Ben’s project comprises several elements, including direct litigation on behalf of clients facing eviction, know-your-rights presentations, and community organizing to raise awareness of the economic vulnerabilities that very low-income tenants, many of whom are immigrants, face. This Fellowship aims to foster the growth of affordable housing programs for low-income residents in Northern Virginia through research, representation, and advocacy.
The constituency that Legal Aid Justice Center serves in Falls Church typically has very low incomes (40%/AMI or below), and many clients face language barriers. Clients are often fearful of exposure to immigration authorities and are unaware that they can pursue their rights as residential tenants regardless of their immigrant status. Evictions of low-income tenants are rising, which is mainly due to the ascension of rental prices in the region. The arrival of Amazon’s and Boeing’s new major office complexes in Falls Church leads this market alteration.
As a young child, Ben’s parents engaged in fair housing efforts in their community, and even at a young age, Ben understood the nature and reasons for their volunteer work in this area. Their efforts made a lasting impression on Ben that remains present in this project. Ben has also long been concerned about tendencies to treat immigrants as second-class humans. This Fellowship allows Ben to combine these issues and work to mitigate their effects on communities in Virginia.
Ben will provide legal advice and representation to low-income tenants who are facing eviction notices and extremely poor housing conditions. Additionally, Ben will work with tenant groups to encourage local politicians to expand rental stock for low-income families and institute local legal protections (such as continuing some of the eviction protections that existed during the Virginia Rental Relief Program responding to COVID-19).
As an Employment Opportunity Legal Corps Fellow, Ventura provided legal assistance to individuals with legal barriers to employment, such as expunging eligible criminal records and reinstating driving licenses.
After her Fellowship, Ventura became a staff attorney at her host organization, Greater Boston Legal Services, where she provides critical legal advice and representation to low-income individuals.
Ariel worked with the working poor of Jacksonville who are facing unfair debt collection practices. Ariel’s goal is to provide assistance on whatever level necessary, whether that’s just talking someone through the process, representing them in court, or going through their budget. Particularly, Ariel focused on small claims debt collection, garnishment, payday lending, and other predatory lending situation clients may find themselves in.
Partnerships between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and state or local authorities enforcing federal immigration laws have expanded exponentially. Florida has been at the forefront of this phenomenon, and these partnerships have raised serious civil rights concerns including racial profiling and unlawful detention. Franco investigated, evaluated, and challenged violations of constitutional rights as a result of immigration enforcement practices in Florida.
Nicholas provided Holocaust survivors in Los Angeles with services and education in the areas of public benefits, estate planning, and vulnerabilities to ensure that they live out their lives in dignity.
Holocaust survivors in the U.S. have been disproportionately affected by the hardships of poverty and social isolation. Of the estimated 12,000 survivors currently residing in L.A., 30% live below the federal poverty level, significantly higher than the national rate. Aging survivors face unique medical needs and often lack traditional support networks, making it vital that they are able to access needed benefits, services, and support as early as possible. This project developed the tools and models necessary for reaching survivors throughout the community, assessing their needs, and providing assistance in the areas of public benefits, estate planning, and vulnerabilities to abuse and neglect.
During his Fellowship, Nicholas:
- Assisted 141 clients to complete Advance Planning documents (Advance Health Care Directives, Powers of Attorney for Financial Matters, and Statutory Wills) through pro bono clinics and individual representation
- Obtained 1,341 new monthly caregiving hours and 1,923 retroactive hours (caregivers paid for prior work) for aging Holocaust survivors
- Avoided $164,747 in losses due to successful overpayment appeals, usually due to government agencies wrongfully counting Holocaust reparations payments as income or resources in determining eligibility for needs-based benefits in violation of the Victims of Nazi Persecution Act of 1994
- Obtained protective orders for survivors who were victims of elder abuse
- Drafted written testimony submitted to the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging regarding the special needs of America’s aging Holocaust survivors
- Worked with the Social Security Administration to issue an important policy update and draft amendments to the Program Operations Manual System (POMS) on the exclusion of Holocaust reparations payments from eligibility determinations for Supplemental Security Income benefits
- Conducted 60 presentations for community members and professionals on the needs of aging Holocaust survivors, working with survivors on legal planning, and related issues
Nicholas continues to provide elder law services to Holocaust survivors as a staff attorney with Bet Tzedek’s Holocaust Survivor Services team.
Elizabeth intervened in the school-to-prison pipeline for poor children with disabilities in Boston schools by advocating for their educational and mental health rights through direct representation, community legal education, and policy work.
Education is vital to escaping poverty. Unfortunately, far too many children are suspended or expelled from Boston area schools and thus deprived of a meaningful education. Students who are suspended or expelled from school are three times more likely to drop out than their peers, and students who drop out are three times more likely to be incarcerated. Students with disabilities are disproportionately funneled into this school-to-prison pipeline. Although students with disabilities are only 16 percent of the Massachusetts student body, they account for 47 percent of the disciplinary removals. Massachusetts, however, has new laws protecting the education and health care rights of these students. This project is designed to make these rights meaningful, so poor children with disabilities receive the education and health care to which they are entitled.
In the past two years, Elizabeth has:
- Protected 111 students in 73 schools from being unlawfully suspended, preventing 507 days of illegal school exclusion
- Successfully advocated for new guidance from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education prohibiting schools’ routine practice of suspending students with disabilities without due process required by law
- Trained 742 clinicians, social workers, and health care providers on new school discipline law and special education rights, creating a system for home-and-community based mental health care clinicians to join school-based IEP Teams
- Created press attention around and filed numerous complaints regarding the suspensions of kindergartners at the Boston school with the highest number of kindergarten in the state, resulting in that school announcing it would no longer suspend kindergarten and first grade students
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Elizabeth plans to:
- Continue developing the School to Prison Pipeline Intervention Project at Greater Boston Legal Services, with goal of institutionalizing educational advocacy and children’s work within this antipoverty organization
- Build on the successes over the past two years, specifically with respect to ending suspensions for very young children (ages 4-8) who have experienced trauma and/or homelessness
Elizabeth provided culturally competent, holistic legal services to detained and formerly detained immigrant women and girls in Houston who are fleeing gender-based violence.
