Photo of Eleni Bakst

Eleni Bakst

  • Hosted by Human Rights First
  • Sponsored by The Ottinger Family Foundation
  • Service location New York, New York
  • Law school Duke University School of Law
  • Issue area Immigrant Populations
  • Fellowship class year 2017
  • Program Design Your Own Fellowship

The Project

Eleni challenged unlawful immigration detention and border practices through federal impact litigation and advocacy and conducted a national review of the state of medical and mental health care in immigration detention.

As a result of the global refugee crisis and the rapid expansion of immigration detention—what some have called the largest mass incarceration movement in U.S. history—the number of detained asylum seekers has grown exponentially. Detention is associated with poorer health and legal outcomes, resulting in long-term harm to asylum seekers. Under the Trump administration, we are also witnessing increased barriers to the legal right to seek asylum, including criminal prosecutions of asylum seekers, widespread denial of parole, and turn-backs at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Fellowship Highlights

During the Fellowship period, Eleni has:

  • Helped lead Human Rights First’s impact litigation work in Damus v. Nielsen and O.A. v. Trump. The first—a federal class action lawsuit—challenges the detention of asylum seekers without meaningful consideration of their eligibility for release on parole. The second federal lawsuit challenges the Department of Homeland Security’s policy of barring those who enter the United States between ports of entry from seeking asylum.
  • Published three reports on immigrant detention conditions, healthcare, and barriers to seeking asylum and shared findings from her research with media and at a shadow hearing on family separation hosted by the House Women’s Working Group on Immigration Reform.
  • Led the drafting of two amicus briefs, both submitted to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in two cases challenging inadequate release from detention mechanisms and the “Remain in Mexico” policy.

What’s Next

Now that the Fellowship is complete, Eleni plans to continue working with immigrant populations at CAIR Coalition by providing direct representation to immigrants detained at detention centers in Maryland and Virginia through a universal representation program.


Mexican Authorities Are Stopping Unaccompanied Kids From Seeking Asylum In The US At Every Turn

Texas camp for unaccompanied migrant children set to close after multiple extensions

Family Separations Are Just the Tip of the Iceberg at Texas Detention Centers

Bakst '17 receives two-year Equal Justice Works fellowship

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