Sanctuary’s Comments on the Proposed Title IX Rule

The Proposed Rule makes survivors of sexual misconduct even more disadvantaged in seeking relief for the harm they have suffered than any other category of complainants in school disciplinary proceedings. Sanctuary urges the Department to withdraw the Proposed Rule in its entirety.

On November 16, 2018, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos proposed several changes to Title IX regulations introduced under the Obama administration. The proposal has been open for public comment over a 60-day period that ends on January 30, 2019.

Sanctuary for Families appreciates this opportunity to submit comments to the Department of Education. We thank Gibson Dunn for drafting Sanctuary’s official comments on the notice of proposed rulemaking regarding sexual misconduct in educational programs. 

Background

During the past decade, rates of sexual violence have skyrocketed on college campuses across the country. More than one in five women undergraduates experience an attempted or completed sexual assault during college. The epidemic of sexual violence against women on campus led to widespread calls for more robust and fair procedures to govern how schools address complaints of sexual assault and sexual harassment on campus.  In 2011, the Department of Education issued guidance, known as the “Dear Colleague Letter,” that required schools to address sexual violence on campus and to implement procedures that would place the complainant and the accused on equal footing in Title IX proceedings.  The Dear Colleague Letter, which was implemented by colleges and universities across the country, was widely praised as striking the right balance between protecting the accused and facilitating the reporting and fair evaluation of complaints of sexual assault and sexual harassment on campus.

The Department rescinded the Dear Colleague Letter on September 22, 2017 and announced that it would engage in notice-and-comment rulemaking to draft new Title IX regulations.  On November 29, 2018, the Department issued the Proposed Rule[1], which sets forth an extensive set of restrictions and requirements for schools in responding to complaints of sexual misconduct. The Department says that the Proposed Rule is intended to “promote the purpose of Title IX” by requiring schools to address sexual misconduct and to ensure that investigations of sexual misconduct are “fair and impartial” and that “due process protections are in place for individuals accused of sexual harassment.”

Our Comments on the Proposed Rule

The Proposed Rule is nothing short of a wholesale effort to eviscerate Title IX as a mechanism to address sexual misconduct on campus. The Department’s arguments to the contrary are not credible.  The Proposed Rule singles out sexual misconduct—the one type of misconduct on campus that disproportionately impacts females students—and rigs Title IX proceedings in favor of the accused by creating barriers to reporting, limiting what sexual misconduct schools can address, and requiring schools to adopt procedures that put complainants at a significant disadvantage and all but guarantee that the accused prevail. The Proposed Rule would also conflict with and consequently preempt existing state laws that seek to do the opposite: require schools to address sexual misconduct on campus and protect survivors. In short, the Proposed Rule makes survivors of sexual misconduct even more disadvantaged in seeking relief for the harm they have suffered than any other category of complainants in school disciplinary proceedings.

First, the Proposed Rule represents a dramatic departure from prior guidance and existing civil rights laws by limiting the circumstances under which schools may address complaints of sexual misconduct.  Under the Proposed Rule, a school may only address sexual misconduct under Title IX if it meets a narrow definition of “sexual harassment,” occurs within defined geographic areas, and is reported to the correct school employee.  If all of these conditions are not met, then schools are allowed—and in many cases, required—to ignore the report, no matter how serious the sexual misconduct.  By narrowing the definition of “sexual harassment” and limiting the circumstances in which a school may respond to complaints of sexual misconduct pursuant to Title IX, the Proposed Rule enables perpetrators to engage in sexual assault and sexual harassment with impunity.

Second, for the narrow range of sexual misconduct that schools can address, the Proposed Rule mandates that schools implement procedures that favor the accused and that will discourage reporting of sexual misconduct on campus.  This is particularly troubling, given that sexual misconduct on campus is already widely under-reported.  The Proposed Rule requires survivors to satisfy a heightened evidentiary burden while providing significant advantages to the accused—most notably, a presumption of no misconduct, the ability to subject the complainant to cross-examination by an advisor of his choice, and more expansive appeal rights than those provided to the complainant.  Although the Proposed Rule states that such procedures are necessary to ensure that Title IX proceedings are “fair and impartial,” these procedures, in fact, only rig the proceedings in favor of the accused and subject survivors to re-traumatizing investigatory processes and heightened and unnecessary procedural hurdles.

Third, the Proposed Rule would preempt state laws that provide greater protections for survivors.  The Proposed Rule’s broad restrictions on the types of sexual misconduct complaints that schools may address and requirement that schools implement procedures that favor the accused would preempt state laws that currently mandate schools to address a wider range of sexual misconduct on campus and to implement procedures in disciplinary proceedings that place the complainant and accused on equal footing.  As a result, the Proposed Rule serves to not only prohibit schools from using Title IX to address many complaints of sexual misconduct but also guarantees that state laws protecting students from campus sexual violence cannot be enforced.