Around the world, one in three women has survived physical or sexual violence. Many immigrant women have fled such violence in their home countries or have experienced it here in the U.S. These women are often detained and placed in deportation proceedings. Congress has created several types of relief from deportation for these women. However, the physical, psychological, and social trauma these women have experienced, and the language barriers many of them face, make it extremely challenging to navigate our complicated immigration system without assistance. These women are unlikely to obtain relief from deportation without the benefit of legal representation.
In the past two years, Elizabeth:
- Represented 57 detained and formerly detained women and girls in their immigration proceedings
- Mentored 69 pro bono attorneys on representing detained and formerly detained women and girls
- Provided brief services to 257 immigrant women and girls, primarily formerly detained asylum seekers
- Created and updated samples for pro bono attorneys to use in U visa, T visa, VAWA, SIJS, and asylum cases
- Built relationships with community partners to coordinate legal services for immigrant women and girls fleeing violence
Following her Fellowship, Elizabeth continues to represent detained and formerly detained women and girls in their immigration proceedings as a staff attorney at the Tahirih Justice Center.
Hilary increased identification and protection of immigrant survivors of human trafficking by training service providers, providing legal representation, and expanding access to counsel.
Due to increased immigration enforcement and detention, many undocumented trafficking survivors become ensnared in complex legal proceedings with seemingly insurmountable barriers to accessing justice, including no right to appointed counsel, finite legal knowledge and limited, if any, English. Yet, the greatest challenge most survivors face is that their suffering remains unrecognized. The failure to self-identify and fear of disclosing their trauma creates obstacles to identifying survivors. If unidentified, survivors are at risk of being re-trafficked or deported.
Hilary collaborated with Aon and Kirkland & Ellis to launch a T visa pro bono project, which increased access to counsel for undocumented trafficking survivors. She coordinated the exit of a survivor of labor-trafficking who had been held captive for over 14 years, and gained immigration status for a survivor of sex trafficking who had been wrongly identified as a perpetrator of crime and detained for over 26 months. Hilary increased the National Immigrant Justice Center’s capacity to identify and represent trafficking survivors, and published an article on “Sex Trafficking and Domestic Violence” in the American Bar Association’s Third Edition of The Impact of Domestic Violence on Your Legal Practice.
After her Fellowship, Hilary will be joining the Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Family Services, where she will represent survivors of trafficking and immigrant victims of crime in the full scope of their legal matters, including immigration, family, criminal and civil law. Legal Aid Society is a leader in the anti-trafficking field and works with pro bono attorneys to file T visa cases and represent clients in federal civil suits against their traffickers.
Stephanie provided immigration legal services to unaccompanied noncitizen youth by creating a medical legal partnership between Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) and Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA).
This project created a referral system between KIND and CHA to address unmet legal and medical needs of unaccompanied noncitizen youth served by CHA, one of Greater Boston’s largest public health care providers. KIND, the largest provider of representation for immigrant youth in Massachusetts, can refer its clients within the CHA system for medical and mental health services to support the stability and well-being of clients who have experienced trauma. The project also empowered health care providers, both through education and through the referral system, to support unaccompanied noncitizen patients by providing referrals to KIND. Beginning a pathway to status through KIND’s representation helped CHA patients access resources to support their well-being, including better health care coverage. Giving unaccompanied youth access to KIND’s services within CHA’s school-based teen health clinics promoted informed and immigrant-friendly teen health services and encouraged students to come forward and seek help before aging out of immigration relief eligibility.
In the past two years, Stephanie has:
- Provided full representation to 55 clients between the ages of 3-21
- Conducted legal consultations and referrals for over 260 clients, advising them of their legal status and referring them to other organizations and attorneys for additional support
- Established a connection and referral system between KIND and CHA
- Helped KIND become a trusted source of information in the community by giving 30 community presentations to 700 youth, parents, and community members
- Collaborated with 20 immigration, healthcare, and human services organizations on important issues affecting the immigrant population such as policy changes and healthcare.
Stephanie will continue advocating for and representing immigrants at her new position as a staff attorney at The Law Offices of Talia Barrales, a Boston-based firm that focuses on immigration law. There, Stephanie will serve clients seeking legal status in the U.S. while also developing and deepening connections to social services organizations that can further support the needs of immigrants.
Joyce Helfman is an Equal Justice Works Fellow serving in the Disaster Recovery Legal Corps (DRLC). Joyce has personal experience surviving through a disaster, as she lived in a neighborhood that was hit hard by flooding, and her family had to be rescued by boat. As such, she understands all too well the emotional toll that survival through a disaster and its aftermath can take on a family and community. Joyce has returned to legal practice after serving as an eighth grade language arts teacher in Houston for nearly 15 years. She also has over 15 years of experience as a legal aid attorney at Central Jersey Legal Services Corporation, where she represented low-income clients in a range of matters; supervised and trained new attorneys; and worked with advocacy coalitions. Joyce is a graduate of Boston University School of Law and Barnard College, Columbia University.
Joyce’s project focuses on addressing the myriad of legal needs of low-income communities affected by the devastation of Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath by engaging, training, and mentoring pro bono attorneys to represent disaster-affected individuals and households. Under Joyce’s mentorship, pro bono attorneys provide legal assistance with issues related to housing, insurance, and income maintenance.