Cristina Rodriguez

The Project

Cristina’s (she/her/hers) project with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project will focus on empowering and advocating for Indigenous Guatemalan women and children who have fled gender and family-based violence through community education, outreach, and direct representation.

Recently, Indigenous Guatemalan families have increasingly immigrated to rural Washington counties. A large percentage of this community are women and children who have very little access to legal resources and are unrepresented in removal proceedings. They are at an urgent risk of being returned to a country where they are very likely to continue experiencing persecution. But addressing this need is complicated by language barriers, cultural differences, and general distrust of outsiders fostered by the history of violence and oppression in their home country.

Indigenous Guatemalan women and children need a comprehensive response that combines direct immigration representation and empowerment through community education and outreach.

Cristina’s passion for this work began at a very young age when she watched her family and community struggle to navigate the immigration system. Her immigrant heritage and low-income background motivates her commitment to developing a grassroots movement for immigrant justice in the Latinx Indigenous community.

Fellowship Plans

Cristina’s project provides three forms of service delivery: community education and outreach will help give power and decision-making back to Indigenous immigrant communities; direct immigration representation may provide a pathway to permanent residency for women and children facing deportation; creating sustainable and ongoing legal materials for attorneys and legal advocates will make it easier to represent this community who is in urgent need.

Media

Jemimah Kamau and Cristina Rodriguez Named 2022 Equal Justice Works Fellows

I pursued higher education to gain the tools necessary to redistribute power back to my communities. My Equal Justice Works Fellowship will provide me with the support and resources to do this and so much more!

Cristina Rodriguez /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Erin (she/her/hers) will focus on improving educational and legal outcomes for unaccompanied children by working with school districts to ensure students’ rights are met while also providing direct representation.

Thousands of unaccompanied children are being resettled in New Jersey each year. However, educators are often unaware of what rights immigrant students have, the different statuses of students, and how to meet their needs. This can leave unaccompanied children unenrolled in school and even aging out, which can prevent youth from being eligible for some forms of legal relief. Schools need to be educated on how to identify, refer, and support unaccompanied children. Lawyers need to know how to navigate school districts and ensure their client’s educational needs are met.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Erin will build relationships with at least five school districts in New Jersey to educate them on how to better support immigrant youth, leading to the creation of a guide lawyers can use to navigate educational systems. She will conduct Know Your Rights events and legal screenings to identify more students in need of immigration legal services. She will also directly represent unaccompanied minors referred from the school districts and/or who are facing educational issues such as difficulty enrolling.

Immigrant rights and the right to an education are both vital civil rights issues of our time. My Equal Justice Works Fellowship has afforded me the opportunity to bring together my passion for both to serve the most vulnerable immigrants: unaccompanied children.

Erin Sweeney /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Magdalena (she/her/hers) empowers immigrant children and youth survivors of human trafficking through direct representation, community outreach, and legal education.

There are 100 human trafficking cases on average in Colorado each year, with foreign national survivors demonstrably overrepresented. Labor trafficking in agriculture, construction, and landscaping are the most common among foreign nationals. Additionally, women survivors are more prevalent than men, with child survivors increasing since 2015.

Through legal advocacy, immigrant human trafficking survivors can seek humanitarian T Non-immigrant status (“T Visas”) and direct representation to pursue litigation against their traffickers. Litigation, in particular, is essential to deter future trafficking and stem human trafficking more broadly.

Fellowship Plans

Through this Fellowship, Magdalena will provide relief to youth who are immigrant human trafficking survivors through direct representation. She will pursue litigation claims against human traffickers and build on outreach & legal education provided to survivors.

Only when we treat all humans as humans under law will we truly understand the meaning of being human.

Magdalena Landa-Posas /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Paulina (she/her/hers) will advocate on behalf of incarcerated people in Georgia who were sentenced to life in prison as children through direct representation in parole proceedings, education, and policy reform.

In Georgia, more than 600 people are serving life sentences for crimes they committed as children—some as young as 13 years old. 78% of these individuals are Black. Each is supposed to receive a meaningful opportunity for parole, but they do not. Parole applicants in Georgia have no legal right to appear before the State Board of Pardons and Paroles. They have no right to counsel, present evidence, call expert witnesses, or even access their parole files.

Having a parole lawyer in Georgia is critical. A lawyer is able to submit a written advocacy packet to the Board, which tells the story of who that child has become in the past decades. Without this advocacy, people serving life sentences since childhood will have little to no opportunity to obtain release, as the Board will continue to make decisions based primarily on the Department of Corrections paperwork, which is often incomplete and deficient. Such paperwork certainly does not show who these children were, who they have become, and the community support they would have if paroled.

