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Civil Rights Protections for Service Members and their Families
October 13, 2011 Posted by

The following post appears courtesy of Tom Perez,  Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. It originally appeared on WhiteHouse.gov.

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of meeting with service members at the Ft. Knox Military Installation and discussing the civil rights protections that we at the Department of Justice are working hard to enforce on their behalf, and on behalf of their families.  While there, the United States Attorney for the Western District of Kentucky David J. Hale and I met with LTG Benjamin C. Freakley, Commanding General, U.S. Army Accession Command at Fort Knox, and toured the newly opened Maude Complex, home to Human Resources Command where more than 4,400 military and civilian workers are employed.

We also met with Staff Judge Advocate Col. Robert J. Cotell and Ft. Knox’s Legal Assistance Division to discuss a number of significant laws that the Civil Rights Division enforces to protect service members and their families, including the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Military judge advocate general’s (JAG) offices advise service members of their rights under these laws.  JAG lawyers also partner with local U.S. Attorney’s Offices and the Civil Rights Division to ensure that these rights are protected and enforced.

While at Ft. Knox, I spoke with approximately 100 soldiers from various units — including the Warrior Transition Unit, which assists wounded soldiers — to discuss the Civil Rights Division’s recent efforts to protect important economic, housing, voting, loan and employment rights of our nation’s service members.  I wanted to hear directly from the men and women serving our nation in uniform about the challenges they face, so that we can do our best to address those challenges.  The meeting was very informative, and I learned about particular issues and cases in a wide range of civil rights areas.  I was inspired by their commitment to service and the sacrifice that our soldiers are making on behalf of the nation.

As I told the soldiers: “There is a posse of people in the federal government making sure that the remarkable sacrifice that you make on behalf of our country is a sacrifice that is matched by our commitment to help you in so many different [civil rights] areas.” 

I encouraged Ft. Knox’s soldiers to seek advice from their JAG office about their rights under these laws and to report violations of their rights.  I also talked about the Department’s recent enforcement actions, including successful efforts to avoid the foreclosure of homes owned by soldiers serving overseas and to compensate soldiers who return from deployment to find that they no longer have a civilian job.  At the end of May, the Division announced two multi-million dollar settlements under SCRA, including a $20 million settlement with Bank of America/Countrywide to resolve allegations that the mortgage servicer unlawfully foreclosed on approximately 160 service members.  This was the largest SCRA settlement we have ever reached.  To date in the current administration, 34 cases have been filed under USERRA to protect the employment rights of service members, more than were filed in the previous four years combined.  In the 2010 elections, the Division aggressively enforced UOCAVA to ensure that Americans serving in our armed forces and citizens living overseas received their absentee ballots in time to ensure that they had the opportunity to vote and to have their votes counted.

But we can do more. While at Ft. Knox, I also discussed the package of legislative proposals that the Department of Justice sent to Congress on September 20th.  These proposals would significantly strengthen the existing laws that protect the civil rights of members of the military and their families.  The package of reforms addresses all three of the service member civil rights statutes that the Civil Rights Division enforces.  These three laws were all enacted with broad, bipartisan support, and these new proposals will make the protections afforded to our service members even stronger.

For more information about the Department’s work on behalf of service members, please visit www.servicemembers.gov.

POSTED IN: Civil Rights Division  |  PERMALINK
Champions for Justice
October 13, 2011 Posted by

 

Attorney General Holder hosts a panel with a selection of the honorees to discuss how to increase access to justice.

Attorney General Holder hosts a panel with a selection of the honorees to discuss how to increase access to justice.

 

 “Equal justice under the law” is more than just a phrase. It is an American ideal, at the core of our belief system.   And yet, for too many Americans, sound legal advice and assistance has been out of reach.

 That is why last year the President and the Attorney General launched the Access to Justice Initiative. It was formed to address this crisis – to ensure that basic legal services are available, affordable and accessible to everyone in this country – regardless of status, income, or wealth.  Across the country, the department has been diligently working with federal, state, local and private partners towards enhancing the availability, and quality of legal representation available to all.

