Ishvaku will work to advance economic justice in Los Angeles by advocating for unhoused individuals who lack identification through an in-person clinic, direct representation, policy advocacy, and impact litigation.
Lack of identification formalizes the socio-economic marginalization of individuals experiencing poverty and homelessness. Identification is a necessary prerequisite for accessing vital services such as social security programs and healthcare benefits, which intend to offer a way out of poverty. However, those born homeless likely never had the chance to get these crucial documents, and those who manage to get identitification may lose them due to housing insecurity. Without identification, people are trapped in a vicious cycle of homelessness.
Ishvaku will establish a biweekly Vital Document Clinic in Skid Row, providing unhoused individuals with assistance in obtaining documents they need to establish identification. When necessary, he will represent clients directly in front of government entities. Ishvaku will also advocate for policies at the local, state, and federal levels that make it easier to obtain identification and affirm the dignity of individuals experiencing poverty and homelessness. Additionally, he will work to craft and execute impact litigation that secures broader system relief. Throughout his Fellowship, Ishvaku will focus on building and strengthening coalitions to empower impacted communities and ensure long-term, sustainable change.
Having grown up in Los Angeles County as the child of immigrants, Ishvaku’s commitment to economic justice stems from his family’s experience with economic insecurity. Through this project, Ishvaku will be able to return to Los Angeles to deepen his passion for advancing economic justice.
Poverty is not just an economic catastrophe, but a moral catastrophe that exists as much in a lack of money as it does a lack of hope.
Ishvaku Vashishtha /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Loreal (they/them) will address the intersectional violence within Black, LGBTQ+ youth communities facing censorship, surveillance, and subsequent criminalization in and outside schools.
Racism and homophobia combine to create unique intersectional violence against Black, Queer youth that is often ignored or decentered. In states in the South with little to no safety nets for these communities, legislation is being passed to censor, surveil, and criminalize Black and Queer youth.
State legislatures are taking action to ban and control curricula across lower and higher education that erases Black and Queer experiences. Almost 10% of American youth openly identify as LGBTQ+ but more than 16 states have passed or introduced laws that surveil and criminalize them. Black Queer youth are already disproportionately disciplined and criminalized. Without interdisciplinary advocacy, Black, Queer youth are facing a rapid increase in violence and hatred with little support to meet their intersectional needs.
During this Fellowship, Loreal will use interdisciplinary approaches through the Legal Defense Fund’s Strategic Initiatives Department. Utilizing litigation, policy advocacy, and public education, Loreal will raise awareness and advocate around Black, Queer youths’ experiences throughout the South and Mid-Atlantic.
My existence as a Black, Queer, orphaned, and first-generation law student from youth into adulthood has been cast out... It feels only natural to me that I continue to advocate for the communities across my backgrounds so that instead of being cast out, people may be called in.
Loreal Hawk /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Talia will work with Brooklyn Defender Services to represent Brooklyn residents whose phones and other technological devices have been seized by the NYPD, advocate for the reform of the property seizure process, and use impact litigation to advance the data privacy rights of New Yorkers while their phones remain in NYPD custody.
In 2021, 40% of phones seized by the NYPD were not returned to their owners. The process to reobtain property following an arrest or police investigation is incredibly burdensome on New Yorkers. For low-income New Yorkers who can’t replace their phones, the indefinite retention of cell phones leaves them unable to access technology required to maintain employment, recertify income-stabilizing and nutritional benefits, and other essentials of life.
Additionally, due to the ever-expanding technological capacities of the NYPD, phones that remain in custody represent a serious threat to people’s data privacy. Data taken from phones is used to populate some of the NYPD’s most notoriously discriminatory policing tools, such as the NYPD gang database and predictive policing technology. New Yorkers need more comprehensive regulation of the property seizure and return process and rules to limit police access to phone data in their custody.
During Talia’s Fellowship, Talia will represent low-income Brooklyn residents who have had their phones seized by the police to ensure people quickly regain access to their essential technology. Talia will engage with community organizations to develop trainings so community members can assist each other in getting their property back. Finally Talia will develop a policy proposal to better regulate the property seizure process and use impact litigation to limit the NYPD’s access to civilian data from devices in custody.
