Through her work at A Better Balance in New York, Samantha (she/hers) will utilize direct legal services and public outreach and education initiatives to assist pregnant and parenting students in obtaining the accommodations they need to stay in school.
In New York, over 20,000 students become pregnant each year. Schools often fail to grant students necessary accommodations for their pregnancies or parental status, such as remote exams, adequate restroom breaks, adjusted course completion deadlines, and provided space and time for pumping. The result is that pregnant and parenting youth—particularly Black students and other students of color—are pushed out of school, making it difficult to obtain a quality and complete education. This gap in education creates a snowball effect with serious repercussions for their future educational and work opportunities and financial stability. Ensuring pregnant and parenting students have meaningful access to accommodations will help bridge the gap between pregnant students and their diplomas.
Samantha’s project coincides with the anticipated issuance of a new Title IX regulation that aims to to provide students with more robust pregnancy and lactation protections. In addition to utilizing and enforcing the existing federal, state, and local protections, Samantha will provide public education around these new protections. Expanded access to accommodations will protect pregnant and parenting students in New York by ensuring they do not have to choose between their education and their families.
Samantha’s project has two primary goals: to provide direct legal services to students who need assistance obtaining accommodations; and to conduct outreach and education to inform students of their rights. During her Fellowship, she will establish a strong connection between students and the legal services offered by A Better Balance. She will also educate students about the rights they have at their educational institutions, including what accommodations should be available, and she will serve as their legal advocate, whether it be a simple accommodation request, an administrative complaint, or a lawsuit.
Pregnant and parenting students deserve the same educational access and quality as their non-pregnant peers. As someone who has worked with pregnant and parenting individuals in various capacities, I look forward to serving as a legal advocate for students in New York.
Samantha Hunt /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Phoenix (she/her/hers) provides civil-legal reentry support to victims of domestic violence and other trauma survivors who are released from incarceration due to a reduced sentence under New York’s recently enacted Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act.
Approximately half of people released from prison in New York State end up in homeless shelters. Many formerly incarcerated individuals face housing and employment discrimination due to their criminal records, which exacerbates their challenges with homelessness and unemployment. And individuals leaving prison often lack any government ID, which makes obtaining benefits like food stamps and social security disability insurance nearly impossible. Phoenix aims to support survivors of domestic violence navigate these challenges by providing them with legal reentry support.
Phoenix aims to support survivors of domestic violence with their reentry needs so that they can reunite with their communities, avoid reincarceration, and end the cycle of trauma and criminalization that affects so many. Her Fellowship involves three components: providing direct civil legal services to individual clients (e.g. assisting clients in appealing denials of government benefits); drafting a guide on best practices for trauma-informed lawyering and reentry support for survivors of trauma; and building relationships with other reentry organizations to better connect clients to the services they need.
My sister has been directly impacted by the dual harms of domestic violence and incarceration. Witnessing her struggle and her strength is what inspired me to support other individuals navigating the reentry process.
Phoenix Rice-Johnson /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Zoraima (she/her/hers/ella) works to protect the right to abortion and ensure meaningful access, particularly for poor people, people of color, and those living in rural areas, using innovative legal strategies.
In December 2021, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which presents a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade and threatens to upend over 50 years of precedent protecting every pregnant person’s right to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy before viability. The stakes are extremely high: If Roe v. Wade falls, abortion will likely be banned in half of the country. But even if Roe v. Wade is upheld in any capacity, hostile state legislatures will continue to push abortion care further out of reach, especially for poor people, people of color, those living in rural areas, and other marginalized communities who already struggle to navigate a complex web of restrictions.
Zoraima’s project will use impact litigation, advocacy, and coalition building to protect the right to abortion and ensure those seeking abortion care have meaningful access to care, regardless of income or geographic location. Zoraima will craft and execute litigation and advocacy strategies based on the Supreme Court’s decision in Jackson Women’s Health Organization and challenge novel abortion restrictions passed in current and future state legislative sessions.
She will also help navigate barriers to abortion access, with an emphasis on barriers to accessing and providing care across state borders. Zoraima’s project will focus on building and strengthening coalitions throughout the reproductive rights, health, and justice movements to develop community-driven tools and guidance for patients, healthcare professionals, abortion funds, and practical support networks that seek or provide abortion care and support across state borders.
As someone who has exercised my constitutional right to abortion, I am dedicated to using my legal education and career to advocate for everyone’s right to decide whether, when, or how to parent.
Zoraima Pelaez /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Audrey is advocating for gender-based violence survivors by expanding the Sanctuary for Families EMPOWER Center, making it the first Medical-Legal Partnership in New York City to provide family law representation to survivors of sex and labor trafficking.
Estimates for the population of human trafficking survivors in New York City are in the thousands, yet only 338 cases were reported and confirmed in 2020. One of the biggest reasons for this disparity is that survivors fear that, by coming forward, they may risk violent retaliation from their abusers and losing custody of their children. New York’s child welfare system disproportionately separates Black, immigrant, and low-income families, and often penalizes survivors who find themselves particularly vulnerable to ongoing abuse. Being able to access an interdisciplinary team of anti-trafficking attorneys, social workers, and medical providers who can address essential family law issues is critical in supporting trafficking survivors.
