Noted North Carolina Attorney Henderson Hill to Join the Curtis Flowers Defense Team


Noted North Carolina Attorney Henderson Hill
to Join the Curtis Flowers Defense Team 


 Media Contact: 
Dana Thomas, Communications Director
Mississippi Center for Justice, 601-506-9156




JACKSON, Miss., October 3, 2019 -- The Mississippi Center for Justice (MCJ) announced today that renowned attorney Henderson Hill of Charlotte NC will join the defense of Curtis Flowers as Flowers faces the prospect of an unprecedented seventh trial despite considerable evidence of innocence that continues to emerge as time goes by.  Hill joins Jackson, MS attorney Rob McDuff, the director of MCJ’s impact litigation project, who previously agreed to represent Flowers in future proceedings after the United States Supreme Court reversed Flowers’ conviction and death sentence imposed at his sixth trial in this case from Winona, Mississippi that has garnered national attention. 

“Henderson Hill is known throughout the country as an excellent lawyer with considerable courtroom experience in criminal defense and capital cases,” said McDuff.  “He is a tireless proponent of fairness in our justice system, and his presence will add greatly to the effort to finally obtain justice for Curtis Flowers.”

Each of the convictions in Flowers’ first three trials was overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court for prosecutorial misconduct, including racial discrimination by the prosecutor in jury selection in the third trial.  The fourth and fifth trials ended in hung juries.  The conviction in the sixth trial was overturned on June 20, this time by the United States Supreme Court, due to the prosecutor’s ongoing use of challenges to prevent African-Americans’ from serving as jurors throughout the series of trials.  In the meantime, Flowers has served over 22 years in prison, most of it on death row, despite the prosecution’s failure to secure a valid conviction. 

“A good friend has famously observed that our criminal justice system treats you better if you are rich and guilty than if you are poor and innocent,” said Hill.  “The justice system’s serial abuse of Curtis Flowers — poor, black and innocent — must and will stop. I am honored to work with Rob McDuff and the Mississippi Center for Justice to achieve that to which Mr. Flowers is so deeply entitled: a full measure of justice and vindication.”

 A graduate of Harvard Law School, Hill’s career included ten years with the Public Defender Service of Washington, DC, fifteen years with the renowned civil rights law firm of Ferguson Stein Chambers Gresham & Sumter in North Carolina, and three years as the chief federal public defender in the Western District of North Carolina.   He is experienced in trials and appeals in both criminal and civil cases.

 Additional Background:

The Mississippi Center for Justice’s litigation and public policy advocacy encompasses several areas related to racial and economic justice, including voting rights, housing, consumer protection, and educational access.  In 2017, MCJ and Rob McDuff jointly launched the George Riley Impact Litigation Initiative, which is named in honor of longtime MCJ board member George Riley. 

 McDuff is a civil rights and criminal defense lawyer with a private practice in Jackson.  However, he spends much of his time in his role as director of MCJ’s impact litigation initiative. 

 Flowers was represented during the last four trials by the Mississippi Office of Capital Defense Counsel.  His successful appeal regarding the latest trial was handled by lawyers from the Cornell Death Penalty Project.  The Hogan Lovells law firm and the Mississippi Innocence Project prepared a thorough post-conviction petition for Flowers in the event his appeal did not succeed.  McDuff and Hill said the evidence uncovered by all of these offices will play an important role going forward, as well the evidence uncovered by the highly acclaimed podcast “In The Dark” from American Public Media, which focused its second season on the Flowers case. 



Newly Proposed Regulation Would Thwart the Purpose of the Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was passed by Congress six days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in order to prohibit housing discrimination based upon race, religion, color, and national origin. Subsequent amendments added gender, family status, and disability as protected categories. For fifty years the Fair Housing Act has stood as a living monument to Dr. King and the life he gave to the struggle for human freedom and dignity.

The proposed Disparate Impact regulation released by HUD on August 19th is an undisguised effort to re-write decades of judicial interpretation of the Fair Housing Act. Lobbyists for banking and insurance interests are pushing the new regulation in order to make it harder for victims of housing discrimination to obtain relief in court. 

Image from Google Images. We do not own the rights to this image.