Taken together, these provisions, if enacted, will fundamentally impair the rights of survivors in favor of protecting the accused.  On its face, the Proposal seeks primarily to protect the reputation and interests of the accused—by shielding a broad range of sexual misconduct from the reach of Title IX, all but guaranteeing that the accused prevail in Title IX proceedings, and preempting state laws that provide protections to survivors.  What is clearly not of concern in the Proposal is the growing epidemic of sexual violence on campus.  The Proposed Rule also ignores the long-lasting, pernicious effects of sexual violence on student survivors:  survivors commonly struggle with depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and anxiety attacks, and frequently face trauma-induced educational problems, such as declines in academic performance, loss of scholarship funds, delayed degree completion, and transferring schools.

The Proposed Rule—and its slavish protection of the interests of the accused—is premised on a myth that men on campus are the victims of a wave of false reports filed by women.  The data disproves this myth.  Studies of false reporting of sexual assault cases generally place the rate between 2% and 10%. The reality is that there is an epidemic of sexual violence on campus and incidents of sexual misconduct in schools are widely under-reported.  If enacted, the Proposed Rule would allow this very real epidemic to worsen, putting even more women on campus at risk of being sexually assaulted, and would undermine the abilities of schools to take effective action to address sexual violence on campus and hold perpetrators accountable. Sanctuary urges the Department to withdraw the Proposed Rule in its entirety.

 


   [1]   The Proposed Rule refers to “sexual harassment,” which it defines as “an employee of the [school] conditioning the provision of an aid, benefit, or service of the recipient on an individual’s participation in unwelcome sexual conduct; or unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the [school’s] education program or activity; or sexual assault.”  Because the Proposed Rule’s definition of “sexual harassment” also includes sexual assault, Sanctuary will use the term “sexual misconduct” in these comments to encompass both sexual harassment and sexual assault.

 

 

Our Statement: The “Remain in Mexico” Policy Leaves Survivors More Vulnerable to Violence

The rollout of this cruel policy is further endangering the lives of countless gender violence survivors, among others, who have fled violence in their countries of origin and is causing chaos within our overburdened and broken immigration system.

Lori Adams is the Director of the Immigration Intervention Project at Sanctuary for Families.

Sanctuary for Families urges Congress to intervene to stop the Trump Administration from implementing its “Remain in Mexico” policy. The rollout of this cruel policy is further endangering the lives of countless gender violence survivors, among others, who have fled violence in their countries of origin and is causing chaos within our dysfunctional immigration system.

According to the plan, which DHS began to implement on January 25th, most refugees who reach the U.S.-Mexico border seeking protection in the United States will be required to stay in Mexico while they wait for their first hearing in a U.S. immigration court. 

The Impact

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen calls this a  “humanitarian approach” to address the crisis at the border, but there can be no doubt that the most vulnerable families will suffer under these new protocols. Refugees from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala often face violence and persecution so severe that it leaves them with no choice but to embark on a treacherous journey through Mexico to the U.S. Many of them are women and children fleeing gender-based harm. By requiring these families who have already proven “credible fear” to remain in Mexico while they await their immigration court date, we are putting families at risk of further violence.

The stated policy includes an exception for Mexican nationals, unaccompanied children, and refugees who can demonstrate that they are more likely than not to face persecution or torture in Mexico. In practice, however, it will be nearly impossible for migrants who have only been in Mexico for a short time to articulate a greater-than-50% likelihood of persecution or torture, simply due to the fact that such a determination requires knowledge of conditions throughout the country.

Chaos in the Courts

According to DHS, the “Remain in Mexico” policy will be implemented first at the San Ysidro port of entry which connects Tijuana, Mexico to San Diego, CA. Rolling out this new policy at one of the busiest land border crossings in the world would be a logistical nightmare under normal circumstances but the Trump Administration’s decision to do so following the conclusion of the longest government shutdown in our country’s history is certain to cause chaos. Immigration courts across the country have been closed for the last month, including the non-detained court in San Diego. The result in San Diego is a backlog that has ballooned to over 800,000 pending immigration cases.

Beyond the case backlog, the “Remain in Mexico” policy will only add to the chaos at the Tijuana-San Ysidro border itself. Refugees will likely miss their court dates in the United States due solely to the logistical hurdles of transporting them across an international border and getting them to a courthouse in the United States in time for their hearings.

