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Kelsey Peña

  • Hosted by Kids in Need of Defense (KIND)
  • Sponsored by Microsoft Corporation, The Sidley Austin Foundation
  • Service location Orlando, Florida
  • Law school University of Florida Fredric G. Levin College of Law
  • Issue area Children/Youth, Immigrant Populations
  • Fellowship class year 2024
  • Program Design-Your-Own Fellowship

The Project

Kelsey advocates on behalf of unaccompanied immigrant children (UC) in Central Florida through community education and coalition building to improve UC legal outcomes and integration in the community. Unaccompanied immigrant children (UC) are children under 18 who lack lawful immigration status in the United States and are either without a parent or legal guardian in the United States or without a parent or legal guardian in the United States who is available to provide care and physical custody. Almost all UC are currently in or have been in Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) custody, are grappling with trauma, and are not guaranteed a government appointed counsel free of cost to face deportation proceedings. In Central Florida, lack of resources pervades the legal and social systems responsible for the well-being of UC, rendering their ongoing journey in search of protection fraught and unfairly limited to the “lucky” few.

After working in education, Kelsey knew that she wanted to pursue a law degree so that she could amplify the voices of children within the legal system. Kelsey is thrilled that her fellowship will enable her advocate for immigrant children in the Central Florida community.

Fellowship Plans

Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) aims to help fill the gap in unmet need for legal services and social service support for UC in Central and North Florida. Kelsey will provide direct representation for legal cases, as well as develop navigator tools to help UC understand their rights as newcomers to Central Florida. Kelsey will also lead the creation of the Central Florida Unaccompanied Children’s Task Force to identify strategies to reduce barriers to UC school enrollment. Furthermore, Kelsey will develop and deliver trainings to educate attorneys, social workers, and others about UC, the juvenile immigration system, and common forms of relief.

“For me, this fellowship means bringing my family’s immigration story full circle. As the daughter of a blended Nicaraguan American family, I am so humbled that I am now able to be the advocate in another child’s life.”

Kelsey Peña /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

Meet Other Fellows Like Kelsey

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Photo of Elizabeth Lincoln

Elizabeth Lincoln

Host: Kids in Need of Defense (KIND)

Sponsor: Microsoft Corporation, The Sidley Austin Foundation

Maria Alejandra Acevedo

Host: Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network

Sponsor: AmeriCorps, Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network, U.S. Department of Justice

Rebecca Wolozin

Host: Legal Aid Justice Center

Sponsor: The Morrison & Foerster Foundation

Mindy Phillips

Host: East Bay Community Law Center

Sponsor: Anonymous