One month ago, Luz Maria Henriquez began a new job as executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. And the weeks since have made clear there will be no easing into things. The nation is now in an unprecedented period of economic shutdown and enforced social distancing, even as health care workers grapple with a terrifying pandemic.
Henriquez joined Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air to discuss the ACLU’s role during these troubled times.
“What we’re looking at is, ‘What are public health experts saying is necessary to contain the spread of the virus?’” she said. “We at the ACLU understand that we are part of this larger community, and that there has to be some sort of balancing when our public health experts are saying that ‘if we engage in these particular practices during this time, that will minimize the spread of the virus.’”
In recent weeks, that has meant calling for the release of those in prison and jails who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, as well as all detainees awaiting trial. Missouri’s prison system recently confirmed its first case of an inmate with the virus.
“I think there’s a misperception that prisons and jails are closed environments,” she said. “And what we know, and what public health experts are telling us, is that they are not. There are folks who are coming and going into that prison community, and that is increasing the risk of the COVID-19 virus in our prisons and jails. And the conditions in our correctional facilities are highly conducive to spreading the virus. And if the virus goes into our prison community, it’s all very possible it comes out of that community and into the community at large.”
Henriquez also discussed her background, which includes growing up as the daughter of undocumented immigrants in California. A graduate of the University of California-Berkeley School of Law, Henriquez worked for a law firm in New York City before moving to St. Louis in 2014. Most recently, she was the managing attorney of the education justice program at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri.
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Joshua Phelps. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.
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