Fellowship Plans

During the Fellowship, Paulina will provide parole representation for people serving life sentences for crimes that occurred when they were children and assist those clients who are granted parole with their reentry into society. She will also train other lawyers and student lawyers on parole representation in Georgia and create a Georgia Juvenile Parole Handbook. Finally, with the help of the Southern Center for Human Right’s policy experts, she will draft model legislation to reform parole proceedings for individuals serving life sentences since childhood in Georgia.

Media

Greenberg Traurig Names its 2022 Equal Justice Works Fellows

Because I refuse to live in a society that gives up on children, I will fight to ensure that people serving life sentences since childhood have a meaningful opportunity to obtain release. Having a real shot at parole is especially important in the Deep South, where the legal system is plagued by systemic racism and overcriminalization.

Paulina Lucio Maymon /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Zoe (she/her/hers) will work with young people who attend alternative and nontraditional public schools in greater Philadelphia to educate them on their civil rights and support them in building power to advocate for more meaningful, accessible, and effective pathways to graduation.

One in five Philadelphia ninth-graders will attend an alternative or nontraditional school during their educational career. Many of the approximately 5,000 students who currently attend these schools have had their education interrupted by being pushed out of traditional schools, experiencing homelessness, or being incarcerated, on top of continually experiencing the effects of interlocking systems of racism and criminalization of poverty. Instead of reversing discriminatory patterns of pushout and helping every student remain in school and graduate, alternative schools often exacerbate pushout by adopting exclusionary policies, collecting limited data about barriers students encounter, and having very little accountability. These problems persist despite federal and state laws that protect all Pennsylvania students’ ability to access public education.

Fellowship Plans

Zoe will build on the Education Law Center’s existing relationships with Philadelphia-area youth organizations and child-serving providers to address the concerns of young people who attend alternative schools. She will undertake individual representation to enforce students’ federal, state, and local education civil rights in enrollment, special education, anti-harassment and bullying, and school discipline matters. Her work will ensure that alternative schools enroll students promptly and provide appropriate special education services, English language instruction, and due process in school discipline proceedings. Informed by community relationships and research into accountability gaps, she will support young people who attend alternative schools to build power and develop a focused advocacy campaign that pushes alternative schools to provide more meaningful, effective, and accessible programming.

Media

Greenberg Traurig Names its 2022 Equal Justice Works Fellows

In my six years as a high school educator, my students’ feedback pushed me every day to build a more supportive, inclusive classroom. My goal as a lawyer is not only to make sure that my clients receive a high-quality public education; it is to help them build power so they have a say in advocating for schools that fully support them and help them thrive.

Zoe Masters /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Dominique (she/her/hers) uses advocacy, outreach, and litigation to protect Illinois immigrant youth from deportation by accessing state court via a new law that expands Special Immigrant Juvenile Status eligibility.

Every year, thousands of unaccompanied immigrant children enter the United States fleeing violence, abuse, and neglect. They may face deportation and family separation if they cannot establish eligibility for immigration relief. Some of these immigrant youth can obtain protection through Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), which creates a path to lawful status for immigrant youth who have been abandoned, abused, or neglected. Although federal law makes SIJS available to youth under 21, many states limit eligibility for predicate orders to children under 18, effectively excluding eligible youth based on their residence. In 2021, Illinois expanded eligibility to 18 to 21-year-olds. There is now an urgent need to increase awareness of the new law and ensure immigrant youth have access to attorneys with experience in both the immigration and Illinois court systems.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Dominique will represent immigrant youth in both state court and immigration proceedings. She will also conduct legal trainings for attorneys, judges, and immigrant youth advocates who may screen and represent clients in SIJS proceedings, as well as provide pro bono training and support. Additionally, Dominique will develop best practices and models for implementing this new law in Illinois.

My interest in immigration law and public service generally is deeply rooted in my personal experience being a child of undocumented Mexican immigrants. I learned from a young age about the importance of community and putting others before oneself, but I also learned the harsh realities of living without privilege and security which fuels my passion for this cause.

Dominique Mejia /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Alexandria (Alex) (she/her/hers) will advocate for Black parents and families in Miami to prevent unnecessary removals of children from their homes by providing civil legal services and collaborating with parent-led advocacy groups to empower families.

Removing a child from their family is traumatic and fails to address the hardships facing families, yet it is often the result of child welfare system involvement. In Florida, most children are removed for neglect, a vague legal category that serves as a proxy for poverty and race, which often results in the separation of families for inadequate housing, childcare, and poor nutrition. In Miami, the inflection point occurs at the moment the Department of Children and Families decides to investigate and deems the child to be “at risk,” thereby allowing the child to remain with their family or be removed from their home. In 2019, Black children were 43% of children investigated, 41% of children confirmed as maltreated, and 56% of children removed, though they are only 20% of Miami’s child population.

Her family’s experience with her sister’s adoption, though different from experiences of families entangled in the child welfare system, led to Alex’s exploration of and commitment to supporting and strengthening families.

