Shawntel Williams

The Project

Shawntel (she/her/hers), in partnership with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, advocates on behalf of Filipino migrants who are identified as survivors of labor trafficking by providing them with holistic legal representation to redress the economic and emotional harm they have endured throughout their trafficking.

The Philippines is among the top five nationalities of identified labor trafficking victims in the United States, found most often in domestic labor work such as caregiving and housekeeping. These jobs are often accompanied by abhorrent and abusive living conditions. Filipino victims of labor trafficking need comprehensive, culturally responsive, and linguistically appropriate legal services that combat obstacles resulting from their victimization. This expanded access to justice can lessen the vulnerabilities often exploited by traffickers and empower Filipino survivors of trafficking by securing their economic stability and immigration status.

Fellowship Plans

With a focus on community outreach, Shawntel will deepen partnerships with organizations in Southern California actively involved in advocating for Filipino workers’ rights by establishing an extensive referral system and creating the first on-site and virtual human trafficking legal services focused on the Filipino community in this region. Through these legal clinics, Filipino victims of trafficking can access holistic civil legal support to overcome barriers such as immigration status that are often exploited by traffickers. With the assistance of pro bono attorneys, Shawntel will address wage theft and public benefits claims and assist victims in accessing immigration relief. Shawntel, who is fluent in Tagalog, will expand outreach to the Filipino migrant community by providing free legal services and linguistic education for monolingual Tagalog speakers.

Raised by Filipino immigrants, Shawntel is grateful to have the opportunity to advance economic justice for the Filipino migrant community and help tackle the largely unaddressed issue that is labor trafficking. She hopes that this project can serve as a sustainable model for establishing additional human trafficking clinics focused on providing comprehensive legal services to other vulnerable populations.

Media

Law Fellow To Lead Legal Clinic for Trafficked Filipino Domestic Workers

I believe that expanded access to trauma-informed and community-centered legal services is vital in helping a survivor regain the autonomy often stifled or lost during the course of their trafficking.

Shawntel Williams /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Gladys (she/her) will provide bilingual immigration services focused on labor trafficking and exploitation in rural Texas while creating a lasting program that continues legal advocacy focused on immigration.

In 2020, the National Human Trafficking Hotline received over 3,500 contacts in Texas, with 1,488 being from victims themselves. Victims of labor trafficking are exploited through force, fraud, and coercion; their lack of legal status is used as a tactic to ensure submission. The strategic targeting of immigrants and the lack of access to legal aid make rural counties in Texas the perfect environment for traffickers to grow their operations.

As a daughter of immigrants and a person whose family members still fear being deported, Gladys learned firsthand about the immigrant experience, which may be filled with discrimination and abuse, but that never manages to shut down the determination for a better life. Through this determination, Gladys now has the privilege to utilize the law to advocate for immigrants, which she hopes to do for as long as she is able.

Fellowship Plans

Gladys will provide legal aid to immigrant trafficking victims facing violence-related issues in rural counties served by Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas’ offices in McKinney, Denton, Amarillo, and Lubbock. The project will bring relief to clients through U-Visas, Violence Against Women Act self-petitions, and T-Visas in rural counties and communities where many immigrants reside. To further increase accessibility and positively impact both immigrants and survivors of trafficking, Gladys will digitize resources for clients and staff in both English and Spanish. Concurrently, she will collaborate with local nonprofit and faith-based organizations that can identify and understand specific local needs to provide holistic legal services.

Media

Texas Access to Justice Foundation Sponsors Five Fellows

My work at my law school’s legal clinic has shown me that my passion stems from direct client work. Through my Equal Justice Works Fellowship, I will continue developing this skill while directly empowering the immigrant community in rural Texas.

Gladys Marcos /
2023 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

Allison (she/her/hers) will advocate for human trafficking survivors in Southern California by clearing criminal records and building community partnerships to expand access to justice. 

Thousands of vulnerable Californians are exploited each year by traffickers, who control their lives through violence and psychological coercion. Unfortunately, encounters with law enforcement often lead to the trafficking victim being charged with a crime instead of accessing needed services. A criminal record makes the situation worse because it prevents those who have been trafficked from obtaining employment, housing, and education opportunities. This project helps survivors get a clean slate, using a special California statute to vacate their criminal records and connecting them with trusted community partners to meet holistic needs. 

Fellowship Plans

Allison will provide direct representation to individual human trafficking survivors in Los Angeles to vacate their criminal records. She will also build community partnerships in the Los Angeles area to support survivors holistically and will recruit, train, and advise a statewide pro bono attorney network to increase access to justice for survivors in severely underserved areas. 

Media

Eight from Harvard Law named Equal Justice Works Fellows

The Project

Gabi (she/her/hers) will advocate on the behalf of asylum-seeking families by seeking to redress harms suffered by the families subjected to separation and other violations of their civil and human rights and by challenging policies affecting asylum-seeking families.

