Tierney Blog

Taking the Initiative on Environmental Justice

Findings show that people in poverty and people of color are much more likely to be exposed to harmful pollution. Due to budget cuts at the EPA, some have wondered if we lost the moment for environmental justice. But AGs in at least two states have made environmental justice a priority.

In late November, the NJ AG announced that it was making environmental justice a priority, and it filed eight lawsuits targeting environmentally hazardous sites in minority and lower-income communities across the state. The NJ AG also announced the creation of an environmental justice unit.

Earlier this year, the CA OAG announced that it was creating a bureau of environmental justice. It subsequently intervened in a lawsuit dealing with the building of an industrial park in a community already suffering from some of the highest pollution in California.

For more reading on this subject, take a look at our earlier post on state-level actions to protect the environment. Also, Columbia’s Sabin Center maintains a database compiling environmental actions undertaken by state attorneys general.  

State AGs Take Action Against Immigration Services Fraud

There are reports of a jump in fraud against immigrants seeking immigration legal services. State AGs have been using their civil and criminal tools to combat this type of exploitation.

Following a months-long undercover operation, the NJ OAG just announced that it’s seeking civil penalties against 28 businesses for selling immigration services they weren’t authorized to provide.

Back in July, the Washington AG followed up on earlier civil actions by filing criminal charges for contempt and prohibited practices against two individuals who had repeatedly defrauded immigrants by selling immigration services they were not qualified to provide.

And earlier in 2018, the Cal DOJ filed criminal charges against three individuals who allegedly defrauded undocumented immigrants and families seeking lawful permanent residence in the US.  The charges now include 32 counts of felony grand theft,  conspiracy, and violations of the state’s UPL statute and immigration consultant law.

These are just three examples.  For more, check the State Center’s Consumer Protection Report by searching for “notario” or “immigration” where you’ll find actions taken by other states including Nevada, Illinois, and Texas.  These cases can provide a model for other AGs who are surely hearing reports of similar exploitation among vulnerable residents.

For more resources on immigration services fraud, see our earlier post on notario fraud (by Faisal Sheikh now at the ACS State AG Project), the ABA’s Fight Notario Fraud Project, or manuals, like this one, drafted by nonprofits that focus on immigration services.

A Valuable Study of State AG Actions on Behalf of Immigrants

In a recent post on ACS Blog, Jonathan Miller, Chief of the Public Protection and Advocacy Bureau in the Office of the MA Attorney General, provides a thoughtful study of the ways in which some state attorneys general are responding on behalf of immigrants to new federal immigration policies.  

Reviewing the range of litigation, Miller points out that lawsuits tell "only a piece of the story of the work by State AGs and many of their counterparts at the local level in support of immigrant communities." His post then looks at other ways in which AGs are responding, including enforcement actions protecting immigrants against abuses from landlords, employers, and others, and connecting with groups that serve as trusted partners for immigrants.

I learned from reading Jon's post, and I think you will, too.

Misclassification is Not Going Away

While the eyes of the world are on the litigation between the attorneys general and the Trump Administration's immigration ban, a January 20th article in the Florida Record carries a story that highlights an issue of great importance to all Americans.

The article discusses a Florida case that alleges an employer misclassified his employees as independent contractors in order to avoid paying employment taxes. In addition, the employer "made illegal deductions from [workers'] earnings to pay insurance on company vehicles."

The article cites a 2011 report we published at Columbia Law School, where we argued that stronger enforcement of state labor laws would benefit both workers and the marketplace. “Without meaningful enforcement by state regulators, employers will simply disregard legal obligations if doing so allows them to save time, money or effort, putting the majority who wish to abide by the law at a significant competitive disadvantage,” the report stated.

According to the National Employment Law Project (NELP), misclassification not only imposes costs to workers, but deprives state/federal coffers billions of dollars in tax revenues annually. The issue is not going away, and with the expansion of the gig economy, it's likely getting worse. Combating misclassification falls squarely in the wheelhouse of all state attorneys general.

Appeals Court Upholds AG Ferguson's Victory Against Trump's Immigration Order

No one is above the law, not even the President. The President should withdraw this flawed, rushed and dangerous Executive Order, which caused chaos across the country. If he refuses, I will continue our work to hold him accountable to the Constitution.
— Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson

Speaking at a press conference Thursday afternoon, AG Ferguson said, "People on both sides have strong feelings on this issue, but we should all agree on the Constitution."