Most defendants are dependent on the service of public lawyers, and in some cases, public defender caseloads are so excessive that they struggle to fulfill their basic obligations to their clients. Many times, these circumstances leave our criminal justice system falling short. Those who suffer most from these shortcomings are often the most vulnerable among us – immigrants, juveniles, the homeless, disabled veterans, or victims of domestic and sexual violence.

However, the innovation and perseverance of dedicated legal professionals across the nation is making a difference. 

 Today the Department of Justice and the White House, came together to celebrate and honor some of these “Champions of Change” who promote access to justice in their communities.  As Attorney General Eric Holder said:

All across the country, each one of them is making a difference – by helping people in dire need access legal services; by securing much-needed benefits for disabled children, military families, and veterans; by paving the way for individuals transitioning out of our prisons and jails to become productive members of their communities; and by helping to safeguard – and to empower – the most vulnerable among us.

Leading advocates from the private and public sector, including defense lawyers, prosecutors, law professors and law students attended the event.  There are 118 law schools watching the event via a live-feed, thousands more students got to witness as the Champions shared their successes and had an open discussion about the work that still remains to be done.

 Beginning on Oct. 17, 2011, a video of the event and Champions’ individual stories will be highlighted at www.whitehouse.gov/champions.  In addition, the Champions’ blogs, as well as entries from each of the 118 participating law schools describing their commitment to public service, will be featured.

 Since its launch, Access to Justice has made an impact in beginning to improve the legal system for all Americans, regardless of status. If you would like to learn more about the Access to Justice Initiative and how you can help in your own community, visit justice.gov/atj  

$130 Million Dollars in Cost Savings and Efficiency Measures
October 7, 2011 Posted by

 The following post appears courtesy of Attorney General Eric Holder

Since this Administration’s earliest days, President Obama has signaled his commitment to conserving resources – and saving precious taxpayer dollars – by cutting costs, streamlining government operations, and working to eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse wherever we find it.  Across the Justice Department, achieving these goals has been a top priority.  And we’ve made critical – and, at times, extremely difficult – decisions to improve efficiency and reduce spending.

For example, at the beginning of this year, I ordered a Justice Department-wide hiring freeze, and instructed my colleagues at every level to limit travel, training, and other costs to only those needs that are absolutely essential.  This order remains in effect – and, to date, the reductions in conference spending alone have already provided savings of $14 million over the same period last year.

In June, President Obama and Vice President Biden launched an Administration-wide Campaign to Cut Waste, and directed every office and agency in the Federal Government to take their cost-cutting efforts to the next level.  Once again, the Justice Department rose to the challenge.

I am proud to report that the Department has taken significant, aggressive action to make good on our promise to act as sound stewards of taxpayer funds.  [Earlier this week/Last week], we announced a series of measures that will increase our efficiency, maintain our critical law enforcement and public safety activities, and save more than $130 million.

We’re determined to meet current budgetary challenges by more effectively using the Department’s resources, realigning functions in various offices, and lowering lease costs by consolidating or reducing office space wherever possible.  Based on the guidance of Deputy Attorney General James Cole, the recommendations of Justice Department leaders at every level, and the robust efforts of the Advisory Council for Savings and Efficiencies – which I created in July 2010, and which has already provided more than $50 million in savings – my colleagues and I will continue to seek new ways to reduce spending and increase the efficiency of our day-to-day-operations, without compromising our effectiveness.

In this time of uncommon challenges and unprecedented threats, the need to conserve scarce resources – and to accomplish more with less – has never been more apparent, or more urgent.  Across the Department of Justice, we are fully committed to these efforts.  And, throughout the Administration, I am confident in our ability to build on this record of success.

Learn more about the cost-saving measures recently announced by the Justice Department.

Improving Public Safety & Creating Jobs
October 5, 2011 Posted by

 

Attorney General Holder announces COPS grants in Ohio.

Attorney General Holder announces COPS grants in Ohio.

 

The following post appears courtesy of Attorney General Eric Holder.

Today, along with COPS Director Barney Melekian, I traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio, to discuss the Justice Department’s most recent efforts to support our nation’s law enforcement community – and to ensure that police officers from coast to coast have the resources that they need and deserve.

