Photo of Hope Bettler

Hope Bettler

  • Hosted by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc.
  • Sponsored by Texas Access to Justice Foundation Richard L. Tate Rural Justice Fellowship
  • 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/hers) will provide direct legal services for citizens in rural Texas border communities facing obstacles to obtaining proof of identity and citizenship.

Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) estimates that they receive 50-70 calls every year from United States citizens having trouble obtaining driver’s licenses, passports, social security cards, and other identity documents because federal and state laws do not account for the realities of low-income transitional families living on the Texas-Mexico border. People with birth certificates signed by midwives (parteras) and people who attended secondary school in Mexico for a period often have a particularly difficult time meeting the evidentiary requirements for obtaining proof of citizenship documents. The technical administrative knowledge required to pursue these claims, combined with their time-intensive and fact-specific nature, means that TRLA is currently unable to address the need among its client communities for these claims.

Hope’s experience living and working in rural communities across the American South makes her familiar with the barriers low-income people in rural communities face in accessing resources. Hope’s time spent working as part of TRLA’s civil rights team introduced her to the issues faced by many border community citizens in obtaining proof of identity and citizenship.

Fellowship Plans

Hope will represent people in rural border communities having trouble obtaining proof of identity and citizenship documents in administrative proceedings with state agencies, the Social Security Administration, and the U.S. Department of State. For individuals facing prolonged denial of the benefits of U.S. citizenship, 8 U.S.C. § 1503 offers clients a remedy in federal court. Hope will also be conducting outreach to raise awareness and hosting identity document application clinics along the middle border region, as well as working to develop streamlined resources for other TRLA attorneys handling proof-of-citizenship claims.

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

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