Starting later this month, family members will be able to visit the graves of loved ones buried in New York City’s potter’s field, Hart Island, thanks to a settlement reached today between the New York Civil Liberties Union and New York City. The agreement comes in response to a class-action lawsuit filed by the NYCLU in December 2014 challenging a city policy barring people from visiting the gravesites of family members buried on the island – the final resting place for 1 million people and the largest mass grave in the United States. “Today’s settlement should help bring closure to the parents, children, brothers, sisters and other family members of the generations of people who suffered the indignity of mass burial and then suffered the added insult of being forsaken by a city policy that barred family and friends from visiting,” said NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn, lead counsel on the case. Under the agreement, family members and guests will be permitted to visit Hart Island graves one weekend a month for the next year, after which time the NYCLU and the city will determine if visitation should be increased. The city will provide ferry service to the island, will allow visitors to leave mementos (such as flowers, stuffed animals, prayer cards, small flags and blankets) at gravesites, and will maintain a database of all people buried on the island and the location of their graves. The first visits will take place on Sunday, July 19, and there will no limit on the number of times family members can visit. Plaintiff Rosaria Cortes Lusero’s stillborn daughter was buried on Hart Island in 1995, and she and her daughter, plaintiff Marie Garcia, made repeated efforts to visit the island, all to no avail. “For 20 years my mother and I have waited to visit the grave of my baby sister,” Garcia said. “It will be very difficult, but finally being able to visit her grave will allow us to mourn the sister and daughter we never got to know.” Hart Island is an uninhabited island at the western end of Long Island Sound, just off of City Island in the Bronx. New York City has owned Hart Island since 1868, and the island serves as the city’s only active potter’s field for the internment of people who cannot afford burial or whose bodies are unclaimed. An estimated 1 million people, including children, are buried on Hart Island, making it one of the largest cemeteries in the country. Currently, Hart Island is operated by the New York City Department of Correction, and prisoners are used to conduct burials and maintain the island. The NYCLU’s lawsuit charged the that city’s policy barring Hart Island gravesite visits violated the federal constitutional rights of due process and free exercise of religion and similar protections under the New York Constitution. Joining Dunn on the case are New York University Law School Civil Rights Clinic students Clark Binkley, Daniel Kacinski and Junine So. Notice of settlement in Hart Island lawsuit