Fellowship Plans

Alex will prevent the unnecessary removal of children by providing direct representation to parents and caregivers before an investigation has taken place or before a petition for removal has been filed. She will advocate for families confronted with eviction, domestic violence, and public benefits matters, enabling them to continue caring for their children safely within their homes. She will collaborate with local parent-led advocacy groups to amplify community and parent voices within the child welfare system.

Media

Greenberg Traurig Names its 2022 Equal Justice Works Fellows

I have learned through years of working with families who have been torn apart by the child welfare system that separation deeply harms everyone involved and does not address the systemic poverty and racism that led to the removal in the first place. When given proper support, I have seen that children and their families can remain safely together and thrive.

Alexandria Cinney /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Remi (she/her/hers) will advance advocacy for children in adult prisons serving life without parole sentences in Louisiana to: (1) improve prison conditions; (2) ensure education and rehabilitation; and (3) develop mitigation.

Despite legal and cultural change, Louisiana routinely condemns children to life without parole. Under recent changes to Louisiana law, some juveniles originally sentenced to life without parole could become eligible for parole hearings, providing an opportunity for release after serving twenty-five years in prison. A child’s success navigating the prison environment is critical to their parole hearing outcome. Remi’s project is designed to provide the necessary structural support to children navigating the adult prison environment and ensuring access to education, self-improvement, and rehabilitation programs.

Remi is inspired to do this work because this is home. “The work of juvenile justice is what I want. And the people of Louisiana are who I want to do it with.”

Fellowship Plans

The overarching goal of this Fellowship project is to ensure that juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) clients are treated humanely and in recognition of the fact that they are, or were, children while incarcerated. Remi will provide legal and informal advocacy for clients while incarcerated to ensure their humane treatment and increase their likelihood of success in their eventual parole hearings. The strategies for achieving this goal will include: (1) providing civil legal and administrative advocacy to incarcerated JLWOP clients, (2) creating a practitioner’s guide for incarceration-based lawyering, and (3) administering Know Your Rights seminars.

The Project

Raneem (she/her/hers) will advocate for Georgia youth with behavioral and mental health needs by advancing their access to the preventive care and reasonable accommodations to which they are entitled under federal law.

Every child deserves the opportunity to thrive into adulthood. With one in four kids in Georgia reporting at least one behavioral or mental health issue—and only one in 11 accessing care—the prospect of equitable opportunity seems far-fetched. Most of a child’s health status is attributable to social and environmental determinants like poverty, housing, education, and exposure to trauma. These factors often manifest as legal needs that, left unmanaged, will have a significant negative impact on health outcomes. Over the last three decades, medical-legal partnerships have demonstrated the necessity of leveraging legal services to improve physical health outcomes. Yet not much has been said about directing legal advocacy toward mental health.

Mental illness is the most common childhood disease, with higher rates than that of pediatric asthma, cancer, diabetes, and HIV/AIDS combined. It is the number one reason for teen hospitalization, and suicide is the second most common cause of teen death. Georgia youth deserve to have someone in their corner, ensuring they receive the mental health care coverage and reasonable public accommodations to which they are entitled.

Fellowship Plans

Raneem will represent clients from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta with appealing Medicaid coverage denials of mental health services and will assist providers in drafting medical necessity letters. She will also enforce children’s rights to accommodations and services in education settings. Additionally, Raneem will empower families to advocate for children in school and at the doctor by hosting community programs on Early Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment (EPSDT) requirements and public accommodations.

Media

Ashrawi receives prestigious Equal Justice Works Fellowship

My touchstone is to ‘be the adult you needed as a child.’ This project is the culmination of all my experiences, not only from my legal work and education but that intimate understanding of a struggle that just cannot be taught.

Raneem Ashrawi /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Brianna (she/her/hers) will provide legal assistance and support to children in the Allegheny County child welfare system with special education needs who have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The goal of Brianna’s project is to mitigate the pandemic’s impact on dependency system-involved children who receive special education services. Since the pandemic crisis began in March 2020, these students have gone months without educational services or with insufficient supports and services resulting in long-term consequences. Without the stability of a secure family, these children are particularly susceptible to receiving an inadequate education, which has a lifelong impact as they transition to adulthood. 

Fellowship Plans

Brianna will advocate for recoupment and/or compensatory services based on the Pennsylvania Department of Education guidance to address the needs of special education students impacted by the extended school closure. She will research and advocate for best practices to be implemented in school districts for their benefit. Brianna will also provide consultations and technical assistance to attorneys and child advocacy specialists on individual special education cases, advocate for children at Individual Education Program (IEP) and other school meetings, and provide support to foster parents and other caregivers in their role as educational decision-maker. 

I am continually inspired by the resilience demonstrated by children facing difficult circumstances. It is a privilege to work toward creating transformative change for educational equity.

Brianna Bell /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow