s unclear how the federal order will affect officers’ behavior as police departments generally fall under the purview of state and local governments, or what effect it may have on police reform legislation in Congress.

Courts & the Law, COVID-19, News

Judge orders COVID-19 protection of incarcerated people

Judge Vince Rozier released his order Tuesday that calls for more protection of incarcerated people in state prisons.

Rozier ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in the case at a virtual hearing last week. He addressed the same issues in his Tuesday order that he did previously during his oral ruling: overcrowding and cohort-based social distancing, transfers and disparate levels of COVID-19 protection in different facilities.

He ordered the defendants to reconsider homes, facilities and programs willing to participate as early-release partners to improve an incarcerated person’s candidacy for release. He also outlined who should be considered for release at the state prisons to make space for proper social distancing.

Rozier’s ruling to grant a preliminary injunction is in response to a lawsuit from the ACLU of North Carolina, Disability Rights North Carolina, Emancipate NC, Forward Justice and the National Juvenile Justice Network asserting that the state’s failure to protect people in state custody from mass outbreaks of COVID-19 amounted to cruel and unusual punishment under the Constitution.

Read the full order below:


Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

U.S. Supreme Court: Employers can’t discriminate against gay, transgender employees

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this morning that existing federal laws prohibit employers from job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, a resounding win for LGBTQ advocates from the conservative-leaning bench.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, a President Donald Trump appointee, wrote the opinion with Justices John Roberts, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan concurring. Justices Samuel Alito wrote a dissent, in which Justice Clarence Thomas joined, and Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote a separate dissent.

“Today, we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender,” Gorsuch writes. “The answer is clear. An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”

He wrote that those who adopted the Civil Rights Act might not have anticipated this result, “but the limits of the drafters’ imagination supply no reason to ignore the law’s demands.”

Before this opinion, nearly every Southern state lacked comprehensive state-level nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people; notably, Virginia adopted LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections just this month.

“Today is a historic day: The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized the fundamental equality of LGBTQ Americans, including the more than 5 million who live in Southern states,” said the Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, Executive Director of the Campaign for Southern Equality. “The ruling ensures a blanket of employment protections for LGBTQ people rather than the inadequate patchwork that has all but stopped at the borders of Southern states. For LGBTQ Southerners, the decision shows yet again that that no one should face discrimination because of who they are or who they love.”

Beach-Ferrara added that the decision comes at a time when millions of people are facing unemployment or reduced employment because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said that as LGBTQ individuals venture back out to the job market, they are grateful for the high court’s relief.

“While we’re grateful for this step forward, we all must remain committed to this month’s deepened and long overdue conversation around racial injustice,” she added. “We lift up the reality that Southerners with multiple marginalized identities face multiple layers of oppression. Black LGBTQ Southerners, for example, not only confront employment discrimination but also police brutality, anti-Black racism, and disproportionate rates of living with HIV. As we celebrate today’s ruling, we must continue to push for dignity, respect, and justice for all LGBTQ people in every sphere of life.”

Equality North Carolina Executive Director Kendra R. Johnson described the opinion as a watershed moment for LGBTQ communities all across the nation.

“For decades, LGBTQ people have fought to secure basic protections from discrimination within every arena of their lives,” Johnson said. “The Court’s decision will directly impact millions of people across the country and allow them to both live authentically in the workplace and care for their families with respect and dignity.”

Even with the landmark ruling, though, there is still more work to be done for the LGBTQ community.

“HB 142 is still on the books in North Carolina,” Johnson said, of the “compromise” statute that replaced the discriminatory House Bill 2. “There are still shocking and critical gaps in our nondiscrimination laws, particularly in housing, public places, federal programs and more. LGBTQ people face harassment and mistreatment in their daily lives and black and brown LGBTQ trans people face even higher rates of discrimination and, oftentimes, violence.

“Recent data shows a majority of Americans across ideologies, age, and religious affiliation in all 50 states support passage of LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections to ensure all LGBTQ Americans can live with respect, dignity, and safety in all areas of life. With the Supreme Court leading the way, Congress must pass the Equality Act into law and the North Carolina General Assembly must immediately repeal House Bill 142 and pass the Equality for All Act into law.”

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein called the opinion a “wonderful” development.

“People, when they are hired or they are fired, it should be because of how well they do their job and not based on who they love, their sexuality or their gender identity,” he told NC Policy Watch during a radio interview. “In fact, every term I was in the legislature, I always introduced a bill on employment nondiscrimination by the state, and to see the Supreme Court with a clarion call, with a clear voice, say that people may not be discriminated against under federal law in their employment is wonderful. It is a wonderful day for America.”

In his dissent, Alito disagrees with Gorsuch’s textualist argument and states that the Civil Rights Act doesn’t go as far as protecting sexual orientation or gender identity.

“If ‘sex’ in Title VII means biologically male or female, then discrimination because of sex means discrimination because the person in question is biologically male or biologically female, not because that person is sexually attracted to members of the same sex or identifies as a member of a particular gender,” Alito wrote. “How then does the Court claim to avoid that conclusion?”

Kavanaugh writes in his dissent that it is up to legislators to expand Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, not the courts.

“In the face of the unsuccessful legislative efforts (so far) to prohibit sexual orientation discrimination, judges may not rewrite the law simply because of their own policy views,” he wrote.

