2025 Design-Your-Own Fellowship Applications are Open

Learn More & Apply

Photo of Hope Bettler

Hope Bettler

  • Hosted by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc.
  • Sponsored by Richard L. Tate Rural Justice Fellowship, Texas Access to Justice Foundation
  • Service location Del Rio, Texas
  • Law school Emory University School of Law
  • Issue area Civil Rights/Civil Liberties, Public Benefits/Welfare Reform
  • Fellowship class year 2021
  • Program Design-Your-Own Fellowship

The Project

Hope (she/her) provides direct legal services for citizens in rural Texas border communities facing obstacles to obtaining proof of identity and citizenship.

Today, getting a passport, ID, or driver’s license requires a birth certificate. But for decades across southwest Texas, birth certificates were not the default for non-hospital or midwife-assisted births—baptismal certificates were. Even citizens with birth certificates may have trouble getting identity and citizenship documents if their birth was assisted by a midwife the U.S. government investigated for fraud (such investigations are common along the U.S.-Mexico border, despite consistently failing to yield evidence that can be used to identify fraudulently registered births).

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the first year of the Fellowship, Hope has:

  • Won a federal bench trial in Section 1503 citizenship case working with Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid (TRLA) colleagues—the highly favorable order is valuable precedent for hundreds of other Section 1503 plaintiffs
  • Represented clients in submitting records requests, administrative proceedings, and litigation to obtain citizenship and identity documents
  • Provided ongoing, full representation to 13 clients and brief services, advice, and/or referrals to an additional 25 individuals
  • Worked with several teams across TRLA to support clients having trouble getting identity documents
  • Developed a comprehensive guide for other attorneys and legal services providers helping people obtain identity and citizenship documents

Next Steps

In the next year, Hope plans to:

  • Continue and increase direct representation of clients
  • Share the comprehensive guide she developed with other legal services providers at conferences and events
  • Develop strategies to resolve known issue areas in ID access

Born and raised in rural Georgia, I understand how difficult it can be for disadvantaged populations in resource-scarce rural areas to access basic government services.

Hope Bettler /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

Meet Other Fellows Like Hope

View All

Photo of Emma Shakeshaft

Emma Shakeshaft

Host: American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin

Sponsor: Kohler Foundation Inc., Quarles & Brady LLP

Photo of Bobby Hunter

Bobby Hunter

Host: American Civil Liberties Union Racial Justice Program

Sponsor: Ropes & Gray LLP

Photo of Megan Harkins

Megan Harkins

Host: Legal Council for Health Justice

Sponsor: Dentons

Current Fellow

Margaret Burgess

Host: Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Inc.

Sponsor: Cox Enterprises, Eversheds Sutherland