Category Archives: Uncategorized

Two Years After Deadly Nitrogen Leak at Georgia Poultry Plant, A Big Step Forward to Protect Immigrant Workers Reporting Labor Abuses

Two Years After Deadly Nitrogen Leak at Georgia Poultry Plant, A Big Step Forward to Protect Immigrant Workers Reporting Labor Abuses

THE TORCH: CONTENTS By Shelly Anand, Elizabeth Zambrana, and Alessandra Stevens (Sur Legal Collaborative) and Michelle Lapointe (NILC) 

January 27, 2023

Two years ago, on January 28, 2021, Gainesville, Georgia was the site of a tragic and entirely preventable liquid nitrogen leak at a poultry plant, which killed six workers. In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, traumatized immigrant workers hesitated to come forward to report what they had witnessed because they feared employer retaliation, including a call to local police or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and being put into and possible deportation proceedings. Their fears were not unfounded. Gainesville is in Hall County, which has a “287(g)” agreement with ICE, which deputizes local law enforcement to act as immigration agents.

The Gainesville poultry tragedy did not take place in a vacuum: immigrant workers experience 300 more workplace fatalities and 61,000 more workplace injuries per year, 37% receive less than minimum wage, and 76% experience wage theft. One national study found that undocumented workers experience minimum wage violations at nearly twice the rate of their U.S.-born counterparts in the same jobs. In 2020, immigrant workers made up 65% of worker deaths and in 2021, 727 immigrant workers from Latin America were killed on the job. These disparities can be directly tied to workers’ fear of reporting labor violations – workers who are unwilling to complain about safety violations on the job due to immigration enforcement concerns actually face greater job hazards and higher workplace injury rates. Workers who face firing, blacklisting, or deportation are more hesitant than others to take the risk of advocating for their workplace rights. Abusive employers routinely use threats of calls to ICE and police, implying possible deportation, to prevent immigrant workers from asserting their rights. These threats in turn intimidate immigrant workers to remain silent about these abuses due to fear of retaliation, being blacklisted in the local community, or the risk of deportation.

Photo by VCG / Contributor

On January 13, 2023, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced new guidance establishing a process for workers in labor disputes to apply for temporary protection from deportation. This guidance is a critical step to ensuring that immigrant workers like the Gainesville poultry workers can report serious labor violations without fear of adverse immigration consequences. Immigrant workers’ ability to speak up about workplace abuses is critical to holding exploitative employers accountable for their failure to follow our country’s labor laws and improves working conditions for all workers.

The new DHS guidance establishes a streamlined process for workers in labor disputes to apply for deferred action–a well-established form of prosecutorial discretion which provides temporary protection from deportation and work authorization. Work authorization is critical to affording immigrant whistleblowers protection against retaliation in violation of our country’s labor laws. This protection bolsters the ability of agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and state and local labor agencies, to investigate allegations of workplace abuse and enforce workplace protections, including the right to a safe and healthy workplace free of discrimination and the right to be paid fairly for all hours worked. A letter of support from one of these agencies is an essential component of any request for deferred action under the new policy, and deferred action requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

DHS’ announcement follows years of organizing by immigrant workers and advocates across the country, including in Georgia and other parts of the Deep South. Both Sur Legal Collaborative and the National Immigrant Law Center (NILC) were a part of a rapid response coalition led by the poultry workers and local grassroots organizers in Gainesville in the wake of the nitrogen leak. Despite their fear of retaliation, workers bravely shared details with advocates, attorneys, and federal investigators about what transpired in the days leading up to the nitrogen leak and on the horrific day of the leak itself.

Because these workers spoke up, OSHA issued over $1 million in penalties against the four companies responsible for the nitrogen leak, the highest penalties possible under applicable statutes. On hearing this news, one worker said: “It is good that justice will be done for the death of our comrades… From now on, we are not going to remain silent, anything that we think is wrong, we will report.”

Knowing that these brave workers were coming forward during the OSHA investigation of the nitrogen leak, despite their fears of retaliation, our coalition joined the national efforts to secure some form of protection for these workers against retaliation. After months of advocacy, workers in Gainesville were among the first in the country under this administration to receive deferred action.