Image from Google Images. We do not own the rights to this image.

The proposed regulation would require victims of housing discrimination to meet a higher burden for challenging practices and procedures that appear neutral on the surface. Many such procedures result in   unfavorable outcomes for racial and religious minorities, single mothers and their minor children, disabled individuals and those targeted because of their national origin. The use of disparate impact analysis to unmask such procedures as discriminatory has long been approved by the United States Supreme Court as necessary to achieve the purposes of the Fair Housing Act.

 A news report about a mob of hoodlums attempting to deface a 50-year-old monument to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would go viral in thirty minutes. Yet a mob of lobbyists is attempting just such an act through the manipulation of the HUD regulatory process. Those who care about housing equality and the legacy of Dr. King must mobilize and fight back. 

To learn more or to join in the fight to defeat the proposed regulation, contact the Mississippi Center for Justice Housing Law Campaign at 228.702.9985 or

John Jopling is the Housing Law Director for the Mississippi Center for Justice.

Press Release: Radical Revised Public Charge Regulation Will Punish Lawfully Present Immigrant Families in Mississippi, Increasing Hunger and Poor Health

Radical Revised Public Charge Regulation Will Punish Lawfully Present Immigrant Families 

in Mississippi, Increasing Hunger and Poor Health 

Jackson, Miss. —Today, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published its new “public charge” regulation, which aims to sow fear and reap chaos, cruelty, and increased racial and economic injustices in health, food security, and poverty for immigrant families in Mississippi and throughout the land of the free. DHS’ final rule strikes mere days after the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s morally reprehensible raids in Mississippi, which ignited a massive humanitarian crisis.

The finalized regulation, which is scheduled to go into effect October 15, marks a radical and deeply flawed departure from longstanding U.S. immigration policy and professed American values. In a bold act of administrative overreach, it aims to subvert Congress by punishing lawfully present immigrants and their families for accessing public benefits to which they remain entitled under federal law. It directs immigration officials to reject applications from people who wish to remain in or enter the U.S. if they have received—or are likely to receive in the future—most forms of Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), several forms of federal housing assistance, and cash benefits for income maintenance. It is designed to force lawfully present immigrant families who work hard, pay their taxes, and follow the rules to choose between participating in public programs that combat hunger, poor health, and poverty, and staying together.

Last winter, more than 260,000 faith leaders, lawmakers, health care and public health practitioners, Americans from all walks of life, and nonprofits including the Mississippi Center for Justice submitted comments to the Federal Register in overwhelming opposition to the Administration’s proposed public charge rule. 

 The Mississippi Center for Justice estimated that the public charge rule could cause as many as 73,808 noncitizen immigrants and their family members in Mississippi, including 22,722 children, to disenroll or forgo enrollment from vital health care, nutrition, and housing supports that they are eligible for under federal law. Immigrants of color could comprise 80 percent of the total population that will avoid public benefits because of the rule.

Since then, we bore witness to the proposed rule’s immediate and immense chilling effect on public benefit participation in Mississippi. Out of fear of internment, deportation, and family separation, countless lawfully present immigrants working for low wages are avoiding public programs such as Medicaid and SNAP to which they are legally entitled. As a result, many immigrant families, including citizen children, are grappling with severe unmet health care needs, hunger, and poverty. The Department of Homeland Security’s finalization of the public charge rule will feed a fire that is already burning in the Magnolia State.

The Mississippi Center for Justice condemns this latest attack in the Administration’s war on immigrants of color. We will continue to work with partners and allies in Mississippi and across the country to combat this immoral policy using every tool at our disposal.


For more information or comment about the finalized public charge rule change, please contact Madeline Morcelle, Staff Attorney at the Mississippi Center for Justice, at


About the Mississippi Center for Justice

The Mississippi Center for Justice is a nonprofit, public interest law firm committed to advancing racial and economic justice. Supported and staffed by attorneys, community leaders and volunteers, the Center develops and pursues strategies to combat discrimination and poverty statewide.


Grade Retention: Are Our Students Failing or Is Our Public Education System Failing?

