Former Foster Kids Plead for Attorneys in WA, Haitian Cholera Victims Sue UN and Openly Gay, Secretly Undocumented

Former Foster Children Plead for Kids to Have Attorneys

A bill stuck in the Legislature could make a difference for young people when they are most alone and in need.
foster kids bill
By John Stang- Photo courtesy by John Stang
October 4, 2013–The  common thread was control. Losing it.
Yearning for it. Grasping for it.That’s part of being in the foster care system. moving from foster family to foster family, from school to school without any legal say in your fate.Three women, all former foster kids, shared their experiences with the Washington House’s Early Learning & Human Services Committee and Judiciary Committee on Thursday at a hearing in Olympia. They testified in favor of a stalled bill that would require the state to provide foster kids — indeed, all kids — with an attorney in family court cases where the child’s parents have had their parental rights terminated.”I did not know what it would be like to feel alone until I was in foster care (at the age of 5),” Delilah Bruskas, 48, told the committee. Delilah, who is from Tacoma, lived with seven foster families, attending four elementary, two junior high and four high schools. “If I had legal representation,” she continued, “I’d have asked several questions: When can I see my mother? When can I go home? … I feared social workers. To me, they were the most powerful people on earth. They could take a child from a family. … I believe legal representation can ensure optimal outcomes.”“It takes away your humanity,” said Mikhail Stewart, 21, of Olympia, about her journey through 22 different foster homes in six years. “It seems like you’re a piece of property.”Mandy Urwiler, 19, of Seattle said the attorney she obtained in family court four years ago “treated me like an adult when the state treated me like a kid.”Washington’s 39 counties are a hodgepodge of different rules about when to provide attorneys for foster children whose parents had their rights terminated. Right now, the appointment of attorneys in such cases is discretionary — based on a judge’s determination — and it varies widely across the state. King County appoints an attorney for children 12 and older; the Benton-Franklin county system for kids eight and older; judges in several counties don’t appoint attorneys for kids at all.”Youths are constantly baffled by the fact that some kids get an attorney and some do not,” said Jim Theofelis,  executive director of The Mockingbird Society, a foster care advocacy organization. “Surely, we do not want a justice-by-geography system. … An unintended consequence of no legal representation is that it feeds that feeling of desperation in young people.” Continue reading here.Check out the full hearing here

Haitian Cholera Victims Sue UN for Gross Negligence

October 9, 2013, New York— Attorneys from the human rights groups Bureau des Avocats Internationaux(BAI) and Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), and civil rights law firm Kurzban, Kurzban, Weinger, Tetzelli & Pratt (KKWT), announced today the filing of a class action lawsuit against the United Nations (UN) on behalf of victims of the deadly cholera epidemic in Haiti.  Since October 2010, when the UN contaminated Haiti’s principal river with cholera-infected human waste, the disease has killed over 8,300, sickened more than 650,000, and continues to kill about 1,000 Haitians per year.

Speaking from Geneva, where he is being honored as a finalist for the Martin Ennals Human Rights Award, BAI Managing Attorney Mario Joseph said: “The filing of this lawsuit marks a critical step towards justice for Haiti and all those who have suffered and are suffering because of cholera.”  Joseph is co-counsel on the case and has led the fight for justice for cholera victims since 2011.

The plaintiffs in the case are five Haitians and Haitian-Americans whose family members died of the disease or who were infected but managed to survive life-threatening cholera. The plaintiffs are asking the court to certify the case as a class action, which will allow the plaintiffs to represent and obtain relief for the hundreds of thousands Haitians and Haitian-Americans who suffered injuries or died from cholera.

“The Plaintiffs have undergone indescribable suffering as a result of cholera and have to live with the knowledge that cholera can strike again. They have rights to have a Court hear their case and rights to damages that will help them go on with their lives and access clean water,” said Brian Concannon, Jr., Esq., director of IJDH and co-counsel for the plaintiffs.

The 67-page complaint, filed today in federal court in the Southern District of New York, details extensive evidence demonstrating that the UN knew or should have known that its reckless sanitation and waste disposal practices posed a high risk of harm to the population, and that it consciously disregarded that risk, triggering an explosive epidemic. The plaintiffs seek damages for personal injury, wrongful death, emotional distress, loss of use of property and natural resources, and breach of contract.

“We anticipate that the UN will seek to avoid responding to the evidence presented by the victims by arguing that the court does not have jurisdiction to hear the case. We are prepared for that challenge, and are confident that the court will find that the case must proceed because the victims have a recognized right to access courts that must be protected,” said Ira Kurzban, Esq., a civil rights litigator with KKWT and co-counsel on the case.

The UN has legal obligations under international treaties to provide people harmed by its operations either compensation or a fair forum to present their claims, but the organization has not complied with this requirement. In November 2011, BAI, IJDH and KKWT filed claims with the UN on behalf of 5,000 Haitian victims of cholera, seeking remedies and the establishment of the commission.

The UN refused to receive the claims in February 2013, claiming that they were “not receivable” because considering them would “require a review of political or policy matters.” The UN has come under strong criticism for its handling of the case, which includes denial of responsibility, stonewalling press inquiries, and a refusal to even meet with the cholera victims or their lawyers.

Openly Gay, Secretly Undocumented


New America Media / Coachella Uninc., News Feature, Brenda R. Rincon, Posted: Oct 02, 2013. Photo courtesy, New America Media

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – Juan Ceballos came to the United States so he could live freely as an openly gay man. But the move came with a high cost: he had to take on another secret identity as an undocumented immigrant.

Ceballos was 17 when he entered the United States by foot, a backpack on his shoulders, easily passing as an American student through the Tijuana border.

He quickly realized that, as an undocumented immigrant, it wouldn’t be easy to stay in the United States. And as a gay man, it wouldn’t be easy to go back to Mexico.

Ultimately, his fear of being deported outweighed his fear of being ostracized in Mexico.

“To be here was more difficult,” says Ceballos. “I was afraid.”

After only two months of living as an undocumented immigrant in the United States, Ceballos decided to go back to Mexico.

But he didn’t last long there either.

His return to his hometown of San Luis Potosí, in central Mexico, thrust him back into the same bullying and verbal abuse that he had tried to escape.

Ceballos, who knew he was gay at a very young age, had a difficult relationship with his father, who he describes as “macho.” The treatment he received from his father upon his return home eventually drew him back to the United States.

Continue reading here.