Jake Kmiech

The Project

Jake will partner with his host organization, CASA, inc. to proudly represent immigrant communities facing housing instability throughout Maryland, ensuring they have access to safe housing and justice.

Housing instability in Maryland has reached a crescendo. Eviction rates and rents have risen hand-in-hand while housing conditions often have not, burdening low-income families already struggling to keep a safe roof over their heads. Housing instability specifically has a disproportionate impact on members of Maryland’s low-income immigrant community, who have unequal access to remedies under Maryland’s legal system due to language and cost barriers.

Fellowship Plans

Jake will provide direct and full legal services to tenants facing eviction, inhumane and unsafe property conditions, wrongful detainer suits, and other legal issues related to housing security. From initial interviews to trial, Jake will help tenants see a fair day in court. Additionally, Jake will host Know Your Rights training presentations. Knowledge is power, and this is especially true within our legal system. Jake will also aid community organizing efforts, campaign for improved laws, and draft legislation on behalf of Maryland’s immigrant communities.

In college, Jake dreamed of becoming an immigration attorney. However, after struggling with unsafe housing conditions while working towards his law degree, and after hearing hundreds of similar stories from almost everyone he knew, Jake switched gears. He believes that all people deserve access to stable housing and hopes to create a pathway for tenants to learn their rights and seek justice.

Media

Meet the Fellows in Our 2022 Housing Justice Program

I am proud to advocate for the rights of immigrant communities and tenants as an Equal Justice Works Fellow. In doing so, I play an active part in creating a more just and equitable society.

Jake Kmiech /
2022 Housing Justice Program Fellow

The Project

Jazmin is a Senior Attorney at the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center (NMILC), where she leads the economic justice and policy team. In this role, Jazmin provides education, consultations, pro se assistance, and direct representation to immigrants navigating the federal, state, and local business, tax, and licensure systems of entrepreneurship.

In December 2017, Jazmin became the first DACAmented attorney admitted to the New Mexico State Bar. This accomplishment resulted from her leveraging community organizing principles with creative lawyering to persuade the New Mexico Supreme Court to create a process for admitting DACAmented bar applicants in New Mexico. The lived experience of growing up undocumented and in a mixed-immigration status family was not easy but it showed her that even in systems of oppression, communities are resilient and find creative ways to survive. Jazmin is the right fit for the EJW Disaster Resilience Fellowship because she will apply this same creativity in her work as an attorney and policy advocate to build community power and let those directly impacted lead the work.

Fellowship Plans

Jazmin’s project aims to remove barriers to economic mobility of immigrant communities through education, direct representation, community organizing, movement lawyering, coalition building, and policy advocacy. Among other community coalitions and partners, Jazmin will work closely with the Color Theory Collaborative, which supports low-income, marginalized entrepreneurs and their families, by employing core strategies from partner organizations to develop innovative programs resulting in greater opportunity and economic equity for entrepreneurs. Moreover, the Color Theory partners align with a core mission of bridging identified systemic gaps to build an ecosystem of support to lift families out of poverty.

The Project

Anna is on the Asylum and Detention team at New Mexico Immigrant Law Center (NMILC). Their services include helping complete and submit 589s, conducting outreach at New Mexico’s detention centers, and directly representing clients most in need of representation in their asylum cases, bond, or parole.

COVID-19 is ongoing, and many people remain detained in centers that are neither safe nor sanitized. The project helps asylum seekers in detention get released and into safe spaces with friends and family.

Being a first-generation American from a mixed-status family, Anna has always felt a responsibility for her community. New Mexico has provided many opportunities for her family, and Anna feels a tremendous responsibility to give back to the community and state that has provided so many opportunities. This Fellowship has provided Anna with the opportunity to give back and help others.

Media

Responding to COVID-19’s Impact in Immigration Detention Facilities

Meet the Fellows in Our 2022 Housing Justice Program

The Project

Jesse (he/him/his) will improve housing conditions and support immigrant empowerment through a community lawyering model, including outreach, education, leadership development, and litigation.

Columbus is one of the fastest-growing metro areas in the U.S., but people in poverty face a housing crisis. Among those most vulnerable are members of immigrant communities. Columbus has the largest Bhutanese-Nepali community and the second-largest Somali community of any city in the country. Just as the city is growing, so too are the number of immigrants and refugees.

Due to a shortage of affordable housing, many immigrants and refugees live in unsafe properties. Landlords fail to maintain safe and habitable conditions, subjecting tenants to massive water leaks, mold, pest infestations, failure to make regular repairs, and sometimes illegal rent hikes and unlawful evictions.

Jesse’s work with the Central Ohio Housing Action Network, a grassroots community law project he co-founded in May 2020, motivates his commitment to community partnerships for transformative change.

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Jesse will educate and empower immigrant populations to better understand and protect their rights by holding office hours in immigrant neighborhoods and hosting community meetings on tenants’ rights and housing issues in partnership with immigrant leaders. He will represent tenants in rent escrow and nuisance abatement actions to improve housing conditions and hold landlords accountable. Finally, he will protect housing stability by representing tenants in eviction defense.

Achieving safe and affordable housing for all takes more than litigation wins– my work with organizers has taught me it takes relationships of trust with those most affected.

Jesse Vogel /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

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

Brenda (she/her/hers) will launch an innovative CDFI-Legal Partnership (CDFI-LP) to provide immigration and small business legal services which address the nexus between immigration status and economic justice for immigrants in Minnesota.

