Alexandra Zaretsky

The Project

Alexandra’s (she/her/hers) project will focus on reuniting refugee families from Muslim-majority countries, including recently displaced Afghans, by exposing and challenging anti-Muslim immigration policies.

Thousands of refugees from Muslim-majority countries in Southwest Asia and Africa– including places like Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, and Somalia– are separated from their families abroad and anxiously waiting to reunite in the United States. President Biden nominally repealed the Muslim Ban, but discriminatory policies continue to keep the Ban alive in practice. While current policies do not overtly ban refugees from Muslim-majority countries, they are designed to keep out Muslims through bureaucratic requirements that are almost impossible for refugees from particular countries to meet. These policies are largely hidden from public scrutiny, so families do not know why they are separated.

Through her prior work with the International Refugee Assistance Project, including work with families impacted by the United States’ chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, Alexandra has seen how irrational and arbitrary bureaucratic requirements operate to keep families from Muslim-majority countries apart.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Alexandra will work to identify, expose, and challenge discriminatory policies that keep refugee families apart and prevent them from reuniting in safety in the United States. She will engage with Muslim refugee communities, including recently displaced Afghans, to identify policies and practices which discriminate against refugees from Muslim-majority countries in Southwest Asia and Africa. She will identify and represent individuals with acute family reunification needs. Furthermore, Alexandra will litigate challenges against discriminatory policies and engage in strategic advocacy.

As the granddaughter of Iraqi-Jewish immigrants, I am motivated to expose and reform the discriminatory policies that keep families from countries like Iraq apart.

Alexandra Zaretsky /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Norrel (she/her/hers) will uplift the experiences of her community and provide direct legal representation and policy advocacy in Michigan and throughout the Great Lakes region to ensure low-income residents have access to safe and affordable drinking water.

Lack of access to safe and affordable drinking water is a rapidly growing environmental justice issue disproportionately impacting communities of color and lower-income communities. As defined by the Environmental Protection Agency, water affordability should be no more than 3% of a household’s monthly income. Yet, some Detroiters pay more than 20% of their monthly income toward their water bills. Detroit residents shoulder crippling debt from unaffordable water bills in a city plagued by failing infrastructure.

Detroit residents who cannot afford their water bills face displacement of their children and homelessness. Additionally, having no water or plumbing infrastructure has been linked to a rise in infectious diseases worldwide, even in the U.S. In 2016, Michigan experienced a Hepatitis B outbreak; a study found that water inaccessibility contributed to the spread of the illness. Detroit needs a permanent equity-based water affordability plan to address structural inequality and increase the quality of life for residents.

Born in Flint, raised in Detroit, and being personally affected by water issues compelled Norrel to join the fight for water affordability. Black and poor citizens are routinely and disproportionately negatively affected by human rights abuses.

Fellowship Plans

Building on the foundation that water warriors before her have laid, during her Fellowship, Norrel will provide direct legal representation and policy advocacy to ensure low-income residents have access to safe, clean, and affordable drinking water. The current legal framework provides little protection for Detroiters’ water rights. Norrel will work as an advocate for residents, helping them appeal to correct water bills, enroll in existing low-income payment programs, and eliminate the practice of shutting off water for non-payment.

Media

WMU-cooley Graduate Selected as an Equal Justice Works Fellow

Water is a human right! Every human being deserves access to clean, safe, affordable drinking water.

Norrel Hemphill /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Aubree (she/her/hers) represents New York City pre-trial detainees during disciplinary hearings and provides advocacy and education to meet the needs of low-income individuals experiencing human rights issues at Rikers Island.

Recent New York City policy allows counsel during jail disciplinary hearings for the first time, presenting an immediate need for research, education, data, and representation for low-income people of color who cannot afford bail in the Bronx. Bail amounts are 35% higher for people of color than White people, and individuals who cannot afford bail are four times more likely to receive a longer prison sentence since infractions can be introduced in bail applications and trigger new charges.