After years of community organizing around issues of policing and surveillance in New York communities of color, I pursued law to dedicate my career to fighting alongside movements for police accountability. I am honored to begin my movement law work through my Equal Justice Works Fellowship.
Talia Kamran /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow
At Northeast Legal Aid, Lexi (she/hers) will work to counteract legal barriers to reentry for formerly incarcerated individuals through direct representation, education, and community outreach.
Formerly incarcerated individuals face extensive and compounding barriers to reentry, including denials of housing, employment, and occupational licenses. Many reentering individuals also have significant criminal or child support debt that can lead to driver’s license suspensions and wage garnishment. These barriers are the result of systems that deem formerly incarcerated individuals as unworthy of community resources, deny their humanity, and often fuel cycles of poverty, instability, and recidivism.
Lexi’s passion for reentry work stems directly from her long history working with currently and formerly incarcerated clients in Norway, Italy, New Zealand, and the United States. She is deeply committed to creating a future where no one experiences the trauma of incarceration, and where responses to harm are rooted in healing, community, and compassion.
Lexi’s project strives to address barriers to reentry by providing holistic, wrap-around, direct representation to reentering individuals. She will represent clients on issues involving criminal-record-related housing and employment denials, child support debt, driver’s license suspensions, occupational licensing, record clearing, and public benefits.
Lexi will also work with local reentry centers and community organizations to distribute legal resource materials, host weekly clinics, and facilitate know your rights trainings to ensure that reentering individuals understand and are empowered to exercise their rights.
My formerly incarcerated clients are some of the kindest, most resilient people I know. Like everyone, they deserve access to stable housing, meaningful employment, and the opportunity to live happy and healthy lives as integral parts of our communities.
Lexi Gray /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Rachel’s (she/her/hers) project seeks to protect voters of color and language minority voters from intimidation and ensures their access to the ballot box for the 2024 election through public education, policy advocacy, and litigation.
Voter intimidation is on the rise in the U.S. Intimidation occurred historically through physical and economic threats to prevent people of color from depositing ballots. Today, voter intimidation is more varied and covert but no less pernicious, breeding distrust in our democratic system. For example, during the 2020 election, extremists sent robocalls to thousands of Black voters, claiming that voting by mail would lead to arrests, collection for outstanding debts, and tracking by the Center for Disease Control. Unsurprisingly, voter intimidation was one of the top three complaints fielded by the Election Protection Hotline for the 2020 election. This trend will likely intensify in anticipation of the 2024 Presidential Election.
Recognizing the foundational nature of voting and how access to the ballot box impacts basic civil liberties, Rachel became committed to practicing as a voting rights attorney.
During her Fellowship, Rachel will build community voter power using tools, like Know Your Rights workshops, to help voters identify and report illegal conduct and assert their rights against voter intimidation. Rachel will help deter bad actors by creating credible threats of civil and criminal enforcement against voter intimidation by providing direct representation to voters that face discriminatory intimidation and by advocating for policy changes at the state level. Finally, she will create a report on current voter intimidation tactics to update an important source of information about a modern election sabotage threat.
Voter Intimidation has expressly racist origins and is a direct result of Black persons accessing the right to vote. Intimidation has long-lasting effects on the ability of communities of color to engage in the political process. I am committed to ensuring our representative democracy is truly representative and that marginalized communities have the right to vote not just in name, but in effect.
Rachel Appel /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Alton (he/him/his) promotes fair redistricting maps by addressing partisan gerrymandering through research, litigation, and policy advocacy.
For communities of color to be adequately represented in state legislatures and Congress, electoral districts must be drawn in a manner that gives their inhabitants a safe-guarded right to vote for their candidates of choice. Yet, politicians in state legislatures are increasingly passing partisan redistricting maps that overwhelmingly benefit themselves and their political parties, thereby limiting the ability of voters to elect candidates that reflect their needs and desires. We need an equitable system that empowers voters to choose their politicians, instead of politicians choosing their voters. Although federal courts are largely foreclosed from considering partisan gerrymandering, opportunities exist to challenge partisan maps at the state level. Voters deserve a fair process only reachable by reforms to how district lines are drawn today.
