Maria F. Garcia-Syngros

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

Evelyn will provide pro se record sealing resources to low-income individuals in Harris County, Texas through an innovative, technology-driven tool.

The free, public self-help website ClearYourRecordHarrisCounty.org, launched by The Beacon in August 2021, and made possible through funding from the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, allows any individual with a Harris County criminal record to determine eligibility to seal their record through nondisclosure and navigate through the step-by-step process of self-filing in Harris County.

There are approximately 400,000 individuals with Harris County criminal records who are eligible to have all or part of their record sealed. This Fellowship project is focused on connecting with those individuals whose records are preventing them from accessing housing, employment, and educational opportunities. In doing so, the project seeks to address the racial and economic disparities reflected in the criminal justice system.

Fellowship Plans

Evelyn will help users navigate ClearYourRecordHarrisCounty.org and the pro se process, and she will track and troubleshoot common barriers in navigating the site. She will provide direct representation for ancillary civil legal issues to wholly remove individuals’ legal obstacles to employment and housing. Through case manager workshops and clinics, she will also help community organizations and pro bono attorneys assist users in completing the forms for filing. The long-term goal of the project is to increase the number of pro se filings and to work with courts and government entities to improve procedures for pro se filers in Harris County.

For people who do not have much, a criminal record becomes the weight that keeps them from accessing all the basic things that help one thrive in life: an education, a good job, and a place to live. By removing legal barriers, this project creates opportunity and gives people in need a chance to overcome other obstacles in their lives.

Evelyn Garcia Lopez /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Tomi  (she/her/hers) will establish a legal services delivery model that combines eviction prevention and wrap-around legal services thereby increasing housing stability for Tennesseans who are at risk of becoming homeless. 

Fifteen million people nationally are at risk of eviction because they are currently behind on rental payments, including approximately 17% of Tennesseans. 45% of Tennessee households are Housing Cost Burdened, which means that 30% or more of their monthly income goes to housing expenses. Evictions compound the negative consequences for burdened tenants, including extended homelessness, legal action for debt collection, outstanding fees and fines that can result in drivers’ license revocation and the ensuing issues of transportation instability, and declining mental and physical health. Evictions also drive significant costs to State and local governments in the form of increased shelter nights, rehousing services, emergency healthcare costs, unemployment insurance, and other public costs. 

Fellowship Plans 

 Tomi’s project will focus on eviction prevention and wrap-around civil legal services for tenants as well as Mom & Pop landlords, thereby increasing housing stability in Tennessee at a critical time when many Tennesseans are at risk of becoming homeless. Through the fellowship, Tomi will establish a statewide network of housing stability navigators to help tenants complete the online rental assistance application and provide legal representation for eviction and other qualifying housing stability related issues such as public benefits, consumer debt, child support, and tax credits, which will result in increased income and a higher likelihood that tenants can continue to pay their rent in the future. Tomi’s project will help TALS both establish this statewide legal services delivery model, and track and report on outcomes data to determine legal support needs to alleviate the eviction crisis in Tennessee. 

Tomi’s history of volunteering in prisons and working with justice-involved individuals inspired her to seek out access to justice work. Being born and raised in rural Tennessee also motivated her to pursue opportunities to bring programs and services to under-resourced areas. 

Media

UT Knoxville Advisory Board Recommends Zero Percent Tuition Increase

Graduate selected to serve public interest law fellowship

As a first-generation college student, I am passionate about seeing families equipped and empowered to rise and develop supportive programming within communities.

Tomi Robb /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Ty advocates on behalf of indigent individuals in some of Mississippi’s most underserved communities by helping pro se litigants navigate the court system.

Indigent litigants are in desperate need of civil legal representation and, unable to find it, are often driven to economic subjugation. The Legal Services Corporation estimates that there is only one free lawyer for every 6,415 indigent citizens in America. With studies suggesting that litigation with representation increases a litigant’s odds by 75%, there is a growing cycle of failure for the poor and marginalized. This is particularly true in Mississippi, a state with a poverty rate of 19%, nearly 8% higher than the rest of the country. Over 50% of the population is in liquid asset poverty.

Ty is dedicated to public service and committed to developing resources to help underserved communities.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the first year of the Fellowship, Ty has:

  • Implemented the Justice Court Navigator program in six counties throughout the Mississippi Delta
  • Continued building the Justice Court Navigator program to enhance its reputation as a critical resource for residents in low-income communities
  • Established regular office hours in six county courthouses, offering advice to indigent litigants
  • Attended over 570 court cases to gather statistics regarding litigants and their cases in low-income communities
  • Trained local law students, interns, and volunteer community members to serve as Justice Court Navigators
  • Provided updates regarding the program to six respective county Boards of Supervisors

Next Steps

In the next year, Ty plans to:

  • Continue offering pretrial advice to indigent litigants
  • Provide full representation to indigent litigants
  • Continue building and expanding the reputation of the Justice Court Navigator program

Media 

Georgetown’s Class of 2020 Graduates: Where Are They Now?

The Black American Cotton Labourers Losing Their Jobs to White South Africans in the Mississippi Delta

Black Farmworkers Say They Lost Jobs to Foreigners Who Were Paid More

Board of Supervisors Approve Justice Court Navigator Program

The Inspiration

The Project

Tahira served indigent clients in a wide variety of legal issues including housing, family, SSI/SSD, unemployment compensation, public benefits, and prisoner re-entry.

The Project

Anthony partnered with legal service providers to develop pro bono initiatives for the under-served parishes in rural areas. Anthony also organized, trained, managed and attended legal clinics to deliver legal advice using volunteer law students and pro bono attorneys at various locations. The project also allowed Anthony to organize campus-based events at LSU and Southern Law Centers to build relationships with student groups, professors and law school administrators to raise awareness of my work and rural legal service needs.

I found that the work could be challenging and extraordinarily fulfilling, and that experience is what prompted me to attend law school.

Anthony Sartorio /
2010 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Elizabeth worked with Montana Legal Services Association in their Housing Law Unit to address the housing issues of low-income clients. Elizabeth provided training for law students and pro bono attorneys who wanted to get involved. Additionally, Elizabeth provided direct services to MLSA’s housing clients, by giving legal advice through MLSA’s Helpline; working with pro se clients through MLSA’s Self-Help Law Project; and directly representing clients in housing cases.

The Project

Lori designed the Self Help Law Project, an effort to design and implement strategies to address the growing needs of pro se litigants. Through the development, coordination, and delivery of self-help resources and community education programs, this project provides a much-needed resource to low-income Montanans and access to justice where there previously was none.

The Project

When victims of domestic violence make the decision to leave their batterer, they often find themselves in the position of representing themselves in divorce proceedings. Unfortunately, these victims are usually the least able to represent themselves. My project seeks to increase the pool of pro bono attorneys willing to directly represent these victims – through networking, community outreach and attorney training. I am also looking at the mediation process as it relates to conflicted couples.

The Inspiration