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2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense & Education Fund now known as LatinoJustice PRLDEF. For forty years we have protected and promoted the civil and human rights of our Latino community and have increased the corps of attorneys that have become leaders in multiple fields. It is a legacy that we are proud of and we are preparing to celebrate our anniversary in various venues.
- January 9, 2013-REGISTER NOW
Pennsylvania has long been a hotbed of Latino political and civic struggle and LatinoJustice PRLDEF has been working in the Keystone State for decades. In 1977 PRLDEF extended its education rights strategy from the Aspira case in New York City to Philadelphia in Lopez de Vega v. Thomas, a bilingual education suit that resulted in equal educational opportunity mandates in the city.
In Arroyo v. Tucker, Philadelphia became one of the earliest cities in the country to implement bilingual election systems that benefited all Latino voters in need of language assistance, setting the stage for the national expansion of these rights in the Voting Rights Act amendments.
A decade later a challenge to a discriminatory redistricting plan in Philadelphia with the assistance of a young attorney named Angel Ortiz (Hispanic Coalition on Reapportionment), set the stage for the subsequent creation the first Puerto Rican legislative district to send a representative to Harrisburg.
LatinoJustice PRLDEF also protected the rights of Latino immigrants from being victimized and harassed in the 2006 lawsuit, Lozano v. Hazelton which challenged an ordinance requiring landlords, business owners and other entities not to rent or provide goods or services to “illegal aliens” or risk loss of licenses and permits and $1,000 per day penalties. The ordinance also imposed an English-only policy for city government services.
The Hazleton case was one of the earliest challenges to municipal anti-immigrant ordinances in the country. PRLDEF obtained permanent injunctive relief, which enjoined the City of Hazleton from implementing its new law. Finally, LatinoJustice PRLDEF is still fighting to protect the rights of Latino voters in Philadelphia, Lehigh and Berks counties in the pending federal case Garcia v. Legislative Reapportionment Commission as part of a series of engagements to support the work Latino Lines, the leading voice on redistricting and voting rights issues in Pennsylvania.
Our reception seeks to highlight this trajectory of work that spans nearly four decades.
Orlando & Miami, Florida
- Orlando: Monday, October 15, 2012
Miami: November 2012
Florida represents both the exponential growth of the Latino population in the past two decades, as well as the ongoing struggle to realize their civic, political and professional potential. Our Legacy Tour reception in Florida will highlight LatinoJustice’s role in fostering Latino leadership and will strengthen LatinoJustice PRLDEF’s ongoing Southeast presence.
Over the last six years LatinoJustice PRLDEF has invested significant resources in the Sunshine state by litigating, advocating, and promoting the rights of Latinos. In Central Florida we addressed immigrants’ rights by successful halting an anti-immigrant ordinance in Palm Bay.
In Pérez Santiago v. Volusia County, LatinoJustice PRLDEF successfully litigated to enforce compliance with bilingual election mandates under the Voting Rights Act. Our recent work in providing technical assistance, community education, legal analysis, and organizing resources in redistricting in Central Florida, Miami-Dade and Tampa have been particularly successful.
We are widely credited with creating two historic firsts in Florida: the first Latino plurality Congressional district in Central Florida and the first Latino majority State Senatorial district in Orange County. At the same time we are preparing litigation to challenge discriminatory redistricting plans in Orange County unless the matters are resolved amicably. Protecting access to the ballot for Hispanic voters is also a main focus of our work as evidenced by our participation in the team of lawyers who are currently challenging the legality of Florida’s 2012 purge of voters for alleged non-citizenship in Arcia v. Detzner.
With Florida’s ranking among the top four states with Latino population (with California, Texas and New York), LatinoJustice PRLDEF is consolidating its resources to expand its footprint and create a regional office presence in Florida in the near future.
Newark, New Jersey
- Thursday, November 29, 2012- REGISTRATION NOW CLOSED
One Gateway Center
Newark, NJ 07102
Our Jersey City event will celebrate the contributions and achievements of our supporters, partners and friends across the river in New Jersey, an important part of our history as it is the site of nearly 40 years of civil rights work.
Essex and Hudson counties had the largest number of Puerto Ricans eligible to vote yet impeded in their efforts because of English-only election systems. That all changed with the historic Márquez v. Falcey litigation which created not only judicially mandated bilingual assistance for all Spanish-dominant citizens, but led to permanent changes the State’s election code as well.
Our employment rights platform started with the plight of migrant farmworkers from Puerto Rico who came to the Garden State and in 1977 in Vázquez v. Ferré, PRLDEF protected the rights of these farmworkers in New Jersey fruit farms to facilities that met minimum health standards. In a related area, New Jersey was successfully sued by PRLDEF for their policies to terminate unemployment insurance benefits to Puerto Ricans who had returned to Puerto Rico in Rodríguez v. Hoffman.
During this time our Legal Education Division efforts to increase the numbers of Puerto Ricans who attend and succeed at law school through training, counseling and preparatory programs established a foothold in Newark to help that growing community.
A decade later in Jersey City another PRLDEF Voting Rights Act case made history when hundreds of Black and Puerto Rican voters were eventually paid money damages for the interference with their right to cast a ballot in June 1985 in a mayoral run-off election in Vargas v. Calabrese. The suit also resulted in a change in New Jersey’s election code that restricted the use of Election Day challenge practices.
Suits to ensure equal opportunity for Latino school children continued to highlight education rights as bilingual education and bilingual special education cases were filed in Jersey City (Puerto Rican Education Coalition v. Board of Education) and other jurisdictions. Often these cases required additional court actions to stop the termination and layoffs of bilingual teachers. New Jersey also had its share of English-only initiatives that PRLDEF immediately challenged.
In the 1980s and 90s we protected Spanish-speaking workers when the Mayor of Elizabeth, New Jersey who sought to stop municipal employees from speaking Spanish on the job, successfully protested an Englishonly work rule at Rite-Aid pharmacies in Jersey City and stopped its equivalent at a Jersey City hospital in González v. Christ Hospital. The 1990s also saw a longoverdue focus on the unique challenges of Latina rights within the larger civil rights focus because often government policies and decisions have a larger impact on Latina women than on men. Challenges to New Jersey’s decisions to restrict benefits to women who conceive while on public welfare were lodged in an administrative forum as part of this multi-year project. In recent years LatinoJustice PRLDEF was instrumental in protecting the rights of Latino day laborers in Freehold in Comité de Trabajadores v. Freehold and the rights of Latino immigrant tenants in Plainfield in Bollmer v. Connolly Properties while also being invited to testify before the New Jersey Senate on the unconscionable practice of denying access to higher education financing to dependent U.S. citizens who are residents of the State solely because of the undocumented status of their parents.
As this description attests, New Jersey’s Latino communities have been critical players in the historical development of civil rights protections.
- Wednesday, October 10, 2012
LJP has long history of working on behalf of Connecticut’s Puerto Rican and Latino community. Indeed our work goes back to the 1970s when we ensured equal treatment and access to government benefits for Spanish-dominant, poor households in Sanchez v. Maher, where the Connecticut State Welfare Department was forced to hire bilingual personnel and provide Spanish language forms and notices. Our education rights work also extended into Connecticut during this time in the case of Spanish-American Coalition v. Connecticut Department of Education, where vocational education programs were made available to Spanish-speaking school students throughout the State.
In the 1980s we worked with Bridgeport’s Puerto Rican community to ensure fair treatment of students and teachers through the efforts of community leaders like Cesar Batalla.
In the 1990s we continued to play a role in efforts to desegregate the nation’s public schools especially in Hartford in Sheff v. O’Neil, a landmark case from the Connecticut Supreme Court ruling that minority children in Hartford’s schools were deprived or educational opportunities compared to white students in Hartford’s suburbs.
In 2000 and beyond our efforts focused on fair redistricting and political participation of the State’s growing Latino community, a role that we continue to play as recently as last year. Our event in Connecticut will highlight this legacy and acknowledge the work of our community partners.
New York City, New York
- Tuesday, October 2, 2012
The event in New York City will be a celebration attended by professional and community friends, partners and supporters. This event will highlight the city where LJP was founded and where many of our key legal battles have been fought including Aspira v. Board of Education, Guardians Ass’n v. Civil Service of New York, Gerena Valentin v. Koch, and many others.
The event will be attended by LatinoJustice PRLDEF’s founders, Board members, as well as many of the alumni who have launched their professional and community activities with the help of LJP.
Indeed, the vision of the three founders of PRLDEF, Jorge Batista, Victor Marrero and Cesar Perales, included the creation of a Legal Education Division to increase the numbers of Puerto Ricans who attend and succeed at law school through training, counseling and preparatory programs.
Over the course of four decades, more than 7,000 students have successfully received our education counseling and leadership development training. Our historical footprint starts in New York City, from counseling Antonia Pantoja and Aspira to providing a leadership space on our Board of Directors for the then-attorney, now-Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, New York City is the epicenter of our work.