As difficult as this past year has been, it has also helped to expose deeply entrenched racist structures that undergird our society. These truths are not new to many of us; we experience them every day. Yet uncovering these truths creates new opportunities for change.

We will not let what is “legal” be an excuse for what is not “just.”

CLS embraces the possibility of a radically different future in which systems are transformed, wealth is redistributed, and communities can thrive. That’s our North Star – how we imagine justice.

For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.

–   from “The Hill We Climb” by Amanda Gorman

At the onset of the pandemic, CLS was fortunate that we had done the hard work necessary to clarify our “why” and to sharpen our strategic focus to end mass incarceration and protect immigrant equity.

So when everyone’s world turned upside down, we knew what we had to do. We zeroed in on our mission to challenge systemic racism and other structural inequities identified by our community partners – and not just to mitigate the effects of the pandemic, but to create lasting systemic change.

  • Within three weeks after COVID-19 was declared an official emergency by the government, we filed our first COVID-19 related lawsuit, Colvin v. Insleeasking the Governor and the Department of Corrections (DOC) to protect people in their custody from the pandemic by reducing the prison population and taking measures to prevent the spread;

  • We partnered with a farmworker union to file a pair of lawsuits to force state agencies to issue emergency regulations protecting H-2A immigrant workers in temporary farmworker housing from the risks of COVID-19;

  • We supported Eastern Washington fruit packing shed workers in advocating for greater workplace protections from COVID-19, including bringing litigation before the NLRB for recognition of the union they formed – Trabajadores Unidos por la Justicia; and

  • We recently had to sue the DOC again because people in prison have experienced multiple COVID-19 outbreaks, a 40% positive rate (8 times greater than the general public), and several deaths. We are asking the state to immediately ensure that enough vaccines are allocated to vaccinate the entire prison population, people in prison obtain accurate information, and DOC has a plan to protect people in custody from staff who choose not to take the vaccine.

At the same time we were addressing the global COVID-19 pandemic, CLS advocates continued to partner with people affected by the systems that cause and perpetuate mass incarceration and the criminalization of immigration. In the past year, CLS has

  • Filed a federal class action on behalf of over 1,100 H-2A workers, raising federal anti-trafficking and state wage law claims against one of the largest agricultural growers in Washington;

  • Obtained a landmark ruling from the Washington Supreme Court in a challenge to the racist exclusion of agricultural workers from the minimum wage statute, establishing a right to overtime pay for dairy workers;

  • Filed a federal court action and won a court order stopping DOL from suppressing wages and eliminating higher piece rate wages;

  • Led successful efforts to pass a bill that removes the restriction prohibiting using state civil legal aid funds to serve immigrants without legal status; and

  • Filed a class action challenging the Department of Children, Youth & Families (DCYF)’s inhumane practice of handcuffing youth in solitary confinement for hours at a time for verbally refusing to follow staff orders to comply with a strip search.

Thank you for joining with us on this journey toward the light. 

Janet Chung,
Advocacy Director