We believe that to achieve justice, all communities should have a voice in the creation and implementation of the policies, laws, and legal systems that impact them.
Since our founding, Columbia Legal Services has advocated for laws that advance social, economic, and racial equity for people living in poverty by using the powerful legal tools of policy advocacy and class action litigation. Explore our advocacy by clicking on the issue area icons below. Starting in 2019, our new strategic direction will primarily focus on dismantling and transforming two of the key racialized systems that perpetuate poverty, injustice, and dehumanization: mass incarceration and the impacts of the immigration system.
Criminal Justice Reform
Every stage of the U.S. criminal justice system, from policing to prosecution to sentencing, imprisonment, and reentry is deeply racialized, and extreme in its harshness. The U.S. is without global peer in how many people it puts behind bars, and for how long. And the U.S. criminal justice system works to keep a person imprisoned long after they leave confinement, be it through exorbitant legal financial obligations or by making a criminal record a barrier to housing or employment. While our juvenile court system is supposed to prioritize rehabilitation and care for justice-involved youth, their facilities end up simply serving as “mini jails.” All of these consequences fall disproportionately on people of color.
Columbia Legal Services works for communities to dismantle our racialized criminal justice system. We believe that the poor shouldn’t face harsher punishment than the rich. We work to ensure that people who are returning home after imprisonment should have a chance to find work, a job, and care for their health and for their families.
Every person in Washington, rich and poor alike, should be able to lead a productive, meaningful, and dignified life. Individuals and families facing poverty should be protected by a social safety net that provides for basic human needs like food, housing, and health care.
Columbia Legal Services works with older persons and people facing poverty to improve access to essential hospital and health care, to reduce the burden of medical debt and payday lenders, and to improve services for people with disabilities living in group home settings.
Housing & Homelessness
People should not be punished for living in poverty. Governments should not be passing laws that punish people who are trying to survive on the streets or call their vehicles homes. Landlords should not use discrimination or sketchy practices when selecting tenants or turning over a mobile home park.
Columbia Legal Services works with people facing poverty to keep individuals and families housed and protecting their homes so they can thrive.
Immigrants in Washington state are living under an outdated and racialized immigration system that harms families, youth, children, and workers. Across Washington, many immigrants are denied access to the state’s social safety net. Immigrants who have lived a vast majority of their lives in Washington have almost no recourse to regularize their immigration status, leaving them in a state of constant vulnerability to deportation.
Columbia Legal Services fights efforts that attempt to demonize or shame immigrant families facing poverty. We support community partners pushing to end the harms of the outdated and broken federal immigration system.
Racialized and discriminatory systems work to disadvantage or exclude people of color, people living in poverty, and children. Voting systems are created to advantage white and wealthy communities already in power. Local governments operate behind closed doors or without opportunity for public input. Children in poverty in Washington state are harmed by systems that fail to protect them. Many state policies for children either treat them as adults or ignore them. In dependency proceedings the parents and the government always have attorneys, but the child does not.
Columbia Legal Services works to improve or, when necessary, dismantle systems that oppress and deny opportunities. We work to transform voting systems and keep government accessible and accountable. We work with youth, families, and advocates for children to ensure that the best interests of the child take priority in state and local policies and practices.
Immigrant workers in Washington state are living under outdated and racialized immigration and employment systems that offer few reliable protections or opportunities to secure better paying, more permanent work. Agricultural workers, primarily immigrants, have been historically excluded from basic employment protections like overtime, a legacy of the Jim Crow era. Workers in the state under the H-2A visa program are subjected to intimidation and retaliation.
Columbia Legal Services works with immigrant community groups and unions to transform employment practices that have excluded immigrant workers.
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“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
–Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa
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