            I have recently had the privilege to work with a family whose daughter has a rare medical condition. This condition causes learning difficulties along with a host of additional challenges for both the child and her parents. As the school year comes to an end, the girl, who is nine years old, should be preparing to move on to fourth grade. But she is still in first grade. This child has been retained twice so far—she has been in kindergarten two times and first grade two times—and now is at risk of being in first grade for the third time because she continues to struggle academically. This situation begs the following questions: does grade retention actually work? Or is it a tool for cash- and resource-strapped school districts to avoid providing adequate (read: expensive) special education services to students who need them?

            To put it simply, grade retention does not work. Studies have shown that grade retention has minimal benefits and may increase the child’s risk for dropping out of school before graduating from high school. And grade retention is an expensive “solution” to students’ academic failures: school districts (and, therefore, taxpayers) are paying for students to repeat a grade that they have already been enrolled in. However, grade retention is likely seen as an easier option than providing robust special education services.

            Special education is complicated, but here is a brief overview for the purposes of understanding why many school districts may prefer to just retain a child rather than provide him or her with the special education services that he or she needs. Before getting special education services, a child must be evaluated by a psychologist or a psychometrist (a professional who administers and scores tests for things like special education). Even if a parent has an outside evaluation completed, many times school districts will pay for their own evaluation. Once the evaluation is finished, the school must convene a team to determine what, if any, services are warranted given the diagnosis (or diagnoses). This team can consist of the child’s parents, general and special education teachers, school administrators, district level special education staff, speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, outside service providers, etc. The team drafts a document called an Individualized Education Program (“IEP”), which contains annual goals for a child. Throughout the school year, the team must monitor the child’s progress towards those goals and, if the child is not making adequate progress, the team should tweak the child’s IEP to better meet his or her needs. Creating an IEP is a complicated process and involves working with (and paying) many experts to weigh in on what is best for the child. To be clear, federal law does not require that all students receiving special education services under an IEP be promoted from grade to grade; however, the IEP has to be reasonably calculated to allow the child to progress despite of his or her disability.

            Because providing special education services is time-consuming and pricy, it is likely that many school districts decide to retain children to see if that will solve whatever academic problems they are having instead of seeing if an underlying disability is causing the issue. The problem is that this practice rarely works and, in the end, the school district may end up having to provide special education services anyway because the retention is not successful. This practice is detrimental to the students involved because grade retention (1) has been shown to ostracize students socially due to the fact that they are older (and, in some cases, are significantly older) than the other students in their classes, which can negatively impact their self-esteem, and (2) delays when a child is able to receive critical special education services to address underlying disabilities. Schools should shift their perspective on how they view children who are at risk of being retained. Is the child “bad” and therefore has failing grades? Perhaps that child has an emotional disability that affects his or her behavior. Does the child continue to struggle academically even though he or she has an IQ within the normal range? Maybe that child has a specific learning disability. Children have unique learning needs and therefore grade retention—which is a one size fits all attempt at solving underlying issues—is not an appropriate solution to meet those unique needs. Simply retaining students and hoping that they will get caught up does not get at the root of why these children are struggling.

            Here at the Mississippi Center for Justice, the Educational Opportunities Campaign provides legal services to families whose children have been retained and are continue to struggle in the classroom or are at risk of being retained. If you are anyone else you know is dealing with an issue relating to grade retention, please contact our Biloxi office at 228-435-7284.

Amelia Huckins is an Equal Justice Works Fellow, sponsored by the Friends and Family of Philip M. Stern

Crisis in Mississippi: Help Us To Fight For Immigration Rights

PHOTO CREDIT: The Clarion Ledger

PHOTO CREDIT: The Clarion Ledger

Yesterday, 650 federal agents raided six Mississippi communities, arresting 680 of our friends and neighbors in Morton, Canton, Carthage, Pelahatchie, Bay Springs, and Walnut Grove.  Mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers were loaded onto buses in plastic handcuffs while children, with their new backpacks and school supplies, returned from their first day of school, only to find their loved ones gone.  These raids irreversibly harmed families, schools, communities, and our state.