Since 2017, asylum-seeking families and children have been the targets of the Trump Administration’s most abhorrent, inhumane, and unlawful immigration policies. From forced separation of children from their parents to indefinite detention of children and families in unsafe conditions including active COVID-19 outbreaks to forced placement in the “Migrant Protection Protocols” program to the virtual elimination of refugee and asylum protections, immigrant families seeking protection from persecution and torture are in a battle for their lives with the odds purposefully stacked against them. This project will work to provide asylum-seeking families an avenue for legal redress for harms suffered at the hands of federal agents, as well as challenge immigration policies that directly affect asylum-seeking families through strategic impact litigation.

Gabi’s background in Human Rights Law and her family’s Mexican-American heritage motivates her commitment to challenging inhumane and unlawful immigration policies and to fight for the families harmed by the actions of the United States immigration system.

Fellowship Plans

Gabi will file Federal Tort Claim Act actions on behalf of asylum-seekers who suffered violations of their civil and human rights at the hands of federal agents. Additionally, she will work to formalize and further develop Aldea’s impact litigation program in partnership with law firm pro bono partners to systemically challenge policies affecting asylum-seeking families, such as forced separation of children from their parents; placement in the “Migrant Protection Protocols” program; unsafe, unsanitary and unlawful conditions in family detention (with a focus on the Berks Family Residential Center); and administrative rule-making intended to deprive asylum-seekers of relief based on racial animus.

Media

2021 Greenberg Traurig Equal Justice Works Law Fellows to Tackle Racial, Economic, and Social Justice Issues

The US immigration system has created a human rights crisis that needs to be addressed immediately. The asylum-seeking families that have been harmed by the US Government's need legal advocates to take up this fight.

Gabi Nava /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

This Fellowship was focused on continuing the fight towards eradicating human trafficking by representing and empowering survivors. Survivors of Labor and Sex Trafficking make up a population notably referred to as a form of Modern Day Slavery. For many immigrant survivors, a T Nonimmigrant Visa is their only hope to a full pathway to recovery, independence, and U.S. Citizenship. By partnering with Homeland Security investigations and social service agencies, like the International Rescue Committee, this Fellowship sought to provide holistic legal services to these survivors. 

Selene has been an activist against human trafficking since 2013. As a female immigrant from a small ranch in Chihuahua, Mexico, she understands the plight of immigrants in this country. For this reason, she has a sincere passion in advocating for our most vulnerable communities. Through her work, Selene strives to assure freedom as the most fundamental right to each of her clients. 

Fellowship  

Throughout her Fellowship, Selene built partnerships with a variety of agencies that help provide legal support to survivors of trafficking. In order to increase community awareness and education, she developed and conducted trainings on how to identify and better serve survivors of human trafficking for legal advocates and social service providers. Selene also provided direct representation to both detained and non-detained survivors of trafficking in Washington federal courts. 

The Project

Ashleigh’s project helps DOVE expand its current services to include immigration and criminal record relief for human trafficking victims in the South Shore, Massachusetts community.

Human trafficking is one of the most endemic crimes of our time, yet our legal system has only recently begun to address it. In Massachusetts, trafficking was not codified as a crime until 2011 – making it one of the last states in the country to do so – and there remains a lack of knowledge throughout the state about the ability to serve victims through the legal system. The National Survivor Network released results of a 2016 survey indicating over 90% of trafficking victims are arrested at some point during their trafficking experience and over half believe that 100% of the following convictions were a direct result of their being a victim of trafficking. Further, abuse of the legal process is one of the most common tactics traffickers use to coerce their victims into compliance, and in the labor trafficking context, this generally includes: confiscating legal documents, causing victims to overstay their visas, bringing them over to the U.S. on false work terms, and so when victims escape they are left incredibly vulnerable to U.S. immigration laws.

Ashleigh is excited about the potential DOVE has to transform the anti-trafficking landscape in Massachusetts by providing Massachusetts trafficking victims with the services they need to break free of chains their traffickers have placed upon them and move forward with their healing process.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

During the first year of the Fellowship, Ashleigh has:

  • Participated in advocacy around a bill supporting U and T Visa applicants in Massachusetts that has now become law. The new law will ensure that victims of violent crime and human trafficking have equal access to justice in Massachusetts by requiring that victims across the Commonwealth receive responses to U and T visa certification requests within 90 days.
  • Addressed Jane Doe, Inc.’s (Massachusetts’ domestic violence coalition’s) members on the topic of decriminalizing survivorship and on a bill related to expanding criminal record relief for survivors of trafficking and abuse filed in Massachusetts this spring.
  • Presented at the ILET Network’s first annual International Summit on Counter Sex Trafficking on the topic of forced and coerced criminality of trafficking survivors and their need for effective criminal record relief.

Next Steps

In the next year, Ashleigh plans to:

  • Continue to serve clients on immigration, criminal record relief, restraining orders, and victims rights matters.
  • Collaborate with DOVE program directors to create sustainable methods of screening and materials to identify survivors of human trafficking within domestic violence populations.
  • Continue to conduct outreach at community hubs within DOVE’s service area to promote programming and raise awareness about human trafficking.