In recent years, police departments like Cincinnati’s – and law enforcement agencies nationwide – have faced extraordinary budget difficulties and have been asked to do more with less.  All across the country, law enforcement officials have risen to the challenge – and found innovative, collaborative ways to improve public safety and to keep crime trends heading in the right direction.  But at a time when approximately 10,000 officer jobs have been cut, and three times as many positions are currently unfilled due to fiscal constraints, we have a looming national crisis on our hands, both in terms of public safety and public employment.  In short, our citizens need protection – and our police officers and other first responders need jobs.

As part of the Department’s ongoing effort to meet these needs, I’m proud to report that the COPS Office is providing more than $240 million in new grants to support the hiring and retention of more than 1,000 officers in nearly 240 agencies and municipalities across the country.  The Cincinnati Police Department alone was awarded more than $6.8 million in grant money from the COPS Hiring Program, which will fund 25 critical positions for three years. 

Such targeted investments are essential to advancing the Department’s mission to be smart, as well as tough, on crime.  These same priorities are reflected in President Obama’s proposed American Jobs Act, which – in addition to creating new employment opportunities and bolstering economic growth – aims to put more officers on the beat and strengthen public safety efforts nationwide. 

Although we all can be proud of – and inspired by – the courage and commitment that our nation’s law enforcement officers exhibit every day, we must find ways to take this work to the next level.  The COPS Hiring Program – and this Administration’s determination to create and restore law enforcement jobs across the country – will allow us to do just that.

To learn more about the COPS Hiring Program and the Department’s ongoing work to support our law enforcement partners at every level, read the press release or visit http://www.cops.usdoj.gov/

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month
October 4, 2011 Posted by

The following post appears courtesy of Susan B. Carbon, Director of the Office on Violence Against Women.

The Justice Department and The Office on Violence Against Women join all our partners in recognizing October as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  Since the Sept. 13, 1994 passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), there have been significant changes in society’s understanding of and response to violence against women – but there is much more that needs to be done to end domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking.

Hundreds of thousands of victims have benefitted, and their lives forever changed, because of the resolve and commitment to end violence. This has been demonstrated not only by Congress, but by all those who have diligently worked so hard over the past 17 years to implement this legislation in their crisis centers, police departments, emergency rooms, prosecutors’ offices, courtrooms and communities. 

But we cannot rest upon our laurels and let slide the progress we have made, or think that we don’t need to maintain our vigilance.  We have an enormous responsibility, to our friends, family, colleagues, communities, strangers, people from all walks of life in every corner of this country, to continue and broaden our efforts to end violence against women, children and men.  Sadly too many continue to be victimized; and as new professionals and volunteers enter the field, we need to ensure that they have access to the best practices and  training as we are faced with new challenges and tools of abuse.

In his proclamation marking October 2011 as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, President Obama noted the effects of domestic violence, especially on young people and children:

… The ramifications of domestic violence are staggering. Young women are among the most vulnerable, suffering the highest rates of intimate partner violence. Exposure to domestic violence puts our young men and women in danger of long-term physical, psychological, and emotional harm. Children who experience domestic violence are at a higher risk for failure in school, emotional disorders, and substance abuse, and are more likely to perpetuate the cycle of violence themselves later in life.

Prevention and intervention efforts focused on breaking the cycle of abuse and violence is an important part of OVW’s ongoing work.  Over the past couple of years, OVW has embarked upon the development of a new program to broaden the reach of those working to end violence against women by engaging men and boys to work together as allies with women and girls. 

 This is the first time in the history of OVW that a grant program focuses primarily on the prevention of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking by acknowledging the critical role men and boys play in addressing these issues.  That, along with the program’s focus on the creation of public education campaigns through the work of community-based organizations and local community partners, has generated great interest and excitement. With men as partners in this work, we have the potential to reach men and boys in new and creative ways, implementing programs most relevant to them and their communities. 

We continue to work along many paths to convey the message, loud and clear, that violence against women will not be tolerated.  We ask you to do the same in your own communities, at work and at home.  Your efforts and voices are vital.  Please join in this important dialogue.

We remind all those in need of assistance, or other concerned friends and individuals, to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.

Attorney General Holder Meets with Muslim Leaders in Portland
September 30, 2011 Posted by
Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton meet with Arab-American and Muslim leaders in Portland, Oregon

Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton meet with Arab-American and Muslim leaders in Portland, Oregon

This week, Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon Dwight Holton met with Arab-American and Muslim leaders in Portland to discuss the department’s commitment to protecting the rights of the Muslim, Sikh, Arab-American, and South Asian communities.  