The Mississippi Center for Justice is on the frontline of this crisis, providing a swift and powerful response to these attacks on our communities.  We are coordinating a rapid response legal team to help community members locate detained loved ones, provide immigration legal assistance to those now facing removal, and ensure the care of children whose parents or guardians have been imprisoned.  Central to the rule of law are the constitutional principles of due process and access to counsel, and we are committed to ensuring these protections for all Mississippians, regardless of immigration status.

If you are interested in legal pro bono opportunities, please email, and you will receive additional information.

More than ever, we need your support.  Please click here to give as generously as you can to make this critical work possible.  We also ask you to share this message widely.

If you are on Facebook, please share our fundraiser to your page.


Reilly Morse


A Step Forward for Reentry and Food Security in Mississippi


On April 16, Governor Phil Bryant signed H.B. 1352, the Criminal Justice Reform Act of 2019. H.B. 1352’s bipartisan reforms include a provision authored by the Mississippi Center for Justice, which opts out of a 1996 federal ban on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) eligibility for individuals with a drug felony conviction effective July 1. Mississippi is the 49th state to address the ban through legislation—a significant victory for reentry, food security, and racial, gender, and economic justice in our state.

Food security—the state in which all people at all times have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food—is essential to building healthy, equitable, and resilient communities. Yet in 2017, one in five Mississippians and one in four children statewide experienced food insecurity—the highest rates in the nation. SNAPis Mississippi’s first line of defense against this crisis. In December 2018, it helped 468,186 low-income Mississippians keep food on the table through a modest nutrition benefit of about $1.27 per person per meal, and provided workforce supports to help participants get back up on their feet. The gender wage gap and other economic injustices make women, especially single moms, disproportionately vulnerable to food insecurity compared to their male counterparts. As a result, low-wage women account for nearly two-thirds of all adult and senior SNAP participants nationwide.

Since 1996, the federal SNAP drug felony disqualification withheld this anti-hunger lifeline from the Mississippians who needed it most. A 2013 study found that 91 percent of individuals recently released from prison experienced food insecurity, and 37 percent went without eating for an entire day because they could not afford to purchase food. In states that lift the SNAP drug felony disqualification and among the non-drug felony offenders excluded from the ban, SNAP prevents hunger and provides workforce training to help people successfully reenter society and achieve self-sufficiency. Yet for 23 years, the federal SNAP disqualification has imposed a lifetime sentence of hunger, lost productivity, poor health, and even recidivism on Mississippians with a drug felony conviction. The federal ban exclusively punished people with drug-related felony convictions, including non-violent offenses such as possession. Many were convicted while struggling with a substance use disorder (e.g., opioid dependency) and before Mississippi established drug courts and other diversion programs.  Because of gender inequities in food insecurity and drug felony sentencing (women receive drug felony convictions at a higher rate than men), the lifetime ban disproportionately harms single moms and their children.

The odds are heavily stacked against low-wage women, single mothers, and other Mississippians who encounter our criminal justice system, but the Criminal Justice Reform Act of 2019’s provision that opts out of the federal drug felony ban on SNAP and TANF will alleviate some of their most urgent and unjust barriers to success. We are grateful to the bipartisan coalition of legislators and advocates who made this reform possible, laying a promising foundation for future policy efforts to turn the tide of racial, economic, and gender injustice in our state and build a healthier and more food secure Mississippi for all. 

Madeline Morcelle, JD, MPH, is a staff attorney at the Mississippi Center for Justice, where she focuses her legal and policy practice on cultivating healthy and just food access for all and protecting and strengthening public benefits.




Over 25 Civil Society, Private Sector, and Government Organizations Call on U.S. Congressional Delegation from Mississippi to Help End State’s Food Insecurity Crisis

 JACKSON, Mississippi – Food security—the condition in which all people at all times have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food—is essential to building healthy, equitable, and resilient communities for all. Yet in 2017, one in five (573,610) Mississippians and one in four (163,530) children statewide struggled with hunger, including active-duty service members and their families, veterans, people with disabilities, students, and seniors, with dire consequences for their health, cognitive development, academic and work performance, and stability.

In May, 27 civil society, private sector, and government organizations urged the U.S. congressional delegation from Mississippi to help end the state’s food insecurity crisis by adopting the following policy recommendations: 

1.     Invest in Healthy Futures through Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR): This year, hundreds of thousands of children and families in MS experiencing food insecurity and hunger depend on Congress to enact strong CNR legislation. This means strengthening program participation and access, safeguarding community eligibility in federal school meal programs, simplifying program administration and operation requirements, and fostering healthy school environments by preserving the evidence-based child nutrition standards mandated in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 of 2010 and expanding farm-to-school programs.

2.     Protect and Strengthen the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): SNAP is our most vital and cost-effective anti-hunger lifeline. In December 2018, SNAP helped 468,186 low-income Mississippians keep food on the table through a modest nutrition benefit of about $1.27 in food assistance per meal.3 Strengthen SNAP by improving benefit adequacy,4 lifting restrictions on participation for higher education students, and expanding fruit and vegetable incentive programs. Oppose proposals that would restrict SNAP eligibility, reduce benefit levels or state flexibility (e.g., restricting ABAWD waivers), or increase barriers to participation and administrative burden (e.g., expanding work requirements). 

3.     End College and University Hunger: Support policies that will help close the hunger gap for students enrolled at institutions of higher education, including the Campus Hunger Reduction Act (H.R. 1717), which would enable higher education institutions to qualify for Community Food Project grants; and the Closing the Meal Gap Act of 2019 (H.R. 1368), which would amend the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 to eliminate SNAP eligibility restrictions for higher education students.

4.     Foster Healthy Communities: Support policies that promote equitable access to affordable, nutritious, and sustainable food options at the community level, such as the Healthy Food Financing Initiative and tax incentives.

The policy recommendations were signed by the following anti-poverty, civil rights, community development, education, faith-based, food and agriculture, health care, and public health organizations:

·      American Heart Association

·      City of Jackson, Mississippi, Office of CHAMPS: Cities Combating Hunger, Jackson Meals Matter

·      Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Mississippi

·      Disability Rights Mississippi

·      Delta Design Build Workshop

·      E. E. Rogers SDA School

·      Feeding Hernando/DeSoto County

·      Fertile Ground Farms

·      Innovative Health Strategies LLC

·      MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger

·      McComb Children’s Clinic

·      Metro Jackson National Congress of Black Women

·      Mississippi Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

·      Mississippi Center for Justice

·      Mississippi Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics

·      Mississippi Food Policy Council

·      Mississippi Food Network

·      Mississippi Human Services Coalition

·      Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative

·      Mississippi Public Health Association

·      Mississippi Retail and Grocers Association

·      Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi

·      Sunshine Children's Clinic

·      The Mississippi Farm to School Network

·      Tupelo/Lee County Hunger Coalition

·      Women of Wisdom of Central Rankin County

·      YMCA of Metropolitan Jackson


The Mississippi Center for Justice and The Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi delivered the group’s policy recommendations during visits with the Washington, DC offices of U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), U.S. Congressman Michael Guest (R-MS-3), U.S. Congressman Trent Kelly (R-MS-1), U.S. Congressman Steven Palazzo (R-MS-4), and U.S. Congressman Bennie Thompson (D-MS-2). Read the full message here.

2019 Mississippi on the Potomac Reception

The 2019 Mississippi on the Potomac Reception will be held Tuesday, June 4, 2019, at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C.. We are delighted that this year’s distinguished honoree is Walter Dellinger. Dellinger is an influential authority on appellate and Supreme Court jurisprudence and valued contributor to a wave of social and generational change in Mississippi.  

The Mississippi on the Potomac Reception is the Mississippi Center for Justice’s opportunity to acknowledge the national partners whose support make our advocacy in Mississippi and the Gulf region possible.

For sponsorship and ticket information, click here.

(Press the right arrow key to go through the invitation below. Click here to download the invitation.)

To learn more about our distinguished honoree, Walter Dellinger, we invite you to watch the brief interview below.

What Does Public Charge Mean for Immigrant Families Today?

Proposed Changes to the Public Charge Rule

Photo credit: National Immigration Law Center

Photo credit: National Immigration Law Center

When a non-citizen applies for a visa to enter the U.S. or for lawful permanent resident status (i.e., for a green card), the federal government looks at the person’s circumstances to see whether they are or are likely to become a public charge—a person who is primarily dependent on the government for support. In October 10, 2018, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security published a proposed regulation which could dramatically expand the grounds for public charge determinations, resulting in application denials. 

In our comment opposing the proposal, we estimated that the proposed rule could cause 73,808 lawfully present noncitizen immigrants and their family members across Mississippi—including 22,272 children with a noncitizen household member—to dis-enroll or forgo enrollment from public benefits for which they are legally eligible. The Mississippi Center for Justice was only one of hundreds of thousands of organizations and people nationwide who opposed the Department of Homeland Security’s proposed changes, which could force millions of lawfully present immigrants and their families across the U.S. who work hard, pay their taxes, and follow the rules to make an impossible choice between lawfully accessing critical food, health care, and housing assistance, and staying together.

Public Charge Today

The federal government’s proposed changes to public charge grounds for inadmissibility are not final and there is currently no advantage to dis-enrolling from public benefit programs. This means that immigrant and mixed-status families should continue to get the help that they need through health, housing, and nutrition programs like SNAP, Medicaid, and Section 8 housing. 

Nevertheless, the proposed regulation is fueling confusion, fear, hunger, and poor health among lawfully present immigrants and citizen family members in Mississippi and around the country. The Atlantic recently reported that the proposed rule is scaring many lawfully present immigrants and their families from participating in public benefits for which they are legally eligible. Immigrants and their families in Mississippi are following suit. In MCJ’s immigration “Know Your Rights” trainings throughout the state, community members have expressed confusion and despair over the proposed rule as well as fears that accessing public benefits for which they are eligible would result in their own forced removal from the United States and years of separation from their children. Some of our state’s most vulnerable immigrants—including asylees and refugees fleeing persecution as well as victims of violent crimes and severe forms of human trafficking—are exempted from the public charge test by law. Nevertheless,  many are forgoing programs for which they and their children are eligible out of fear the proposed rule will cause them to lose their immigration protections. The fear caused by the proposed rule only exacerbates the tremendous harms these families have already suffered.

 Protecting Immigrant Families 

 In this era of heightened immigration enforcement fueled by radical racial, ethnic, and economic prejudices and resulting in widespread fear, everyone has a role to play in protecting immigrant and mixed-status families. The Protecting Immigrant Families, Advancing Our Future Campaign provides community resources on public charge for people working with immigrant families. Several resources, including FAQs, are available in multiple languages. 

Get Legal Help

This blog post contains general information and is not legal advice. If you live in Mississippi and have concerns related to public charge determinations, public benefits usage (e.g., SNAP, Medicaid), or your immigration situation, we can help you decide what’s best for you and your family. Contact the Mississippi Center for Justice at (601) 352-2269.



Amelia McGowan is Testing Coordinator/ Staff Attorney- Immigration for the Mississippi Center for Justice.

Madeline Morcelle is Staff Attorney-Public Benefits for the Mississippi Center for Justice.  




Advancing Racial and Economic Justice for Asylum-Seekers

I’ll never forget the day that Alberto (name changed) came into our office seeking immigration help.  Only a teenager, Alberto fled his native Guatemala alone—leaving behind his loved ones and traversing Mexico through the unrelenting summer’s heat—to seek safety in central Mississippi, where his uncle lived.  As a Guatemalan Maya from the country’s western highlands, Alberto faced a lifetime of severe poverty, lack of opportunity, and possible death in his native country—solely because of his ethnicity.  

Before Alberto was born, Guatemalan soldiers murdered several members of his family during the country’s decades-long civil war, in which the government committed over 600 massacres against its indigenous citizens.  Even though the Peace Accords officially ended the war before Alberto’s birth, its legacies—along with the weight of generations of state-sanctioned racism, oppression, and genocide against the Maya—suffocated Alberto in his home country.  Born into extreme poverty, Alberto, his parents, and three siblings depended on a small subsistence farm in order to survive, unable to find economic opportunities in other parts of the country.  He dropped out of school in the third grade in order to work on the farm.  

