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Category Archives: Civil Rights

Lawsuit Seeks Release of Gay Man From ICE Detention

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Andrea Sears

PHILADELPHIA – A habeas petition has been filed in federal district court seeking the release of a gay Mexican immigrant being held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention in York Prison.

In January Jose Nunez Martinez and his husband, a U.S. citizen, were attending what they thought was a routine marriage interview at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Philadelphia. According to Miguel Andrade, an organizer with Juntos – an immigrants’ rights organization – ICE agents burst in and arrested Nunez Martinez, and he has been held in detention ever since despite being cleared by USCIS.

“They approved their marriage petition,” says Andrade. “They also believe he has a credible asylum petition because of his sexuality. He fears retaliation for going back home. There is no valid reason for him to still be in detention.”

He says ICE claims Nunez Martinez is a flight risk and poses a threat to society. The lawsuit, filed by the ACLU of Pennsylvania, says his detention is unlawful and seeks his release.

The Trump administration claims that its deportation program is taking dangerous criminals out of the country. But Andrade says recent ICE raids in Philadelphia netted about 50 people, some with past minor offenses such as traffic tickets and some with ongoing criminal cases.

“So right now Immigration is actually interfering with the right to due process of all of these individuals and violating people’s constitutional rights left and right,” says Andrade.

He says although undocumented, Nunez Martinez had lived a peaceful and productive life in this country for almost 17 years.

Andrade adds that, along with the lawsuit, advocates are hoping to rally public support for the call for Nunez Martinez to be released from detention.

“We’re hoping that he’ll be able to be free sometime soon and continue his immigration case on the outside alongside his husband,” says Andrade.

SEPTA Sued for Banning Ads About Housing Discrimination

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By: Andrea Sears

PHILADELPHIA – Banning ads about controversial issues is a violation of free-speech rights – that’s the claim of a lawsuit filed against the nation’s sixth-largest public transit system.

The Center for Investigative Reporting has compiled data showing racial disparities in home mortgage lending in 61 American cities, including Philadelphia. But when it sought to highlight the results with an ad campaign, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority refused to display the ads on its trains and buses.

Molly Tack-Hooper, staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, says SEPTA’s policies banning ads on political and controversial social issues turn the First Amendment on its head.

“Political speech and public debate get the most constitutional protection,” says Tack-Hooper. “But SEPTA’s policy essentially says the more important the speech, the less SEPTA wants it on its subways and buses.”

She says in letters exchanged with the Center for Investigative Reporting, SEPTA explained its policy as an attempt to keep out hate speech.

But Tack-Hooper points out that the courts already have told the authority it could not ban an anti-Muslim ad campaign sponsored by a group called the American Freedom Defense Initiative.

“Of course, even those AFDI ads, which I think most SEPTA riders would probably agree are racist and gross, didn’t bring the trains to a grinding halt,” says Tack-Hooper. “They didn’t have much of an effect at all on the operation of the transit system.”

She notes that the City of Philadelphia, which controls ad space on city bus shelters, has agreed to display the CIR ads. Tack-Hooper adds that the Transportation Authority has other ways to respond to hate speech in advertising that are far less extreme than banning protected speech.

“For example, SEPTA could use its ad space to put up its own message of tolerance and disavow groups like AFDI that might advertise on SEPTA,” says Tack-Hooper.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

PA House Abortion Ban Bill Called Unconstitutional

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By: Andrea Sears

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Civil-liberties advocates call a bill passed Monday by Pennsylvania’s House Health Committee “unconstitutional and unenforceable.”

House Bill 2050 would make it a crime to perform an abortion based on a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome. Elizabeth Randol, legislative director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, noted that other states have passed similar laws, but none has gone into effect.

“It attempts to ban abortion prior to viability,” she said, “and, beginning in Roe vs. Wade all the way through subsequent Supreme Court decisions, that has been repeatedly affirmed flatly unconstitutional.”

Supporters of the bill have said people with Down syndrome can lead happy lives and contribute to their communities. HB 2050 could come up for a final vote in the House next week. There is no similar bill in the Senate.

Randol said medical test results are not shared with law enforcement and establishing a diagnosis as the sole motivation for an abortion would be difficult at best. She contended that the legislation is strictly political.

“It utilizes a very difficult decision for some people and a very complex one to exploit the people that it affects as a wedge to try to legislate abortion control,” she said.

She added that the bill was put on the committee’s agenda late last Friday afternoon, after it was too late for members of the House to file amendments.

Randol said there already is a very long waiting list of people with intellectual disabilities such as Down syndrome in Pennsylvania who are desperate for services. There is inadequate state funding for support professionals, she said, but this bill doesn’t address those issues.

“They have done nothing to provide any help or assistance for both children and adults with Down syndrome,” she said, “and no assistance or education for women or parents who would want to bring a pregnancy to term.”

A federal court stopped implementation of a similar law in Indiana in 2016, and last month an Ohio ban was blocked while a lawsuit challenging it is litigated.

The text of House Bill 2050 is online at