40 Years Later: Continuing the Founders' Promise

Four decades of civil rights litigation and advocacy has left a successful legacy of landmark decisions in education rights, language rights, voting rights, workers’ rights and immigration issues that have touched the lives of millions of Latinos.

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LatinoJustice PRLDEF’s work for the last 40 years would not have been accomplished were it not for the extensive support we have received from our community, and the institutional and private sector partners that have donated to our cause. Chief among these is the Ford Foundation which enabled us to open our doors in 1972 and supports us unwaveringly through today.

More than 7,000 pre-law students have come through LatinoJustice PRLDEF’s doors to take preparatory courses and receive mentoring, counseling and support. A growing list of alumni includes prominent Latino judges, attorneys, deputy mayors, business leaders, elected officials, and union leaders.

Advocating Nationally for Latino Rights

Today, the organization is an aggressive advocate for Latino rights throughout the Northeast and beyond. It has joined the team of attorneys directly challenging the constitutionality of state anti-immigrant ordinances in Alabama (HICA v. Bentley) and South Carolina (Low Country Immigration Coalition v. Haley). A second suit in Alabama (Central Alabama Fair Housing Center v. Magee) resulted in a preliminary finding that the Alabama State Legislature purposefully targeted Latino immigrants when it passed its extreme anti-immigrant law.

The organization has championed the rights of Latina immigrant workers through its Latinas at Work project, and has added an additional project to address workers’ rights throughout the New York metropolitan area. In housing, LatinoJustice PRLDEF is on the cutting edge of creating case law that protects immigrants from discrimination in the denial of their leases based on their status or alienage in cases like Recalde v Bae Cleaners. Police practices that result in the racial profiling and/or direct abuse of expression of civil liberties by Latinos have been challenged in Suffolk County, NY, in New York City and in Puerto Rico.

Efforts to repair and advance the pipeline of students who seek to enter the law profession have been enhanced with a comprehensive makeover in the CAP Leadership Institute and its incorporation of the Youth Civic Engagement Network and leadership training efforts that will ensure a cadre of civil rights leaders for tomorrow.

A Familiar Face Takes Over

In April 2011, Juan Cartagena became the President and General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF. Cartagena, a constitutional law and civil rights attorney, served as a PRLDEF intern in the 1970s before starting his post-graduate legal career as a staff attorney fellow at PRLDEF in the 1980s.

Under Cartagena, the organization has continued to grow and evolve, with plans to expand its work into the Southeastern United States, and with a number of new attorneys and legal fellows joining its staff.

Redistricting and Reapportionment for Upcoming Elections

LatinoJustice PRLDEF continued to use the Voting Rights Act to successfully provide the foundation for increased Latino representation in legislative bodies as a way to ensure that state and local legislation would not impede the political participation of Latino residents. The group developed and shared redistricting tools with communities in Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Central Florida, along with Tampa and Hillsborough County have been areas of focus because favorable redistricting plans were proposed and litigation has been contemplated.

Pennsylvania’s Latino communities were successful, with our efforts, to ensure fair legislative local districts in Philadelphia, but litigation on other levels was filed (Garcia v. 2011 Legislative Reapportionment Commission). In New York State, LatinoJustice PRLDEF joined other attorneys to successfully defend a progressive New York law that would count prisoners as residents of their home districts, not their prison towns, for redistricting purposes (Little v. LATFOR). In New York City, our attorneys intervened in a statewide redistricting challenge in federal court in Ramos v. Cuomo and created the second Latino majority congressional district in New York City history

LatinoJustice PRLDEF has demonstrated time and again its relevance to the Latino community and its aggressive, comprehensive approach to the use of law as an element of social change in our country. In the four decades of its existence, the organization has lived up to the promise of its founders as a leader in the protection of the civil rights of Latino communities and an agent promoting the respect of the ideals that make our country stronger.

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