Media

Preventing Human Trafficking Through Systems Reformation

The Project

Michaela will advocate for survivors of human trafficking and power-based violence seeking safety in the court and immigration systems through targeted outreach and community coordination, direct legal services, and pro bono mentorship.

Undocumented immigrants are among those most vulnerable to human trafficking, Yet the legal community is failing to address their needs: while 5000 T-visas are available annually, only 1,500 have been issued in recent years, and many survivors report that they are unaware that they are entitled to this form of relief. Moreover, immigrant survivors of power-based violence face barriers to accessing protections in family court they are entitled to under the law. Indeed, judges report that 54% of their court cases involving immigrant victims have been interrupted in recent years due to fears of being deported. As systems become more inaccessible to immigrant communities, the need for advocates to assist victims in navigating avenues to safety is greater than ever.

While working as a rape crisis advocate prior to law school, Michaela witnessed a tragic phenomenon: a victim-offender binary narrative, in which people can only be the victims of crime or the perpetrators. Michaela’s project is the product of her desire to serve the survivors of trauma who society overlooks because of their identity at the intersection of victim and offender.

Fellowship Plans

Michaela will provide full representation to immigrants survivors of power-based violence and human trafficking seeking T-Visas, U-Visas, VAWA relief, and Special Juvenile Immigrant Status, as well as assist survivors seeking safety from violence in obtaining civil protection orders and other family law remedies. Her project will build a holistic referral network to promote client outreach and facilitate mobile intake clinics by creating interdisciplinary partnerships with legal and non-legal organizations that regularly advocate for domestic violence, trafficking survivors, and immigrants. In partnership with her sponsor, Michaela will train pro bono attorneys to provide trauma-informed representation to expand her project’s capacity to vindicate the rights of her clients.

Media

Preventing Human Trafficking Through Systems Reformation

Criminalizing human trafficking survivors not only unjustly burdens victims with the collateral consequences of criminal records, but also prevents healing from trauma.

Michaela Lovejoy /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

In Ohio, criminal records are used to deny individuals employment opportunities as well as safe, affordable housing. Unfortunately, many survivors of human trafficking accrue substantial criminal records as a consequence of trafficking. Gabriel’s mission is to help these victims navigate the criminal legal system and eliminate legal barriers that have been placed upon them.

As an attorney with labor and employment experience, Gabriel has seen first-hand how criminal records can impact an individual’s effort to gain stable, rewarding employment. As an Equal Justice Works Fellow, Gabriel offered legal assistance and education to help survivors of human trafficking remove criminal-records-based barriers to employment and housing, utilizing Ohio’s Safe Harbor expungement laws.

I’m excited and thankful to Equal Justice Works for the opportunity to give back and help reshape our community for the better. I went to law school with the hope of becoming the type of attorney that works towards the goals I am striving to accomplish today!

Gabriel Fletcher /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

For the past 50 years, Legal Aid Chicago has provided people living in poverty in metropolitan Chicago with comprehensive free legal services to resolve non-criminal issues. Each year, Legal Aid Chicago’s more than 80 full-time attorneys and support staff help resolve civil legal problems, including consumer fraud, foreclosure, unfair evictions, domestic violence, and many others. Legal Aid Chicago’s work helps about 35,000 people annually. The Immigrants and Workers’ Rights Practice Group at Legal Aid Chicago represents clients in all types of immigration and employment matters, and the majority of work covers the entire state of Illinois. Through the Illinois Migrant Legal Assistance Project IWR provides high quality civil legal services to migrant and seasonal agricultural workers across Illinois. In addition, IWR runs a state-wide program, the Trafficking Survivors Assistance Program (TSAP). 

Eduardo provided direct legal services to human trafficking survivors to address the range of civil legal issues that arise from the victimization. He worked with a variety of survivors from diverse backgrounds, including low-wage workers, immigrants, migrant farmworkers, short-term visa holders, citizens, non-citizens, and other individuals. 

Eduardo’s past experiences equipped him with the vital tools that are needed to be a zealous advocate for human rights. Prior to law school, Eduardo was a volunteer with City Year, Inc. (an AmeriCorps program) in Chicago, Illinois, dedicating two years to serve the underserved communities of ChicagoHe gained invaluable skills in fostering relationships with people of diverse backgrounds and service partners, planning and organizing, and being a part of a team and a leader. In addition, Eduardo also has his own personal story that ties him to the communities LAF serves. When he was still in his mother’s womb, his parents and two older sisters emigrated from Mexico to Rochelle, Illinois. He remembers that in the second grade his father required him to learn by memory his social security number. He has never forgotten it since, and he has never forgotten the importance of those 9 digits to him and what it means to many others. Eduardo is a firm believer that everyone is equal and that human rights are everyone’s rights.