Attendees included: Salma Ahmad, Gulzar Ahmed, Shariar Ahmed, Shamima Banu, Mohammed Ridha, Mostafa Arifin, Ronault Catalani, Mohamed Farah, Samira Godil, Jamal Haagi, Mohammed Haque, Tahmina Hossain, Muhammad Najieb, Nadira Najieb, Musse Olol, Athar Pasha, Ayoob Ramjan, Zaki Said, Mozafar Wanly, Yosof Wanly, Anam Pasha and Mohamed Alyajouri.

The Justice Department, under Attorney General Holder, has emphasized outreach to American Muslim and Arab communities, building upon efforts by the Civil Rights Division, which has met with national leaders of Arab American and Muslim American organizations, as well as with other community groups across the country. These meetings are one way to ensure we continue to protect against threats to our national security while building trusting, collaborative, and productive relationships that facilitate mutual understanding between certain communities, and the law enforcement officials serving them.

Attorney General Holder has said:

“In this nation, our many faiths, origins and appearances must bind together, not break us apart.  In this nation, the document that sets forth the supreme law of the land – our Constitution – is meant to empower, not exclude.  And in this nation, security and liberty are – at their best – partners, not enemies, in ensuring safety and opportunity for all.”

The Department’s engagement efforts have two central components. First we seek to build trust by working with Muslim leaders to find out how we can better serve the community on issues like civil rights enforcement to anti-bullying efforts. In addition, we work to equip and empower local Muslim leaders to help them guard against violent extremists who are targeting young people in their communities for recruitment to misguided, violent causes.

The Muslim leaders who met with the Attorney General pledged their support and are undertaking practical steps resist violent extremists targeting their young people and help federal law enforcement do its job better. 

Attorney General Eric Holder speaks with Zaki Said during a meeting with Muslim leaders in Portland, Oregon.

Attorney General Eric Holder speaks with Zaki Said during a meeting with Muslim leaders in Portland, Oregon.

Engagement is just one way that the Justice Department is building stronger relationships with Arab and Muslim-American communities.  The Attorney General has met with Arab and Muslim-American community leaders in Washington, D.C. and across the country to discuss the federal government’s relationship the community and to improve the Department’s communication and collaboration with members of the community. Attorney General Holder also established an Arab and Muslim-American Engagement Advisory Group.  That group helps to coordinate and review community outreach efforts and policy initiatives that affect the community.

The department’s individual components have been active in the effort to address the concerns of Arab/Muslim communities through engagement and outreach. Many FBI field offices hold conference calls with local community leaders, and each field office employs a Community Outreach Specialist to engage the community through town hall meetings, public speaking, youth initiatives and citizens’ academies.  The Department’s Community Relations Service has responded to allegations of disparate and discriminatory treatment faced by Arab, Muslim, and Sikh communities across the country by offering conciliation and mediation services, as well as appropriate training programs for law enforcement, government officials and members of the community. 

In addition, U.S. Attorneys’ Offices are working in their districts to engage with their local Arab and Muslim-American communities.

  • U.S. Attorneys’ Offices are reaching out directly to local Arab and Muslim-American leaders and groups to develop closer relationships, participating in local events hosted by Arab and Muslim-American groups in their districts, including annual dinners, mosque openings, lectures and town hall meetings.  And they have sponsored conferences to promote cultural understanding between law enforcement and Arab, Muslim and Sikh-Americans.
  • U.S. Attorneys have worked with other agencies, including the FBI and various Department of Homeland Security components, to conduct outreach through programs such as Project Safe Neighborhood, Weed and Seed, hate crimes task forces, civil rights initiatives and anti-gang efforts.
  • U.S. Attorneys have conducted outreach to the international community, including foreign nationals working in embassies, to share general information about the United States, with a focus on elections, governmental transparency and improving interfaith efforts and race relations.

Working together we will continue to protect and defend our homeland, while upholding the promises of  the Constitution, including respect for civil liberties, a commitment to religious freedom and honor for the diversity of the American people.

 
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