Josephine Herman

  • Hosted by Catholic Charities of New York
  • Sponsored by KPMG, The Sidley Austin Foundation
  • Service location New York, New York
  • Law school Harvard Law School
  • Issue area Immigrant Populations
  • Fellowship class year 2020
  • Program Design Your Own Fellowship

The Project

Josephine supports indigenous Central American immigrant youth by representing them in removal proceedings, by improving medical-legal partnerships in New York, and by creating resources for culturally and trauma-informed representation.

In 2019, about a quarter of migrants apprehended at the U.S.-Mexican border were indigenous Mayans from Central America. New York is the third-highest receiver of unaccompanied immigrant children (UIC) nationally and is home to many Mayan communities. Mayan youth arriving in the United States face obstacles to accessing resources, including language barriers, discrimination, and alienation from formal legal, medical, and educational systems. Many are survivors of trauma and are likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety.

Before law school, Josephine worked to support indigenous communities fighting gender-based violence and historical wrongs in Guatemala. Throughout law school, she worked with asylum-seeking families and youth, including indigenous clients who were additionally harmed by the immigration system. Josephine believes that the indigenous peoples of Central America deserve legal services that acknowledge and affirm their full humanity in a system that falls short of doing so.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

During the first year of the Fellowship, Josephine has:

  • Represented 25 unaccompanied children and three parents of children in Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, Asylum, U-Visa, and other removal defense proceedings and provided legal consultations and referrals to another 13 clients
  • Implemented training of legal, medical, mental health, and programmatic staff on working with Indigenous communities, reaching 100 individuals
  • Created a screening tool for lawyers and legal assistants to use to screen Mayan youth in government custody and removal proceedings
  • Met with four organizations seeking to replicate the project’s medical-legal partnership model in New York, New Orleans, and Baltimore

Next Steps

In the next year, Josephine plans to:

  • Continue representation of Indigenous youth, including by implementing innovative strategies under quickly changing immigration law
  • Expand screening tool to better assist legal providers in spotting asylum issues for Indigenous youth and create a guide for service providers
  • Continue to develop partnerships to allow for holistic representation of unaccompanied youth

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