Immigrant families seek to join hearing on Berks Detention Center

A facility that was licensed (until recently) as a “child day treatment and residential facility” – but that actually operates as a jail, keeping families locked up and punishing them if they try to leave.  Children confined with adults other than their parents.   Inadequate medical care.   And an overall pattern, according to an Inquirer editorial, of “deplorable treatment.”

These are among conditions at the Berks County Residential Center, which houses immigrant families detained by the federal government.  Recently, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) revoked the facility’s license, but the county appealed and is continuing to operate the facility.

Now, the Sheller Center and its partners have filed a petition on behalf of some of the detained parents and children, asking to be heard when the appeal is considered.   “Our petition is an important symbol of the injustices faced by these detained families. It is essential that the voices and experiences of detained children and families be a part of the licensing appeal related to the Detention Center,” said Rhiannon DiClemente, a Temple 3L.

For more information, read the Petition to Intervene and recent news coverage.

UPDATE:   On April 5, the Administrative Law Judge overseeing the appeal denied our Petition to Intervene, on the ground that the families’ interest in the litigation “is adequately represented by the Department [of Human Services].”  We’re thinking about next steps.

Helping clients who have experienced trauma

Working with clients who have experienced trauma requires special skills and strategies — some of which are quite different from conventional approaches to interviewing and representation.  A crowd of faculty and students got a terrific introduction to the subject from psychologist Dr. Judith Eidelson, whose March 8th lecture was arranged by the student Family Law Society and cosponsored by the Temple Legal Aid Office, the Sheller Center for Social Justice, the Temple Advocacy Program, the Elder Law Clinic and family law professors Theresa Glennon and Rachel Rebouche.   You can view Dr. Eidelson’s PowerPoint presentation here.

Undocumented immigrants “are contributing plenty”

How much?  For 2013, the figure for Pennsylvania was $139 million in state and local taxes — plus an undetermined amount in federal taxes.  Prof. Jennifer Lee of the Sheller Center points out, in this article from, that the study recently released by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy shows that “there is another narrative out there about immigrants, apart from the prevailing one we hear a lot in this presidential election year.”

Protecting children from lead exposure

Most Philadelphia homes were built before the use of lead-based paint was restricted; as a result, thousands of Philly children suffer from elevated lead levels.   In a discussion on WHYY’s “Radio Times”, Prof. Nan Feyler, a Sheller Center Affiliated Faculty Member, called for more aggressive enforcement of codes requiring remediation of lead-paint problems.  She and several students are exploring code-enforcement problems this semester.

Victory for clients seeking disability benefits

Colleague Spencer Rand from the Temple Legal Aid Office discusses his students’ work on behalf of clients whose applications for disability benefits were denied by the Social Security Administration.  It took an appeal to federal court and a second round of hearings, but in the end, the clients won — with the result that they “can now live successfully and independently in the community.”

Students looking into “Live Stop”

Students in the Center’s Social Justice Lawyering Clinic are studying the Philadelphia Police Department’s “Live Stop” program, which authorizes police to tow a vehicle if, during a traffic stop, the driver cannot produce a current license or registration.  An Inquirer article (“Philly cops leave undocumented woman, kids in street, take car”) illustrates some of the problems that can result.  Working with New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, the Center is examining the impact of the law and comparing Philadelphia’s approach with that of other cities.

Tax clinic at the Sheller Center

As February approaches, plans are again underway for the Center’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) clinic.  Managed by Ceiba, a community organization, the clinic runs from February to mid-April, and is staffed in part by Temple Law student volunteers trained by Professor Alice Abreu (a member of the Center’s Affiliated Faculty).

Last year, the clinic prepared 187 returns, resulting in approximately $219,535 in state and federal refunds to local families.

The clinic also offers a terrific experience for law students.  Rachel Sellers, a second-year student, said this:  “VITA is an incredible opportunity to experience the tensions between tax policy and the consequences to real taxpayers. I genuinely looked forward to my Mondays at VITA as I met inspiring people and helped them to navigate the tax process. It is absolutely an eye-opening and worthwhile experience and I encourage everyone to volunteer!”

For more information, contact the Center or call Ceiba at 215.634.7245.

Grandparents win in Temple Legal Aid Office case

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania recently handed a victory to our partners at the Temple Legal Aid Office – Family Law Litigation Clinic, which collaborated with noted family law practitioner Stephanie Gonzalez Ferrandez in a case on behalf of grandparents seeking custody of their grandchildren. The brief on appeal, drafted by Stephen Boraske, Temple Law ’15, argued that grandparents always have standing to petition for custody of their grandchildren who have been adjudicated dependent. The Superior Court agreed in a precedential opinion.