During his Fellowship, Alton will support ongoing and future partisan gerrymandering litigation through the development of novel and deeply effective litigation strategies. Further, he will bolster efforts at the state level to implement independent redistricting commissions, which would move the power of redistricting from politicians’ hands into the hands of voters. Alton will also work to produce state-by-state legal research on how local laws may be used to litigate partisan gerrymandering claims moving forward.
The issues that I care deeply about in my community—from immigration reform to healthcare access—depend on having elected officials that actually represent the communities from which they are elected. Fighting for fair maps is at the foundation to ensure government works for the people.
Alton Wang /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Mikayla (she/her/hers) will represent clients and educate members of the community on heirs’ property issues to help underserved communities build generational wealth through land and property ownership.
Heirs’ property occurs when an individual dies without a will. When there is no will, families who inherit the land lack a clear title to the land, which developers then use to their advantage to purchase the land, often without the knowledge of all the family members. Heirs’ property disproportionately affects African Americans and has resulted in a loss of vast amounts of land.
Growing up in South Carolina, Mikayla has seen many Black families lose their lands over the years and the demographics and cultures of cities rapidly change. After attending law school, Mikayla believes that, through the legal system, traditionally underserved communities can fight to keep their land and preserve their culture.
Mikayla will represent clients in traditionally underserved communities in matters such as will writing and estate planning. Mikayla will also conduct educational seminars regarding heirs’ property and the importance of land preservation. At the end of her fellowship, Mikayla plans to compose a symposium where she will invite experts and scholars in heirs’ property and land loss issues to come and speak about heirs’ property in their respective regions.
As a mixed-race woman from the south, minority land ownership is important to me. My ancestors were not allowed to own property- but instead were property. Through this fellowship, I plan to address the racist history of the American legal system.
Mikayla Mangle /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Kat’s (they/them/theirs) project will work to improve the legal landscape for LGBTQIA+ people in the United States through focused effort on advocacy based on the free exercise and establishment clauses of the First Amendment.
In the United States, an estimated 8 million adults and 2 million minors identify as members of the LGBTQIA+ community. They are significantly more likely to be placed in situations where the separation of church and state is critical to protecting their health, safety, and well-being. The intrusion of religion on government programs impacts LGBTQIA+ youth, adults, families, and individuals at every imaginable level. Each time rights for LGBTQIA+ people expand, there are efforts to roll those rights back under the guise of religious freedom. First amendment advocacy is a critical part of continuing to build and protect LGBTQIA+ communities.
Kat’s passion for advocacy started with their experiences as an openly queer student. They remain committed to making the world a safer, more equitable place for all members of LGBTQIA+ communities.
During their Fellowship, Kat will work on litigation through representation and amicus briefs as LGBTQIA+ rights cases make their way through the court system. They will also work on public educational materials such as know your rights resources and webinars. Additionally,they will participate in legislative advocacy efforts.
As a queer person who grew up in a conservative religious community, I know first-hand how important the separation of church and state is to ensure the safety and dignity of LGBTQIA+ individuals and communities.
Kat Grant /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Ian’s (he/him/his) Fellowship will clear criminal records, restore driving privileges, and reinstate voting rights for formerly incarcerated people in southern Mississippi.
Most people leaving prison find their ability to work, drive, access quality housing, and participate in our democracy severely hindered. These collateral consequences burden formerly incarcerated people long after their prison sentences end. In Mississippi, nearly 10% of adults have had their voting rights permanently stripped after a felony conviction; thousands more are blocked from meaningful employment and even from driving by their criminal records. It is no wonder that many formerly incarcerated people report feeling shut out of society.
In Mississippi, a state short on legal service providers, people need advocates dedicated to easing the collateral consequences of their convictions and helping them participate more fully in society.
During the Fellowship, Ian will represent formerly incarcerated individuals who seek to expunge their criminal records, restore their driver’s licenses, and petition for their voting rights back. He will hold intake clinics at public housing properties throughout southern Mississippi and take client referrals from local non-profits that serve re-entering people. Finally, Ian will develop a toolkit for pro se litigants who seek to remedy their collateral consequences.
“How can we justify placing barriers to employment and civic participation for formerly incarcerated individuals while simultaneously demanding their seamless return to society?”
Ian Gustafson /
2022 EQUAL JUSTICE WORKS FELLOW
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
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