2015 Equal Justice Works Fellow, Pilar Ferguson

Pilar Ferguson

Name of Host Organization: Kids in Need of Defense
City, State: Los Angeles, California
Issue area: Immigrant Populations, Children/Youth
Sponsors: The Microsoft Corporation; The Sidley Austin Foundation

The Project

Pilar will provide legal representation to unaccompanied children released to sponsors in Los Angeles who fled serious forms of sexual, domestic, and gang violence, human trafficking or other heinous crimes. She will also create a social services directory to be used in Los Angeles and replicated in other Kids In Need of Defense (KIND) offices that will connect legal and non-legal service providers to better address the various obstacles that face child migrants, such as access to mental health providers and education services.

The Inspiration

Need Addressed By Project: 
Over the past year, the United States saw a drastic increase in unaccompanied children (UACs) coming to the United States seeking safety. Many of these children are fleeing serious forms of violence, such as sexual violence, domestic violence, human trafficking, gang-based violence or other heinous crimes. The children are not provided with legal representation. They have to gather evidence, prepare declarations and argue against an experienced government attorney by themselves for the chance to stay in the United States. According to reports by the Office of Refuge Resettlement, between January 1 to July 31, 2014, 3909 UACs were released to sponsors living in California. The sponsor is often a family member or friend, but is usually someone the child has not seen in many years, if at all. In addition to navigating a complex legal system, the children and their sponsors have to navigate their way through the public school system, and figure out how to access vital non-legal social service providers, all while speaking a different language.
The Right Person For This Project: 
Pilar is the right person for the project because:
• As the daughter of an immigrant, she is dedicated to helping the immigrant populations in Los Angeles
• She is bilingual, which helps bridge the information gap many non-English speaking immigrants face
• She has experience working with unaccompanied children and the types of cases they face
Plans For First Six Months of Fellowship: 
In the first six months, Pilar will:
• Identify unaccompanied children who are eligible for relief
• Recruit and train pro bono attorneys to take cases
• Establish working relationships with organizations that advocate for the non-legal needs of the children

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