Aubree grew up in a primarily Cuban environment and recognized how her privilege differed from her community members, who were Afro-Latinx or Indigenous. While they shared a similar community, culture, education, and upbringing, she recognized she was treated differently than people she loved, who experienced the effects of institutional racism, incarceration, and barriers to justice in a way she did not due to the color of their skin.

Fellowship Plans

Aubree will create educational training programs for lawyers on disciplinary hearing rights, provide legal representation for clients in disciplinary hearings, and provide oversight by suing Rikers and the Department of Corrections (DOC) to challenge human rights violations. She will monitor the DOC’s shared data and combine it with her observed data to determine the efficacy of its new disciplinary hearing procedures. She will structure litigation to focus on implementing strategies that lay the foundation for broader systemic relief.

My Equal Justice Works Fellowship has afforded me the opportunity to serve members of the Bronx, the poorest congressional district and the borough with the largest Latinx population. I want to directly support Latinx communities by elevating the voices of the Bronx through advocacy in the plight of mass incarceration.

Aubree Aguinaga /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Morgan (she/her/hers) advocates for the due process and access to counsel rights of detained immigrants through direct representation at the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) and federal circuit courts across the country.

While immigrants are five times more likely to win relief when represented, few detained immigrants are able to access an attorney, particularly as detention in remote locations with few resources increases. Detention-related barriers to securing representation and administrative policies prioritizing rapid adjudication often result in detained immigrants’ inability to adequately present their claims. Without counsel to identify and address problematic trends on appeal, many such trends go unchallenged.

In a system where, at times, basic human rights can be dependent on immigration status, safeguarding due process and access to counsel rights for immigrants is essential – both for the individuals themselves and for advancing systemic change.

Fellowship Plans

Morgan’s project seeks to address the due process issues detained immigrants face through individual representation with a focus on systemic impact. Morgan will work with the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC)’s national partners to identify individual cases emblematic of the trends infringing on detained immigrants’ due process and access to counsel rights. Morgan will then initiate direct appeals to the BIA and federal circuit courts on these issues and provide appellate representation to these individuals. Morgan will also collaborate with NIJC’s partners to highlight these due process and access to counsel issues in detention through administrative advocacy, outreach, public campaigns, and strategic litigation.

After seeing the horrendous effects of the Trump administration’s family separation policies first-hand, I became determined to focus my legal career on pursuing systemic change in the U.S. immigration system. Basic human rights should not be dependent on immigration status.

Morgan Drake /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Claire (she/her/hers) will provide appellate representation to detained indigent immigrants in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, with a focus on direct representation, pro se education, and pro bono attorney training.

Although being ordered removed from the United States is arguably the most disruptive event in the life of an immigrant and their family, most immigrants go through the removal process without having an attorney and without truly understanding their rights and options. Once individuals lose their case in immigration court, their last opportunity to challenge their removal is to appeal, but they have very few options for finding counsel to represent them on appeal, especially if they are indigent and detained. In the entire Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, there are only a few nonprofit organizations that are willing to represent detained immigrants and none currently have the resources to do more than a handful of appeals.

Claire aims to remedy this lack of resources and representation for individuals in immigration detention who want to appeal their cases and help increase fairness in the removal proceeding process. Claire’s desire to keep families together motivates her work to help immigrant detainees.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Claire will represent immigrant detainees in their immigration appeals. She will develop resources to give detainees a better understanding of the appeals process so that they can represent themselves when Claire is unable to. She will also build her host organization’s network of pro bono attorneys willing to represent detainees on appeal.

Media

Claire Brown '20 Receives Equal Justice Works Fellowship

No one deserves to be separated from the life they know or forced to live without their family simply because they couldn't afford an attorney to appeal their case. Or were detained. Or didn't understand the law.

Claire Brown /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Ndome (she/her/hers) will expand access to maternal healthcare for low-income pregnant people and women of color by addressing legal barriers to midwifery care through impact litigation, policy advocacy, legal research, and community education. 