When Alberto was around fourteen, the Guatemalan government approved the installation of a mine site in a neighboring town, despite strong opposition and protests by local indigenous groups, including Alberto and his family.  Alberto, his family, and neighbors protested the mine because they were afraid that the government would take their land, on which they depended for survival, and give it to the mining company.  Even if they did not lose their land, they also feared that the mining would contaminate their crops and water supply.  Unfortunately, many of these protests turned violent, with private mine security and state forces violently repelling protesters.  In one of these skirmishes, a miner slashed Alberto’s arm with a machete.  

Fearing for his life, Alberto fled his homeland for safety in the United States.  After the exhausted and dehydrated young man reached the U.S./Mexico border and requested protection, U.S. Border Patrol officers arrested Alberto, moved him to a children’s shelter, and released him into the care of his uncle in Central Mississippi.  Alberto’s fight for his life was far from over, however.  Upon his release, U.S. officials handed him a Notice to Appear, which advised him in English that he would have to appear before an Immigration Judge in Memphis to navigate the complicated asylum process in order to remain in the country.  He would face a prosecutor from the Department of Homeland Security, but would have no government-appointed attorney to represent him.  He would have to file all applications for protection and documents in English.  And if he mis-stepped even once, the U.S. government would forcibly remove Alberto to the country that nearly killed him.  

Thankfully, Alberto did not have to face this daunting system alone.  With the support of law students from the Mississippi College School of Law Immigration Clinic, with whom MCJ has partnered, Alberto won his asylum case and continues to reside in central Mississippi, where he is studying for his GED, learning English, and healing from the trauma he suffered.

Given recent attacks on asylum, asylum-seekers like Alberto need your support.  To learn more about the asylum process and ways that you can advocate for stronger legal protections for asylum-seekers like Alberto, you can visit:

National Immigration Forum:

American Immigration Lawyers Association:

Catholic Legal Immigration Network:

To learn how you can support Mississippi asylum-seekers like Alberto, please email

Amelia McGowan is Testing Coordinator - Fair Housing/Immigration for the Mississippi Center for Justice.

One Action, Two Punishments: The School-to-Prison Pipeline in Action in Mississippi

The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects individuals from double jeopardy: you cannot be tried twice for the same crime. Unfortunately, the Double Jeopardy Clause does not protect students who are being punished by both their schools and the courts for the same action.


There is an alarming trend in Mississippi. First, students get in trouble at school. Then, they get suspended or expelled from school for that conduct. That should be the end of the road. However, many of these students also get referred to youth court and face criminal charges for the exact same conduct for which they got suspended or expelled. These students are therefore being punished twice for the same behavior. 

Schools have the ability to refer students to youth court for the most severe conduct, such as acts committed with a deadly weapon or acts that, if committed by an adult, could be punished by life imprisonment or death; however, schools should not be referring students to youth court for behaviors that are commonplace. Students are getting referred to youth court and charged with crimes for behaviors like fighting and being disrespectful to teachers. We do not condone such behaviors, but they are behaviors that should be handled at school, not by our youth courts.

In addition to the fact that the vast majority of actions that lead to youth court referrals do not rise to the level that necessitates youth court involvement, school youth court referrals show the school-to-prison pipeline in action. In fact, this may be one of the most obvious examples of the school-to-prison pipeline phenomenon: schools are telling students they cannot come to school but instead face prosecution and possible jail time for an act that occurred in the classroom. This trend is even more worrying given that the majority of the clients that the Mississippi Center for Justice has served who are facing this dual punishment are students with disabilities. Thus, it appears that schools are attempting to shirk their responsibilities to students with disabilities under federal special education law by pushing them out of school and into court.

The Fifth Amendment’s Double Jeopardy Clause might not protect students from getting punished by both the school and the court for the same action, but the Mississippi Center for Justice is here to help.

If you have a child or know a child who is facing a simultaneous school suspension or expulsion and youth court referral for the same alleged conduct, please contact us at (228) 435-7284.

Amelia Huckins is an Equal Justice Works Fellow with the Mississippi Center for Justice.