DHS’s announcement supporting labor agencies and workers in holding abusive employers accountable is an important step. NILC and Sur Legal Collaborative, and our coalition partners across the country, will continue to advocate for DHS, DOL, and the Biden administration to do more for immigrant workers. Specifically, the DOL should  delegate U and T visa certifying authority to OSHA so that the agency can provide certifications to immigrant workers who are victims of trafficking and crimes in the workplace to support workers as they pursue more permanent immigration relief. DHS should ensure that workers who receive deferred action can renew that protection and should consider requests for prosecutorial discretion from individuals involved in civil rights disputes and private litigation. And DHS should end 287(g) agreements like the one in Hall County, which create a climate of fear in immigrant communities. Regardless, none of these actions is sufficient; Congress still needs to create a path for more permanent protection for these workers, including a process for them to become citizens.

Congress must act to prevent 300K DACA recipients from losing health care (The Torch)

Congress must act to prevent 300K DACA recipients from losing health care 


November 30, 2022

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has been a critical tool for immigrant youth in providing some level of stability, accessing education, and facilitating the ability to provide for themselves and their family. But there’s one often overlooked result of the program: health care. Although DACA recipients are unjustly excluded from public health insurance programs and more than one in three DACA recipients go without any coverage, their work authorization means that for a sizeable number, they are able to get health insurance through their employer’s plan like many other fellow Americans. If DACA ends without Congress acting to create a permanent replacement, then hundreds of thousands of people are at threat of becoming uninsured.

Our report, “Tracking DACA Recipients’ Access to Health Care,” found that 80 percent of surveyed DACA recipients with health insurance get it through their employer, meaning their access to health care is dependent on whether they are employed by others. Two courts considering a lawsuit by Texas and other states have already ruled that DACA is unlawful, and the current make-up of the Supreme Court likely means an end to the program is near. Although we do not yet know how or when this will happen, many jobs and the health insurance that comes from employment for DACA recipients is at risk.

The impact of this is not small. We estimate that at least 310,000 people could lose their route to health insurance if DACA goes away. This estimate is based on two sources of data. First, the 52.2 percent of overall DACA recipients who reported having employer sponsored insurance in the survey we conducted with the Center for American Progress, United We Dream, and Professor Tom Wong. Second is the latest Department of Homeland Security count of Active DACA recipients: 594,120. This many affected individuals would be like if half the population of Vermont had their insurance cancelled, and it would undo progress the Biden administration has made in lowering the overall uninsured rate, particularly among communities of color. In addition, any dependents relying on that insurance could also lose coverage, though some could be eligible for public insurance programs. Yet with more than a quarter of survey respondents indicating they have children we would expect an end to DACA to lead to disrupted access to health care for tens of thousands of children.

If there’s one thing the years of work leading up to the passage of the Affordable Care Act made clear, it’s that the harmful effects of being uninsured are well documented. This was emphasized by COVID-19, during which millions of cases and tens of thousands of excess deaths have been linked to uninsurance. Higher uninsured rates lead to uncompensated costs and a loss of economic benefits. At a time when there is momentum toward decreasing the number of uninsured, it would be foolish to push hundreds of thousands of people into a place where preventative care isn’t available and emergency rooms are the go-to source of medicine.

DACA is under threat, and without action, our country will be heading towards a health care disaster. Congress should act now to pass permanent protections and a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients and immigrant youth.

Ben D’Avanzo is a Senior Health Policy Analyst at NILC.

Texas’ Judge Shopping Undermines Public Interest and the Future of Public Policy (The Torch)

Texas’ Judge Shopping Undermines Public Interest and the Future of Public Policy


October 4, 2022

Driven by ambitions for higher office at any expense, Texas’ governor and attorney general have challenged virtually every action taken by the Biden administration. Texas is particularly committed to stymieing any attempt to make the immigration system more just and humane. But immigration is not the only target. Texas’ numerous lawsuits against the administration have also attacked everything from abortion access to environmental protections.

Texas’ litigation tactics are as awful as its motives. In each case Texas has filed within its state, Texas has engaged in “judge shopping,” a practice of manipulating court rules to all-but hand-pick which district judges will initially hear the cases they bring. Texas has done so with a clear goal: prevent any judges appointed by Democrats from hearing these cases and ensure an outcome in Republicans’ favor. That manipulation has worked; of the 20 politically motivated lawsuits Texas has filed in federal court, a Democrat-appointed judge has heard only one case.

Photo by Brian Jackson

In an ideal world, the judiciary stands apart from politics. But, by hand-picking only judges appointed by Republicans, Texas takes a huge step away from that ideal. Texas ensures that each decision it obtains is tainted by politics. The result is a minority of states obstructing national policy in front of only a handful of cherry-picked judges appointed by a single political party.

While judge shopping is harmful, the problem is easily solvable. The future of justice, policymaking, and democracy in this country depends on it.


Zooming Out: How Court Cases Are Assigned to A Trial Judge

The federal court system is comprised of 94 judicial districts within which most new cases are filed. Each state has between one and four judicial districts. Judicial districts range in size from a single city to an entire state.  

Districts can be vast; for example, the District of Alaska spans the State’s entire 665,400 square miles. As a result, many districts are further subdivided into “divisions.” Federal law establishes in which district a new case must be filed but leaves it to the individual courts to decide how to divide work among divisions. 

Texas has four judicial districts: the Northern, Eastern, Southern, and Western Districts of Texas. Each district is further divided into divisions. Many of these divisions contain three or fewer judges, each assigned a set percentage of new cases. And many of those one-to-three-judge divisions assign between 95 and 100 percent of new cases to judges appointed by Republican presidents. In other words, by choosing a specific court for a new case, a litigator can virtually guarantee that a Republican-appointed judge will hear their case, and in some cases, which judge specifically will preside.  

Texas has taken full advantage of the case-assignment system and filed every one of its 20 in-state cases in courts where Republican-appointed judges hear between 95 and 100 percent of cases, and in which three or fewer judges sit. Texas has filed eleven of those cases in courts where a single, Republican-appointed judge hears between 95 and 100 percent of cases. Put simply: Texas has made sure that it has never had more than a 1-in-20 chance of appearing before a Democrat-appointed judge. Texas has then used those cases to obtain unprecedented, nationwide orders barring numerous Biden administration policies from being implemented at the federal level. 

Texas’ judge shopping is clearly intentional. The state does not file lawsuits in Austin, where its governor and attorney general are based, because half of cases there are assigned to a Democrat-appointed judge. Texas also avoids filing in most of its largest cities, including Dallas and El Paso, where Democrat-appointed judges sit. Texas’ only big city litigation has been filed in Fort Worth, a court with three Republican-appointed judges that lies 12 miles away from Dallas, a city with 11 judges from both political parties. 

Immigration cases are Texas’ most flagrant examples of judge shopping. Texas has not filed any of its immigration-related lawsuits within 150 miles of the border because most courts near the border include Democrat-appointed judges. In fact, Texas has filed three immigration lawsuits in Amarillo, which is the furthest northern courthouse in the state, and assigns 95-percent of cases to a single, Trump-appointed judge.

Fighting Back to Restore Trust in the Courts

NILC is fighting back against Texas’ misconduct. Most recently, on September 19, 2022, NILC filed an amicus brief with the U. S. Supreme Court on behalf of renowned law professor Steve Vladeck and coauthored by attorneys at Jenner & Block. That case seeks to overturn Texas’ nationwide bars on the administration’s guidance about who to prioritize for immigration enforcement. Texas filed that lawsuit in Victoria, two hundred miles from the nearest point of the Mexico border where only a single Trump-appointed judges receives cases.

The brief shows how Texas is manipulating the judiciary and explains why that improper behavior undermines Texas’ arguments in two ways.