Congress Must Act

There is a crisis in the U.S. immigration system, but it is not the crisis that the Trump Administration has described in the context of his administration’s recent border proposals. Congress should demand an immediate halt to the “Remain in Mexico” policy and the “Migrant Protection Protocols” that followed. These policies violate our international and domestic law obligations to protect those who flee to our border seeking protection. The United States must return to the rule of law to ensure that we remain a safe haven for survivors of gender-based harm and others who flee to the U.S. for protection because they have no other options.

Sanctuary is Taking Action

Sanctuary for Families is a leading provider of immigration legal services for survivors of gender-based harm. We are based in New York City where many refugees, survivors of trafficking and other vulnerable immigrants, receive our life-saving services every day.  Over the next two weeks, we will be sending two delegations of immigration attorneys to Tijuana where they will provide legal and humanitarian assistance to migrants, including survivors of gender-based harm, who will be disproportionally impacted by this new policy.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to receive updates from the border, and please consider donating if you would like to provide financial support to sustain this life-saving work.

Thank you for your support for Sanctuary for Families, and for the immigrant survivors of violence who rely on our services.

Gender Violence Survivors Seeking Asylum Need Our Protection

Last week, President Trump addressed the nation to warn of “a growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border.” His administration’s rhetoric and immigration policies are endangering the lives of survivors of gender violence. Read our statement.

On Tuesday night, President Trump used his address to the nation to argue for a border wall that he says will make our nation safer. Sanctuary for Families believes that the President’s statement failed to address the deep-rooted issues in our immigration system and instead, focused on policies that would further harm and endanger refugees and other vulnerable immigrants, including survivors of gender-based violence.

At Sanctuary, we work with gender violence survivors, 70% of whom are immigrants. Many are seeking asylum due to extreme intimate partner violence, female genital mutilation (FGM), and/or death threats they experienced in their home countries. Some have been tricked or forced into the U.S. by traffickers. Some come directly to New York. Others have been detained at the U.S.-Mexico border, itself dangerous and re-traumatizing, and eventually, make it to New York where organizations like Sanctuary can help.

For those currently stuck on the Mexican side of the border, however, the consequences can be deadly. Due to the Administration’s new metering system, thousands of adults and children, most of whom are seeking asylum, will have to wait weeks, even months, before making their plea for protection in the U.S. Sleeping on streets or in over-crowded migrant shelters, their desperation and fear only increase, and they become more vulnerable to the kind of violence they fled in the first place.

To be clear, seeking asylum at any of our borders is not illegal. Turning asylum seekers away, however, is a cruel violation of international law. We need policies that protect survivors of gender violence seeking refuge within our borders and provide clear pathways to legal status, not ones that scapegoat immigrant communities and use their lives as political tools. To these ends, Sanctuary is taking action.

Every day, Sanctuary provides free high-quality legal representation to ensure that immigrant gender violence survivors receive the committed advocacy they need to present their best case for immigration status. Here in New York, we advocate for State legislation to better protect our immigrant communities and deepen our partnerships with fellow immigration agencies. Across the country, we partner with advocates to push for a functional immigration system and rational border policy.

For over 30 years, Sanctuary has served survivors of gender violence regardless of immigration status. As we enter the New Year, we reaffirm our long-held commitment to our immigrant communities both here in New York and across the border. Thank you for standing with us.

Warmly,

Hon. Judy H. Kluger
Executive Director, Sanctuary for Families

 

A Call to Reject the Proposed Public Charge Rule

As the end of the public comment period approaches, we invite you to learn about the severity of the changes to the Public Charge rule and urge you to submit comments to DHS by December 10, 2018.

Sonia Mansoor is Manager of Public Benefits Legal Advocacy and Nabah Ikram is the Immigration Specialist at Sanctuary’s Immigration Intervention Project. They are co-chairs of Sanctuary’s Public Charge Advocacy Subcommittee. 

Sanctuary for Families stands with immigrant survivors of violence in condemning the proposed changes to the “Public Charge” doctrine that will detrimentally impact the well-being and health of vulnerable communities including children, pregnant women, and the elderly.

As the public comment period ends tonight, we invite you to learn about the severity of these changes and urge you to join us in preventing the implementation of this heartless rule by submitting comments to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) today.

WHAT IS PUBLIC CHARGE?

To enter the United States or to obtain lawful permanent residence, certain noncitizens have to demonstrate that they are unlikely to become a “public charge,” which currently refers to someone who is “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence.” On October 10, 2018, however, DHS published new provisions that broaden this definition to “someone who receives one or more public benefits.”