Prove it! School Suspensions and Expulsions in Mississippi

If you have gone to court, or watched a legal or police drama, you are probably familiar with the concept of  “standard of proof.”  In civil cases juries are instructed that they must use the “preponderance of evidence” standard before ruling for a party. In criminal cases, before the Defendant is convicted they are told to consider whether they are  guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Even children are familiar with this concept.  Who hasn’t heard a young child taunt another telling them, “You can’t prove I did it!” 


This is the essence of basic fairness. Before you take away something from someone in the United States of America, whether it is property, an entitlement, or their freedom, you have to “prove it” using an adequate standard of proof.

Despite this, for years Mississippi would suspend and expel students  in proceedings without a standard of proof.  Thus a student accused of starting a fight, or phoning in a bomb threat, or having a weapon, could be expelled without any proof whatsoever. This was a clear and plain deprivation of their constitutional right to due process, and many students lost their right to a public education based on nothing more than unproven suspicions on the part of school administrators.

After MCJ began petitioning local school districts to adopt a standard of proof, and filed several lawsuits against districts which had failed to do so, the Legislature amended the law to provide that all long term suspensions and expulsions were required to employ what it termed a “standard of proof” of “substantial evidence.

The problem with this is that “substantial evidence” is not actually a standard of proof, and – even if it were – it does not rise to the level required to take away a constitutional right like education.  The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the deprivation of fundamental constitutional rights requires a standard of proof of “clear and convincing evidence.” Moreover, the law deprives school districts of the ability to adopt a constitutionally adequate standard of proof 

In consequence MCJ has introduced a bill with the help of Rep. Hank Zuber, H.B. 755, which is intended to require “clear and convincing evidence” before a student is suspended more than ten days or expelled.

MCJ has also filed just commenced litigation against a college which suspended an emotionally disabled 18  year old student for 12 months for having an autistic break down after a motor vehicle accident, all without employing a constitutionally adequate standard or proof in the suspension hearing.

If you have a child you feel was wrongfully suspended or expelled for something they did not do, or for which they should not have been punished, giveth Mississippi Center for Justice a call at 601.352.2269. We’re here to help!

Jeremy is the Educational Opportunities Director for the Mississippi Center for Justice.

The Invisible Wall

As the partial government shutdown enters its second month, discussion of a physical border wall between the United States and Mexico continues to dominate the national discourse. While such a physical barrier raises countless legal, economic, and environmental concerns, we also cannot ignore the much larger and pernicious "invisible wall" that threatens our country and our bedrock values—a wall that creates profound social, economic, and legal barriers for immigrants, their families, and communities, and undermines the constitutional protections that we all enjoy.


This wall threatens everyone in the United States, regardless of immigration status. It spans the flagrant and arbitrary disregard of legal protections for asylum seekers, the separation of immigrant families, increased use of prolonged “civil” detention of immigrants in removal proceedings, proposed penalties for certain immigrants who access life-saving nutritional assistance and medical care, and the calculated undermining of the judicial independence of our immigration judges and members of the Board of Immigration Appeals. In our own state, this wall manifests itself through barriers to education for immigrant children and affordable housing to immigrant families, ostracizing “non-US citizen” labels on driver's licenses, and increased Immigration and Customs Enforcement checkpoints on our roads and in our communities.

While we must work to ensure national security, we must not do so at the peril of our individual liberties or our constitutional guarantees of equal protection. Our commitment to the rule of law must prioritize the constitutional principles of equal protection, due process, protections against unlawful searches/seizures, prolonged detention, and cruel and unusual punishment, as well as our treaty commitments to refugees and asylum-seekers.

We must all take affirmative steps to dismantle this “invisible wall” that divides our country, state, and communities. Here are some ways that you can take action:

⁃ If you are an attorney or speak a non-English language, contact us to volunteer to represent a

Mississippi immigrant family in need of legal representation.

⁃ Host an “Immigration 101” or a “Know Your Rights” presentation for your community. Contact us

for assistance.

⁃ Support immigrant-led organizations and businesses in your local community.

⁃ Advocate for policies that protect and support immigrants. For more information, visit:

⁃ Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC):

⁃ American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA):

⁃ Protecting Immigrant Families:

Amelia McGowan is a Staff Attorney with the Mississippi Center for Justice.