First, the brief explains that the courts have long interpreted the Constitution to forbid lawsuits over generalized political grievances. Texas’ manipulative conduct has been possible only because its claimed harms from Biden administration policies are not uniquely present in any of Texas’ locations (or Texas overall).

Second, the brief reiterates to the Court that orders like those granted by the trial court are only allowed if they are in the public interest. The brief explains how courts have regularly found that this type of manipulation of the courts harms faith in the independence of the judiciary and harms the public interest.

Texas is unlikely to change its conduct and a decision in the Supreme Court case won’t come until 2023. Until SCOTUS can make clear that Texas’ conduct is unacceptable, Congress and the Courts should take steps even sooner to block Texas’ behavior. Specifically, Congress could easily require that lawsuits against federal government policies be filed in the District of Columbia, where the federal government is located, and where judges appointed by both parties preside. Separately, the Texas federal courts could change their rules, requiring that lawsuits against nationwide federal government policies be randomly assigned among all the district’s judges and not just those in a specific division. Removing Texas’ ability to further politicize the courts will benefit all and go a long way toward restoring trust in our judiciary.


Max Wolson is a staff attorney at NILC.

NILC Statement on Biden Administration’s New DACA Regulation

August 24, 2022

Email: [email protected]
Madison Allman, 202-384-1279
Emily Morris, 213-457-7458

NILC Statement on Biden Administration’s New DACA Regulation 

WASHINGTON — Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, issued the following statement in response to the Biden administration’s newly released regulation on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy:

“For more than ten years, DACA has positively transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of immigrant youth and their communities. We welcome the Biden administration’s continued efforts to ensure that DACA recipients can remain here in the country they call home. While the Biden administration’s new rule sends a clear message that DACA works, our communities need more.

“Strengthening DACA is a crucial step, but it is not a substitute for congressional action. Congress must pass a permanent solution, not only for DACA recipients, but for as many immigrant youth as possible. As we continue to fight back politically motivated attacks on DACA, we urge the administration to move swiftly to implement the new rule and ensure a measure of stability for hundreds of thousands of our community members whose home is here.”


NILC and SPLC Win Class Certification in Lawsuit Alleging ICE and IRS Agents Violated Workers’ Civil Rights During Workplace Raid

August 11, 2022

National Immigration Law Center, Emily Morris, [email protected], 213-457-7458
Southern Poverty Law Center, Anna Núñez, [email protected], 334-201-9236

NILC and SPLC Win Class Certification in Lawsuit Alleging ICE and IRS Agents Violated Workers’ Civil Rights During Workplace Raid

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A federal court in Tennessee has cleared the way for a collective federal civil rights action brought on behalf of over 100 Latino workers against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agents involved in the planning and execution of a racially-motivated workplace raid at a Tennessee meat processing plant, on April 5, 2018.  Earlier this week, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee granted class certification in Isabel Zelaya, et al. v. Robert Hammer, et al, a lawsuit alleging ICE and IRS agents violated workers’ civil rights.

The National Immigration Law Center (NILC) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), along with their co-counsel, sought class certification on behalf of approximately 100 Latino workers who were unlawfully targeted for arrest on the basis of their race and ethnicity on April 5, 2018, in what was the largest workplace immigration raid in nearly a decade. Agents from ICE, the IRS, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Tennessee Highway Patrol, and the Morristown Police Department carried out the raid. The federal lawsuit alleges claims of conspiracy to violate workers’ equal protection rights, excessive force, and false arrest.  

The court, in granting the workers’ motion for class certification, ruled that Plaintiffs satisfied all class action requirements, and that the class action is likely the only way over one-hundred Latino workers impacted during the raid could bring these claims. The court found the Plaintiffs submitted evidence suggesting that each class member was allegedly harmed through the execution of a single plan orchestrated by the IRS and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Additionally, the court found that “in the run-up to the Raid, case agents frequently discussed arresting Hispanic workers and conflated Hispanic ethnicity with illegal status,” noting that ‘“the initial plan for the Raid indicated that ‘Hispanics’ will be processed through HSI/ERO procedures,” and that Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) ‘anticipate[d] working late into the evening processing the Hispanics the day of the warrant.’” 

