Harvard Law Professor Nikolas Bowie ’14 and Oren Nimni of Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) Boston sat down to have a conversation about the LCR’s recent litigation efforts to advance civil rights and economic justice. Nimni spoke about his commitment to advancing justice for people of color and immigrants and described his grassroots approach to developing legal strategies.
Nimni is currently litigating a case against the Trump administration to protect immigrants from Haiti, Honduras, and El Salvador with Temporary Protected Status (TPS). In the mid-summer of 2018, the Trump administration announced it was terminating TPS status for El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Nepal, and Sudan. In light of the announcement, immigration and civil rights advocacy groups like the LCR initiated litigation to prevent the terminations. They claimed that the cancellation of the program had a discriminatory motive that violated the law. In early October, U.S. District Judge Edward Chen ordered the administration to halt its plan, ruling that the administration violated the Equal Protection Clause by basing its decision “on animus against non-white, non-European immigrants.” Nimni emphasized the importance of the decision nationwide, but especially in Boston which has a high immigrant population. He highlighted that speaking with community members and prioritizing their needs was central to developing the legal theories they pursued.
Nimni has also been involved in other efforts to combat racial discrimination, including LCR Boston’s suits against the Boston Police Department (BPD) for racial profiling and internal discrimination within employment. He has also helped with reunifying families who were separated at the border due to the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy. LCR filed a lawsuit on behalf of children seeking damages from federal officials for forcibly separating families. Nimni was quoted in WBUR 90.9 saying that the lawsuit seeks to “hold the government accountable” and petition for “. . . the government [to] attempt to repair some of the harm that they’ve done to these kids.”
Nimni distinguished LCR as an organization that embodies the community-lawyering approach, letting communities drive the litigation. It is a model that appealed to him and one that he uses as he develops new legal strategies. He also said the organization had a strict focus on protecting the rights and interests of marginalized communities. “We’re in a really particular moment right now in the law where things are really bad and that provides a pretty sober reminder of the way that law works,” he told the audience. But, Nimni said, there are a number of organizations nationally and in Boston that are engaging in exciting and creative litigation strategies around immigration, mass incarceration, and education, among others. Nimni concluded by encouraging students to participate in direct services work through clinics or other opportunities. He also advocated that students stay in Boston, arguing that there are underserved communities in cities that are not well-established civil rights hubs that need creative, and talented lawyers to help defend their interests.
Thank you to the National Lawyers Guild – HLS Chapter for co-sponsoring this event.