When survivors don’t have access to advocates to help them protect themselves and their children, it sends a clear message: their experiences are not important enough for representation. Survivors deserve safety, to remain together as a family, and holistic support to achieve their goals.
Audrey’s social work background in advocating for survivors of domestic violence and sex trafficking has motivated her to continue combating gender-based violence through direct legal services.
As a Fellow, Audrey will combat gender-based violence by providing representation through direct services, training to expand the network of legal support available, and policy advocacy to address institutional discrimination against BIPOC survivors in the removal and termination of parental rights processes. This project will also include family reunification for formerly incarcerated survivors and resources for collateral civil legal services related to surviving abuse.
I believe that every survivor deserves to be safe, free of abuse, and empowered to make decisions for themselves and their families. Our legal system can and must do more to pursue true gender, racial, and economic equity for survivors by uplifting and listening to their needs.
Audrey J. Hertzberg /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Zuhra’s (she/her/hers) project will focus on creating a community-informed response to the legal and social service needs of displaced Afghans in Georgia.
Nearly 80,000 Afghan nationals were evacuated into the United States in August 2021 after the rapid Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Many Afghan arrivals need to pursue asylum and demonstrate a credible fear of persecution by the Taliban to remain safely in the U.S. As such, there is an increased need for asylum attorneys in a state that is already struggling to meet the needs of vulnerable immigrants. This fellowship will complement and expand upon the work of GAIN’s flagship Asylum program to create a community-informed response to the legal and social service needs of displaced Afghans in Georgia.
Zuhra’s upbringing in Clarkston, Georgia, a largely immigrant community, gave her an appreciation for diversity, respect for immigrant families, and motivation to advocate for human rights.
The primary objective of this project is to provide wraparound legal and social services to displaced Afghans who do not qualify for support through the traditional resettlement process. Zuhra will provide legal advocacy and representation for displaced Afghans, with a special focus on women and girls. She will also work to bridge immigrant and refugee-serving agencies to facilitate social service support for recent Afghan arrivals. Additionally, Zuhra will create a peer-to-peer Afghan support network, composed of Afghan community members and friends of Afghans.
My heart aches for the people of Afghanistan, who have endured unimaginable turmoil for decades. As an Afghan American woman, I am honored to serve this community by assisting them in obtaining stability in the United States.
Zuhra Aziz /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Jenna (she/her/hers) works with her host organization, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), to combat family separation and surveillance through the child welfare system.
In New York, most children in foster care were removed due to circumstances that have more to do with poverty than bad parenting–like insecure housing, poor nutrition, or lack of childcare. Black and brown parents face uphill battles in child protective services (CPS) cases, confronting bias, fewer resources, and greater odds of having a past conviction. They are further disadvantaged by the state’s failure to require parent representation or information about their rights during the CPS investigation phase. However, new models of early and holistic parent representation have been proven to help keep families safely together. Jenna works towards adoption of these best practices, alongside other reforms that will narrow the front door to the family regulation system.
Fellowship Highlights to Date
In the first year of the Fellowship, Jenna has:
- Provided know your rights information and resources to approximately 500 parents in communities heavily targeted by the family regulation system
- Met with legislators to educate them about family regulation issues and help them advance policy solutions, which this year passed out of committee for the first time, paving the way for full passage next year
- Testified on behalf of the NYCLU at three public hearings, one held by the New York State Assembly Committee on Children and Families, and two held by committees of the New York City Council
- Published two blog posts and supported impacted parents in drafting op-eds about the harms of the family regulation system
- Helped represent two clients who were non-consensually drug tested and reported to the family regulation system when giving birth and referred additional intakes to partner organizations for further support
In the next year, Jenna plans to:
- Expand know your rights community engagement to more underserved communities throughout the state, working with my sponsor organizations to enhance capacity
- Continue to educate legislators about the harms of the family regulation system and encourage responsive policy changes
- Generate additional media coverage to increase and shift public perceptions about the family regulation system as a form of change
Family separation through the child welfare system cuts to the heart of intersectional inequality; I believe combatting the system’s disproportionate harms is an integral part of the struggle for racial, gender, and economic justice.
Jenna Lauter /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Alison (Ali) empowered and educated immigrant mothers by providing them holistic direct representation and developing a coalition to bring them sustained attention and assistance.
More than 50,000 Chicago households include a family member who is undocumented. Nationally, only 37 percent of all immigrants secure legal representation in their removal cases. Immigrant mothers who are in removal proceedings are at risk of being separated from their children and are often suffering the emotional consequences that come with it like anxiety, depression, and guilt. These women need access to legal counsel that will help them navigate their immigration status and provide particularized attention to legal questions resulting from their status as mothers. Ali’s project provided a new model of representation to ensure we recognize the immigrant mother’s plight.
During the two-year Fellowship, Allison:
- Conducted immigration intakes at community partner legal clinics for over 300 community members
- Provided holistic representation for 50 community members in affirmative and defensive immigration applications for relief
- Created and presented a training for community organizers on submitting requests for prosecutorial discretion
- Participated in removal defense campaigns with activist partners seeking protection for their community members
Ali will continue to work at Beyond Legal Aid as a Staff Attorney. She looks forward to continuing her work and relationships with local activist and community partners.
My goal is to help immigrant mothers maintain the dignity that is so often stripped away in immigration detention and throughout the removal defense process.
Alison Siczek /
Equal Justice Works Fellow