The court also noted that the evidence to date showed that “No white workers were arrested on the day of the Raid,” but that the “individuals arrested that day and transported to the Armory were uniformly Hispanic,” and that agents “detained the Latino employees — even those who asserted they had valid work authorizations — and transported them to the Morristown Armory on vans.”

The ruling means that over 100 Latino class members may now proceed collectively to prosecute this civil rights case against ICE and IRS agents as the case enters the summary judgment phase this fall.  

The following statements are provided by:

Michelle Lapointe, senior staff attorney, National Immigration Law Center

“This raid was conducted in an unnecessarily violent, humiliating and demeaning manner toward Latino workers. Plaintiffs seek justice on behalf of all Latino workers detained during the raid. We are pleased the court will allow the case to proceed as a class action, and look forward to proving our claims in court.”

Meredith Stewart, senior supervising attorney for the Immigrant Justice Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center

“As class counsel, we look forward to defending the constitutional rights of each class member whom the federal agents unlawfully targeted for enforcement during the Raid. The Constitution protects all people from law enforcement overreach, and the class members look forward to vindicating those rights in Court. This week’s ruling is a significant step in our fight for justice for our clients and their families.”



Zelaya et al. v. Miles et al. was filed on Feb. 21, 2019.  Plaintiffs are represented by the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), pro bono attorneys Eben P. Colby, Jeremy A. Berman, Arthur R. Bookout and the law firms of Sherrard, Roe, Voigt & Harbison and Sperling & Slater. On April 5, 2018, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), with assistance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Tennessee Highway Patrol and the Morristown Police Department, executed the largest workplace immigration raid in nearly a decade, detaining approximately 100 Latino workers at an east Tennessee meat processing plant, violating their civil rights. 

NILC Celebrates Senate Passage of Health and Climate Bill, Rejection of Anti-Immigrant Agenda

August 7, 2022

Email: [email protected]
Madison Allman, 202-384-1279
Emily Morris, 213-457-7458

NILC Celebrates Senate Passage of Health and Climate Bill, Rejection of Anti-Immigrant Agenda 

WASHINGTON — Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, issued the following statement upon Senate passage of the Inflation Reduction Act — landmark health and climate legislation: 

“Today is a historic day for our country and for our planet. While far from perfect, this bill promises to take major steps towards bolstering the health of our communities and ensuring that future generations will have a more sustainable world to live in. Importantly, the Senate sent a clear message that hate and xenophobia have no place in our society by voting down every anti-immigrant amendment, including amendments that would have codified the Trump administration’s Title 42 asylum ban. We commend Majority Leader Schumer for his leadership in keeping the Democratic caucus united around delivering this legislation. We are especially thankful to Senators Menendez and Padilla, who stood up as our champions to advocate boldly on behalf of asylum seekers and low-income immigrant communities throughout the process.

“We urge the House to move quickly to pass this legislation, and for President Biden to sign it into law. We stand ready to continue to support our partners and allies in the climate justice and healthcare sectors as they work to make our communities at home and abroad safer, healthier, and more sustainable. We look forward to partnering with the Biden administration, Congress, and stakeholders across civil society to take positive, constructive action on a host of immigration issues, including by passing legislation that would provide permanent protections for DACA recipients.”


NILC Statement Urging Democrats to Reject Harmful Anti-Immigrant Amendments in Crucial Reconciliation Bill

August 2, 2022

Email: [email protected]
Madison Allman, 202-384-1279
Emily Morris, 213-457-7458

NILC Statement Urging Democrats to Reject Harmful Anti-Immigrant Amendments in Crucial Reconciliation Bill

WASHINGTON — Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, issued the following statement ahead of the upcoming deliberation in Congress on a health care and climate bill:

“With Congress poised to act on unprecedented legislation that addresses critical issues facing our communities on healthcare and our planet due to increasing climate disasters, lawmakers must reject any attempt to poison this historic legislation with unrelated, harmful immigration amendments.

“Democratic leaders must be unequivocal and ensure any anti-immigrant amendments are kept out of this bill, including opposing any final version that departs from the climate and healthcare deal to codify the Trump administration’s Title 42 asylum ban.

“For years, Republicans have repeatedly blocked efforts to pass real legislative solutions to update our dysfunctional immigration system. Capitulating to their politically motivated scapegoating of immigrants, and allowing them to use a climate and health care bill to block people seeking safety and freedom, would be unconscionable.

“A deal’s a deal, and there’s no reason to allow political gamesmanship to poison this legislation with anti-immigrant provisions that would harm our country.”


NILC Statement on Court Decision in Pars Equality Center v. Pompeo  

August 2, 2022

Email: [email protected],
Madison Allman, 202-384-1279
Emily Morris, 213-457-7458

NILC Statement on Court Decision in Pars Equality Center v. Pompeo  

WASHINGTON — After a federal court ruled that the Biden administration must undo the harms of the Muslim and African Bans and reconsider denied visa applications, Max Wolson, staff attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, issued the following statement:

“This momentous victory is a result of tireless organizing by communities around the country and will have profound impact on those whose lives and livelihoods have been derailed by the Muslim and African bans. Now, we look to the Biden administration to do the right thing by living up to its promises, redressing the ongoing harms of these discriminatory bans, and finally establishing a fair process to ensure that people denied opportunities and relief in the U.S. no longer have to live in limbo.”


Families, Civil Rights Organizations Celebrate Court Decision that U.S. Government Must Redress Muslim Ban Harms 

August 2, 2022

Madison Allman, NILC, [email protected], 202-384-1279
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, [email protected]

Families, Civil Rights Organizations Celebrate Court Decision that U.S. Government Must Redress Muslim Ban Harms 

Federal court rules Biden administration must undo the harms of the Muslim and African Bans and proactively reconsider denied visa applicants 

No Muslim Ban Ever Coalition of over 100 Muslim and immigrants’ rights groups hails decision, mobilizes to hold Biden administration accountable to ruling

SAN FRANCISCO – While families remain separated by the Trump administration’s racist and Islamophobic Muslim and African Bans, a federal court in San Francisco ruled in Pars Equality Center, et. al. v. Pompeo, et. al. that the Biden administration must  undo the harms of the Bans. 

The Biden administration must now meet with the plaintiffs to establish a fair and effective process to reopen and reconsider applications from people who were denied family reunification, jobs and educational opportunities, and medical treatment as a result of the Bans and the current administration’s protracted refusals to redress the lasting harms, even after rescinding the Bans on President Biden’s first day in office. 

“Our clients have been living in legal limbo for years, unable to live full, abundant lives, pursue their careers, and start a family,” said Paris Etemadi Scott, Legal Director at Pars Equality Center, which brought the lawsuit with others in 2018. “Communities in every part of the U.S. and in countries around the world are celebrating: the Biden administration must finish the work of their rescission and end the shameful discrimination that people from Muslim-majority and African countries have faced, simply because of where they were born. This decision shows the power of relentless community organizing for what’s right.” 

With offices spread across California, Pars Equality Center provides extensive social and legal services to Iranian Americans, Persian-speaking, and other underserved immigrant communities. Since the Biden administration rescinded the Bans, dozens of the center’s clients have endured an indefinite state of limbo. As a result of the ruling, the U.S. government has been ordered to quickly remedy the lasting harms of the Bans with a clear and legitimate process.

In the wake of the ruling, the No Muslim Ban Ever Coalition, the largest national grassroots coalition focused on rescinding the Bans, is mobilizing to ensure the Biden administration effectively and swiftly implements the court’s ruling. The coalition continues to advocate for the NO BAN Act, which would limit dangerously broad authority in U.S. immigration law so that no future president can issue bans that bar the entry of people based on their religion or national origin. 

Prior to rescission, more than 41,800 individuals and families have been denied visas and waivers under the Muslim and African Bans without notice of the process, an opportunity to submit evidence or file for reconsideration. Despite the Biden administration’s rescission of the Bans, families remain separated and caught in a black hole of administrative delays, with little information or clarity and no recourse to repair the damage. More than 34,800 people signed a petition in the past year urging the Biden administration to allow all individuals who were denied entry by the Bans their fair shot at immigration.