Gorsuch disagreed in his opinion for the court. He wrote that judges are not free to overlook plain statutory commands on the strength of nothing more than suppositions about intentions or guesswork about expectations.

“In Title VII, Congress adopted broad language making it illegal for an employer to rely on an employee’s sex when deciding to fire that employee,” the opinion states. “We do not hesitate to recognize today a necessary consequence of that legislative choice: An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.”

Read the full opinion and dissents below.



Bostock v Clayton County (Text)

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Supreme Court Justice, Attorney General to lead new Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice

North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls and Attorney General Josh Stein will co-chair a new Governor’s Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice.

The two joined Gov. Roy Cooper at a press conference Tuesday afternoon afternoon to announce a new executive order creating the task force, which will recommend solutions to stop discriminatory law enforcement and criminal justice practices and to hold public safety officers accountable.

“We can stop the use of excessive force by police and we know what is needed to achieve racial equity, now is the time to put that knowledge to work,” Earls said. “I am grateful to the Governor and the Attorney General for recognizing that the Judicial Branch has a crucial role to play in eliminating racial disparities in the criminal justice system, and I am committed to a collaborative process with meaningful community involvement to achieve those goals in short order.”

Earls authored an opinion last week deeming it unconstitutional to retroactively apply the repeal of the Racial Justice Act to death row defendants who already had pending cases seeking relief under the law. The RJA was specifically written to address racial inequities in the criminal justice process regarding death penalty sentencing.

Ironically, Stein’s office argued against RJA relief at the Supreme Court for those defendants who could prove racial bias or discrimination played a factor in their death sentencing. Stein’s office has also argued many times before the Supreme Court against defendants getting relief for claims of Batson violations, or racial discrimination in jury selection.

Earls also authored a historic opinion in May giving lower courts guidance for the first time about how to dig deeper and better assess Batson claims of racial discrimination in jury selection. Last week, Justice Sam Ervin wrote another opinion overturning the denial of a Batson claim.

Until that pair of decisions from the high court, North Carolina appellate courts had never acknowledged race discrimination against jurors of color, and the state stood alone in that regard among southern states.

“We must eliminate the glaring racial disparities that continue to exist,” Earls said at the press conference. “And we must begin to live up to our most highly cherished value of equal justice under the law. After all, we’re the state that espouses the creed, ‘To be, rather than to seem.'”

When asked after the press conference Tuesday whether Stein’s office would continue to oppose relief under the RJA, spokesperson Laura Brewer said they were reviewing the decision from the court and expected to have more information about it soon.

Stein said at the press conference that that inequities that African Americans experience — in the economy, healthcare, schools and the criminal justice system — are pervasive just as they are wrong.

“Even today, African Americans are suffering death at greatly disproportionate rates from COVID-19,” he said. “My heart aches for the families of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and so many other people who have been killed or mistreated by their own government. Any senseless act of violence is tragic, but especially so when perpetrated by those sworn to protect and defend us. It represents such a fundamental violation of the authority we grant law enforcement and the trust we place in them.”

The task force will develop and help implement policy solutions to address systemic racial bias in criminal justice and submit legislative and municipal recommendations on or before Dec. 1.

The executive order also creates a Center for the Prevention of Law Enforcement Use of Deadly Force within the State Bureau of Investigation to track statistics and improve training related to the use of force.

This week, Secretary of the Department of Public Safety Erik Hooks directed law enforcement agencies under his purview to ensure each division has a duty-to-intervene policy in place. He also directed that divisions conduct policy reviews on use of force, de-escalation techniques, arrest procedures, cultural sensitivity training and internal investigation processes. Cooper’s Tuesday directs cabinet agencies and encourages non-cabinet state agencies with sworn law enforcement officers to do the same.

Cooper pointed out during the press conference and in a subsequent news release that communities of color are disproportionately affected at each stage of the criminal justice system, with national data showing the following:

• Black adults are 5.9 times as likely to be incarcerated than white adults;
• Latinx adults are 3.1 times as likely to be incarcerated than white adults;
• Black drivers are approximately twice as likely as white drivers to be pulled over by law enforcement for a traffic stop;
• Black defendants are more likely to be jailed before trial than white defendants;
• The murders of white people are more likely to be solved than the murders of Black people;
• When Black men and white men are convicted of the same crime, Black men receive a prison sentence that is 20 percent longer;
• Black women are imprisoned at twice the rate as white women; and
• Black men are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement than are white men, and Black women are 1.4 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement than are white women

“For Black people, the past several weeks have again ripped open scars created by generations of historical trauma,” Cooper said. “Too often that trauma was inflicted by a justice system that should protect them, but instead treats them unfairly. … It’s important for us to recognize these telling numbers and identify the disparities, but it’s even more important and challenging to actually do something about it.”

The task force will be comprised of no more than 25 members, including co-chairs Earls and Stein. Members will be appointed by Cooper and shall serve “at the Governor’s pleasure.” It will include representatives from the state Departments of Justice and Public Safety and the judicial branch, as well as district attorneys, public defenders, victim advocates, chiefs of police, sheriffs, justice-involved individuals and more.

Read the full order below.



EO145 Criminal Justice Reform (Text)