[UPDATED] Democratic AGs Coordinate to Challenge Immigration Order: Washington AG First to File Suit

[Updated - Feb. 6, 2017]. Democratic attorneys general are working in a highly coordinated manner on challenges to President Trump's Executive Order temporarily banning immigration of refugees and citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries. Washington AG Bob Ferguson was the first to file, and his efforts will soon generate support from his like minded colleagues, who consider themselves the "thin blue line" against what they believe to be federal lawlessness. 

Note the similarity in strategy to the efforts of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who last year filed suit in a Texas District Court and generated a national injunction against then President Obama's 2014 Immigration Order.  AG's are again showing that they are significant factors in national issues.


[UPDATED] State Attorneys General Respond to President Trump’s Refugee Ban

[Updated - Jan. 30, 2017] State attorneys general wasted no time in responding to President Trump’s Executive Order banning refugees, particularly Muslim refugees, from war-torn Syria and other Muslim majority countries. 17 state attorneys general issued a joint statement condemning the actions as “unconstitutional, un-American and unlawful.”

Vermont Attorney General Launches Immigration Task Force

New Vermont AG T.J. Donovan took a wise step this week in appointing a committee to advise him on immigration matters. Traditionally an area where federal law dominates, states and cities are taking their own steps and Donovan has taken the initiative to get as much information as possible before he makes the difficult decisions to come. Further, Donovan, who is a Democrat, has invited GOP legislative leadership to join the process. Other AG's would be wise to follow suit.

New York Attorney General Issues Guidance on Protecting Immigrant Communities in the Wake of Increased Immigration Enforcement

In anticipation of the changing landscape in federal immigration enforcement, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued important legal guidance to localities and law enforcement agencies regarding the responsibilities and limits of participating in immigration enforcement.

Virginia AG Ramps Up Anti-Hate Crime Efforts

Virginia Attorney General is ramping up his anti-hate crime efforts as have so many other attorneys general as indicated in earlier blogs. No matter what our policy views, hate violence can never be allowed to happen without a strong response from law enforcement.

Well-Trained Police Working with Prosecutors Safeguard Against Hate Crimes

Hate crimes are increasing and law enforcement is responding as described in my hometown newspaper where well-trained local police got the facts, communicated them to a skilled District Attorney who in turn sent the file to the Attorney General for a final decision.

The message was therefore immediately sent to this Muslim community, and the entire state, that hate violence will not be tolerated. Treating hate as a serious crime results in the deterrence that produces public safety, which is the goal of law enforcement.

Too many well-meaning philanthropists and academics miss the vital role that well-trained police and prosecutors play in keeping us all safe, and that is a shame.

  • AG to investigate Burger King assault as possible hate crime, Sun Journal (Nov. 25, 2016).

AGs Organizing Against Hate Crimes

Attorneys general across the country are increasing their activism against hate crimes by organizing broad coalitions and making it easier to report.  

Maryland Attorney General launches hate crime hotline

Fox Baltimore

The hotline, 1-866-481-8361, was announced by Maryland Attorney GeneralBrian E. Frosh on Thursday. According to Frosh, the hotline was developed in response to an increase in reported hate incidents.

Oregon Attorney General Encourages Hate Crime Reports

750 KXL

In a written statement released Thursday, Attorney General Rosenblum said “We must stand together against hate, so that all people in our state feel valued and safe. I support our Governor’s commitment to use the full force of the law against anybody who targets others based on race, religion, gender, or sexual identity."

Amid Surge Of Bias Crimes, A.G. Schneiderman Stands With Dozens Of Civil Rights Leaders To “Stand Up To Hate,” Issues Urgent Bulletin To Local Law Enforcement Offering Guidance In Identifying And Prosecuting Hate Crimes

NYAG Press Office

A.G. Schneiderman Vows Full Support Of State Law Enforcement To Protect Rights Of New York’s Most Vulnerable Communities

A.G. Schneiderman And State Education Commissioner Elia Offer Guidance To Help Ensure Schools Are Safe Havens For Learning

NYAG Press Office

Letter To School Leaders Provides Resources For Complying With The Dignity For All Students Act And Preventing And Addressing Hate-Based Actions

AG's Fight Notorio Fraud

An increasing number of attorneys general are gearing up to fight "notario fraud," a long-standing practice whereby scam artists illegally market themselves as being able to assist families with immigration issues. Attorneys general offices are being assisted in that effort by the Federal Trade Commission and the Diverse Communities Initiative at Columbia Law School as they focus their efforts on vulnerable diverse communities.