Currently, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) can deny adjustment to Legal Permanent Resident Status or admission to the United States to individuals who have received public cash assistance or institutionalization for long term care. Under these proposed changes, USCIS will also consider participation in the following programs in a public charge determination:

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Non-emergency Medicaid
  • Low-income subsidies under Medicare Part D
  • Housing choice vouchers, project-based subsidies, and public housing ­­­­

The proposed regulation also adds criteria to the “totality of circumstances” evaluated in each determination and changes the weights attributed to certain “positive” and “negative” factors. Among the heavily-weighted negative factors are current or recent unemployment, current receipt of public benefits, and a lack of unsubsidized health insurance.

HOW DO THESE CHANGES IN THE PUBLIC CHARGE RULE RELATE TO ISSUES OF GENDER VIOLENCE?

While there are important exceptions to the proposed rule – including refugees, asylum applicants, victims of domestic violence and other serious crimes, VAWA self-petitioners, special immigrant juveniles –  there is no guarantee that such exceptions will provide sufficient protection to vulnerable communities. At Sanctuary, we are seeing that a significant number of survivors of domestic violence and sex trafficking, confused by the new rule’s language and its arbitrary standards, are already cancelling critical public assistance benefits to which they may be legally entitled.

Lori Adams, Director of Sanctuary’s Immigration Intervention Project (IIP), explained the risks that this new regulation poses to immigrant survivors and their families:

Poverty and homelessness are the high prices that many immigrant survivors of gender-based violence pay to escape abuse. At Sanctuary for Families, we see this firsthand with our clients, over 75% of whom are immigrants. Many survivors, often with small children, are afraid of being forced to return to dangerous and abusive situations due to lack of resources. The fear is that the Administration’s proposed “public charge” rule will discourage them from applying for public benefits and housing assistance.  They may, consequently, be faced with an impossible choice, between feeding their children or pursuing immigration status that could save their lives.

JOIN US IN TAKING ACTION NOW!

Sanctuary is committed to pushing back against the incremental erosion of the rights of immigrant survivors seeking protection in this country. Our Public Charge Advocacy Committee has been working with Cohen & Gresser LLP in developing desk aids and flyers for our clients and staff members that clarify whether someone of a particular immigration status would be deemed a public charge. Furthermore, the firm Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP drafted Sanctuary’s official comments on the Public Charge Rule for submission to the DHS.

Finally, our Survivor Leaders and staff members drafted and submitted individual and department-specific comments after being trained by members of Sanctuary’s Public Charge Advocacy Committee. Below are some of the comments our Survivor Leaders submitted to the DHS:

Submitter: Anonymous

I am a legal resident alien originally from the Dominican Republic. I am currently on disability benefits because of bipolar disorder. Previous to my status of disability I have worked since I was in Junior High School. Also, though I am not working at the moment, I am an active member of my church where I volunteer many hours. Also, I volunteer in my community helping fellow tenants understand their rights to prevent homelessness. Lastly, I am a mentor at Sanctuary for Families, a non-profit organization, and educate the community on domestic violence.

To assume that because a person has a need today that they will be forever a charge on the system is short sighted. Although I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1992 and am a survivor of domestic violence I have managed to raise two independent women. My oldest daughter graduated from George School and Haverford College; she also has a Master’s Degree from Middlebury College. My youngest daughter, who quit college (she was working on a Bachelors in Engineering at Syracuse University) has a good job in the retail industry.

I suspect that there are many people who are applying for entry to this country that fit this profile. I urge you to reconsider this decision especially in this country made by immigrants. Ultimately, the United States is the one that’s going to suffer as immigrants bring fresh ideas. Einstein was an immigrant! Remember him? Please remove this regulation.

Submitter: Guadalupe

I recommend the department security please take a moment and thinking about these families who receive some public assistance.

I am a mother of 3 children and work every day to clean houses and the food stamps help to have food on my table. My 2 older children was in the college and that benefit help me for they went to the college. If I did not take the benefit my children did not got the education because they needs to work and help me to pay the bills for my house.

This is not only my history. We are many families and work every day but the bills are so expensive in New York.

Please thinking about this families, Medicaid help to families for health care, and the other benefits is for food of the children.

Submitter: Deyanira

In my opinion the proposed regulation will hurt a lot of families because the people who apply for public assistance are low income and are in poverty. I work with the community and I know them. There are so many people who are immigrants and they didn’t apply for public benefits for themselves, but for their children. I work with Mixteca community, Neighborhood Advisory Board (NAB), Parent Teacher Association (PTA) President, Community Education Council (CEC) of District 14, and also I am a Survivor Leader for Sanctuary for Families. I will be affected because I do not have any immigration status.

The public comment period is about to end, but you can still take action and help protect the rights of survivors of gender violence and their families. Submit a comment requesting the DHS to withdraw the proposed “Inadmissibility on public charge grounds” rule here: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=USCIS-2010-0012-0001