Pars Equality Center and community members from Muslim-majority countries were represented by the National Immigration Law Center, Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, Council on American-Islamic Relations – California, Iranian American Bar Association, and Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP.

Additional details and documents related to the case, Pars Equality Center, et. al. v. Pompeo, et. al., can be found here:


Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Understanding of the Power of Language Is a Welcome Addition to the Supreme Court (The Torch)

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Understanding of the Power of Language is a Welcome Addition to the Supreme Court


APRIL 7, 2022

At the recent hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA) asked Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson about her seemingly “conscious choice” to avoid harmful language in her legal writings to acknowledge the inherent humanity of all people who come before her court, including immigrants.

“Judges are the only branch of government who are required to write our opinions, to explain our decisions,” Judge Jackson responded. “I have long believed, in that capacity, that our clarity and language matters.”

Judge Jackson’s clear understanding of the power of naming in the pursuit of equal justice under the law only further demonstrates the urgent need to confirm her to the United States Supreme Court.

Photo on Wikimedia Commons

As a federal judge, Judge Jackson has grappled with difficult legal questions with significant impact on immigrant communities. In each of these cases, Judge Jackson did what we would want and expect any good judge to do—weigh the facts of each case with relevant law and precedent to render a decision.

While not all her decisions have been favorable to immigrants, she has consistently and deliberately forgone the use of terms like “illegal” or “alien” when describing immigrants in all her cases. Writing in two separate cases concerning immigration policy, Judge Jackson rejected the dehumanizing terms, which historically appear in statutes and other legal writings, and instead used the terms “undocumented” and “non-citizen.”

Some may not immediately realize the significance of this intentional use of language. But for those of us fighting for immigrant justice, it’s a noteworthy and encouraging shift with consequences that reverberate beyond the courtroom.

Anti-immigrant forces have long weaponized dehumanizing language to advance their political interests. No one in recent history has done so to greater effect than Donald Trump, whose extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric represented the culmination of decades of escalating efforts to scapegoat immigrants, stoke fear, and divide Americans to retain power.

Advocates for immigrants’ rights, in contrast, have worked for years to push lawmakers to drop the use of these de-humanizing terms. These successful efforts have prompted local governments to remove such terms from official documents and sparked debates at federal agencies about doing the same, including the Library of Congress. Within months of taking office, President Biden directed immigration agencies to stop using “illegal alien” in favor of “undocumented non-citizen.”

Advocates have similarly pushed news organizations to rethink their language. In 2013, the Associated Press, whose stylebook is often referenced by other newsrooms, decided to stop using “illegal” to describe a person. And while debates about language continue in newsrooms, other news organizations have made similar editorial decisions.

The truth is that naming does matter. And when it comes to the law, it matters even more.

Throughout history, the Court has influenced American culture and public opinion – for better and worse – through its use of language. Decisions in Dred Scott and Plessy, for example, each used language that dehumanized Black Americans to legitimize and perpetuate the racist and unequal treatment of Black people. Both rulings are now broadly regarded as some of the Court’s gravest errors. But language can also accelerate greater social change, as was the case with Obergefell and the advancement of marriage equality for LGBTQ people. A justice who understands the power of language in the law is a welcome addition to the Court.

As a member of the federal judiciary and potentially of our nation’s highest court, Judge Jackson’s interpretation of the law and her writings will set a framework for future jurists. Her insistent rejection of dehumanizing anti-immigrant terms has major ripple effects beyond the letter of the law. After all, it’s the presence of these terms in our laws that are often cited in other spaces to justify their continued use.

Senators who are truly interested in fulfilling their constitutional duty to vet the Supreme Court nominee’s qualifications should take note. Confirming a justice who understands the power of naming and has consistently recognized the humanity and dignity of all people is not only a welcome addition to the Court, it’s monumental for the advancement of immigrant justice and human rights.

Lisa Graybill is NILC’s Legal Director.