The U.S. has the highest maternal mortality ratio among developed nations. Black women are nearly four times more likely than white women to die of pregnancy-related causes, and Indigenous women are more than twice as likely. Unlike many other wealthy nations where midwives care for most birthing people, the U.S. has imposed medically unnecessary legal and financial barriers to midwifery services. As the COVID-19 pandemic strains health systems and further endangers maternal health, addressing these barriers has become more urgent than ever. 

Midwifery care has the potential to address many barriers to safe and respectful maternal health care. Expanded access to midwifery care, including more midwives of color, can equitably improve maternal health outcomes and enable low-income pregnant people of color to make meaningful decisions about where, how, and with whom they will birth. 

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Ndome will explore bringing forth a proactive, constitutional challenge to laws that restrict midwives’ practice and birthing people’s access to midwives. Additionally, she will monitor, track, advocate, and analyze proposed legislation at the state and federal level that may impact the ability of low-income people to access midwifery care. 

Media

Reducing Inequalities, Advancing Human Rights

I believe that reproductive rights are human rights and should be treated as such.

Ndome Essoka /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Ashley (she/her/hers) will work to protect the voting rights of Texans affected by the criminal justice system by expanding voting access to people incarcerated pretrial, people formerly incarcerated, and low-income communities. 

Texas’ intentional disenfranchisement laws have left the state with the lowest rate of voter turnout in the country, and Texas has one of the highest rates of criminal convictions. Voting is even harder for those who encounter the criminal justice system—disproportionately Black, Latino, and low-income people. 

Three-quarters of Harris County’s 9,000-person jail population are eligible voters; however, it is nearly impossible to vote in a Texas jail. People convicted of felonies are eligible to vote in Texas once they have completed their sentence, including parole or probation, but there is often tremendous confusion about eligibility. When people impacted by the criminal justice system do vote, they face obstacles. They often live and work in communities with fewer resources for voting. 

Fellowship Plans

Ashley’s project will use community outreach, policy advocacy, and impact litigation to address voter suppression. She will provide voting access for people incarcerated pretrial or for misdemeanors through outreach about voter eligibility, registering to vote, and instructions for voting. She will help inform people who have completed sentences for felonies about their restored voting rights and help clarify eligibility requirements. Ashley will also work to ensure equitable polling locations and voting resources are available in communities most impacted by the criminal justice system. 

Voting is power. I want to help return power to communities that need it most.

Ashley Harris /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Zak worked with asylum-seeking parents and children to bring affirmative litigation and monetary damages cases based on the injuries they suffered due to family separation and family detention policies. Zak also brought a major successful lawsuit to secure the ability of asylum seekers to work lawfully in the United States, benefiting hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers and counting.

Zak’s project addressed the ongoing harms of family separation by seeking compensation for asylum-seeking families. While the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP) had focused on defensive asylum claims and court intervention to end unlawful detention policies, this project expanded the organization’s work to include affirmative litigation. Zak represented individuals wronged by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and government contractors and worked to hold federal government actors and contractors accountable for actions and policies that deprived detained immigrants of basic human rights. Additionally, Zak also worked to secure and protect the ability of asylum seekers to secure work authorization to support themselves while their cases were pending.

Zak is inspired by the bravery of his clients who brave unspeakable danger to secure better lives for themselves and their families.

Fellowship Highlights

Zak helped place nearly 300 Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) cases for formerly separated families with pro bono counsel and assisted in answering over 350 requests for technical assistance. Zak organized four FTCA webinar training sessions and developed 13 templates and training materials as part of an FTCA toolkit, accessed by over 2,000 individuals. Zak also litigated several of these cases in federal court. Zak is now working to support ongoing settlement negotiations in these cases, which have the possibility of leading to one of the largest civil rights damages settlements in history. Zak also argued a major legal challenge to new rules that would have restricted asylum seekers’ access to work authorization, which secured a preliminary injunction. As of the conclusion of the fellowship term, over 100,000 asylum seekers and counting have benefited from this ruling.

Next Steps

After his fellowship, Zak will continue working at ASAP as the Litigation and Advocacy Director.

The Inspiration