Minnesota’s Latinx population is growing steadily while the state’s white population has begun to decline. However, the typical white family in Minnesota holds five times the wealth of the typical Latinx family. This disparity extends to Latinx-owned businesses. Most recently, immigrant entrepreneurs were significantly impacted by the dual pandemics of Covid-19 and racial injustice. Following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, protests were centered in the heart of the immigrant business districts of Minneapolis in St. Paul, having the unintended consequences of property damage and extended business closures.

Immigration status directly impacts the stability felt by immigrant business owners and their family members. Gaining pathways to legal status and citizenship would allow entrepreneurs to invest more confidently in their future.

Fellowship Plans

This project will create a partnership between three non-profit organizations to serve clients more holistically and efficiently. The fellow will directly engage with Latinx entrepreneurs and their family members by providing legal intake, direct legal services, and referrals to staff attorneys and pro bono volunteers. Additionally, she will create a case study of this unique partnership and provide trainings to organizations and trade associations interested in replicating this model elsewhere.

As the granddaughter of immigrants, I felt a strong desire to serve immigrants who choose to make Minnesota their home. My Equal Justice Works Fellowship has allowed me to use my CDFI background and firm belief in the power of community partnerships to serve the legal needs of Minnesota’s Latinx community.

Brenda Pfahnl /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Joe (he/him/his) works to expand access to legal education, direct representation, and policy advocacy for working parents who face wage theft and other unlawful conditions in the workplace.

Immigrant parents and caregivers who work in low-wage industries in Los Angeles experience the highest employment violation rates in the country. Working parents and caregivers can use legal education and representation to combat their exploitation and ensure economic security for their children. A lack of representation dramatically increases the risk that parents will be fired for objecting to illegal workplace conditions. Further, undocumented parents cannot access social safety net programs and face fear of immigration-related retaliation that can cause family separation. The resulting systemic wage-theft and employment instability increases the negative academic, behavioral, and social outcomes for children of working parents.

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Joe will establish a new partnership between Bet Tzedek Legal Services’ Employment Rights Project and Community Coalition (CoCo), a leading community organizing hub in South Central Los Angeles that offers youth and family enrichment programs. Joe will create a custom-tailored employment rights outreach, education, clinical, and direct representation program for parents and caregivers of children enrolled in CoCo’s youth programs. Joe will use the successes of the project to support community-driven policy advocacy efforts and develop a guide that other legal services providers and youth programs can use to broaden access to employment rights legal services for working parents.

Lawyering for community empowerment demands a practice without walls. As the great-grandchild of immigrants who sweated in garment factories to provide for their children, I am committed to meeting immigrant parents and caregivers wherever and whenever they need so we can work together toward economic security—now and for generations to come.

Joe Philipson /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Maria Fernanda (she/her/hers) will represent and advise low-income immigrant women and children placed in time-restricted proceedings in Immigration Court while pursuing impact litigation to ensure systemic failings in these proceedings are addressed.

The Dedicated Docket is a program that places thousands of low-income immigrant families in time-restricted proceedings: Their cases must be adjudicated within 300 days of their first hearing before an immigration judge. This is an impossibly short timeframe to locate an attorney, gather necessary supporting evidence, and prepare legal arguments. The families, who predominantly speak a language other than English and have no legal training, must face the convoluted immigration system without a legal advocate. These families are five times less likely to win their cases compared to those who are represented by an attorney.

Fellowship Plans

Maria Fernanda will provide direct representation to immigrants on the Dedicated Docket and conduct outreach to pro se litigants. She will also explore impact litigation to stop the Department of Justice from continuing to implement the Dedicated Docket. Finally, she will directly represent women and children who have been ordered removed by reopening their cases to assert asylum based on novel arguments; for example, by arguing that the truncated nature of the Dedicated Docket proceedings violates basic due process rights.

Media

Maria F. Garcia-syngros ’22 Is Named a 2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

I am incredibly honored to be an Equal Justice Works Fellow. This Fellowship has allowed me to meet a need in the immigration system that would otherwise go unaddressed.

Maria F. Garcia-Syngros /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

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

Matt (he/him/his) will partner with the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project to provide holistic representation for detained LGBTQIA+ migrants in Arizona via direct representation, strategic litigation, and community lawyering.

LGBTQIA+ migrants fleeing violence and discrimination at home often arrive at the Southwest Border only to encounter more of the same. Arizona has one of the highest immigrant detention rates in the nation, and many are locked up merely for asserting their legal right to seek asylum. In detention, queer migrants are particularly vulnerable. Nationwide, they represent 0.14% of detainees but 12% of sexual abuse cases and remain in ICE custody up to three times longer than cisgender, heterosexual migrants. Now more than ever, LGBTQIA+ migrants in Arizona need a dedicated advocate.

Matt is inspired by his musical genius Korean mother, who came to the U.S. back when racist quotas kept most Asians out, and his white, hippie science professor father, who left his church due to its opposition to gay rights. They taught him to embrace those who are different, fight for the less fortunate, and never give up on the gay agenda.

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Matt will provide direct representation for LGBTQIA+ migrants by fighting for their release through ICE advocacy and custody redetermination hearings. He will also strategically litigate asylum claims and build resources to help fellow practitioners. Finally, Matt will collaborate with existing community organizations to strengthen Arizona’s support system for LGBTQIA+ migrants and push for structural change.

Media

2022 Equal Justice Works Fellowship Winner Has a Passion for Immigrant Rights

69 countries still criminalize same-sex relationships−including the U.S. until 2003. Sexual orientation and gender identity can be strong bases for asylum, but, without representation, queer migrants often face prolonged detention and removal.

Matthew Palmquist /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow