Meghan Lucas

The Project

Meghan (she/her/hers) will represent low-wage workers in wage theft cases and advocate for improved labor standards enforcement in North Carolina, targeting industries that exploit immigrant workers and workers of color.

The severe underenforcement of employment laws allows employers to unlawfully underpay workers without fear of penalty. Low-wage workers in Charlotte, North Carolina have inadequate access to employment legal services to seek remedies for wage theft, which can result from refusal to pay minimum wage or overtime and the intentional misclassification of workers. Meghan’s project will support low-wage workers in industries that have long exploited workers in the Charlotte region, such as those in construction and food services, as well as the rapidly growing warehouse and delivery sector.

Rather than protecting the most vulnerable workers, many employment laws were designed to exploit Black Americans and immigrants. Meghan is eager to improve the enforcement of existing employment laws in her home state, while also advocating for laws that reflect the numerous ways in which low-wage workers are exploited in the workplace.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Meghan will bolster the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s ability to address the underlying employment-related reasons for many clients’ income instability. She will work closely with community organizations to lead workplace rights training events, help workers file administrative complaints with the North Carolina Department of Labor and litigate wage theft cases. She will also collaborate with legal services and advocacy partners who are pushing for greater employer accountability for labor abuses at the state level, with a focus on including workers in labor standards monitoring and enforcement.

It is critical to address the role that Southern states have played in exploiting immigrant workers and workers of color.

Meghan Lucas /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Jenna (she/her/hers) will work to combat family separation and surveillance through the child welfare system (“the new Jane Crow”) by improving parent representation through policy advocacy and community education.

The child welfare system has become for Black women what the criminal legal system is for Black men—an invasive institution that monitors and punishes them for socio-economic factors beyond their control. In New York, nearly 18,000 children live with strangers in foster care. Most were removed due to circumstances that have more to do with poverty than bad parenting—like insecure housing, poor nutrition, or lack of childcare.

Racial disparities in the foster system are stark: Black children make up less than 15% of New York’s population but comprise nearly 57% of its foster youth. 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. These best practices must be urgently institutionalized to support families throughout the state. 

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Jenna will advocate for statewide policy reforms to provide parents with early and holistic representation in child welfare cases. She will also conduct community outreach and education to support parents with information and resources to more effectively navigate potential CPS interactions. Additionally, Jenna will work with health care providers to reduce the volume of CPS cases that originate as a result of unnecessary drug testing and reporting. 

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

The Project

Callen (they/them/theirs) will represent low-income immigrants in New York City who are entangled in the immigration and criminal legal systems on workers’ rights and related immigration issues through direct representation, systemic litigation, and policy reform.

Immigrant workers in low-wage and informal jobs in New York City face exploitative working conditions with little recourse. For immigrant workers who are also entangled in the immigration and/or criminal legal systems (“crimmigration systems”), the consequences are dire: deadly workplace conditions, discrimination, wage theft, financial instability due to job loss, and the ever-looming threat of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

While NYC law affords workers many protections, low-wage immigrant workers are unable to enforce these rights without legal representation, and fear of repercussions often prevents immigrant workers from asserting their rights. When these workers are arrested, even when charges are dismissed, immigration and workplace consequences may remain. Located within a public defense office, the project will provide representation for low-wage immigrant workers entangled in the immigration systems who are otherwise isolated and hard to reach.

Fellowship Plans

Callen will represent immigrant workers at Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) involved in the immigration and criminal legal systems on issues of worker safety, paid leave, wage theft, and discrimination via administrative agency enforcement, litigation, arbitration, and mediation. For undocumented workers, Callen will work with BDS’s immigration practice to file U and T Visa applications for clients whose work conditions make them eligible for this form of immigration relief. Additionally, Callen will create materials to educate attorneys working within the immigration and criminal legal systems about common workers’ rights claim their clients may have.

I was drawn to Brooklyn Defender Services because of their commitment to building worker power for those who are often most excluded from safe, equitable workplaces.

Callen Lowell /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Clarisa promotes and enforces immigrants’ rights to access health care in California’s rural Central Valley by providing direct immigration legal services, conducting community education and outreach, and engaging in litigation and policy advocacy.

Immigrant families are often excluded from our health care and public benefits systems, oftentimes due to their immigration status, and other times because of complex eligibility and income restrictions, language access barriers, and fear of immigration consequences for seeking public assistance. Moreover, immigrant families in California’s Central Valley lack access to affordable legal services to inform them of their immigration relief options and health care rights. These access barriers have been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and exclusionary immigration policies, such as the constantly changing “public charge” rules, which have caused otherwise qualifying immigrant families or their US citizen children to disenroll or avoid public benefits for fear of being disqualified from obtaining lawful status.

From her own family’s experiences with the health care system, Clarisa understands that underserved minority patients can suffer poorer health outcomes, and even death, because of discriminatory practices. Her family’s perseverance motivates her to improve health outcomes and access to health care for immigrant families through legal intervention.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the first year of the Fellowship, Clarisa has:

  • Reached 2,000+ individuals through 50+ community presentations on immigrant rights to health care.
  • Provided more than 20 trainings to health, education, and social services providers (i.e., doctors, social workers, promotoras, community-based organizations, school administrators, and educators).
  • Engaged in two impact litigation cases, one related to notario fraud and one related to what proof is required for immigrants to obtain Medi-Cal access.
  • Represented more than 40 individuals in U visa, VAWA self-petitions, and other immigration cases.
  • Provided individual legal consultations and brief services to more than 150 individuals on immigration issues.

Next Steps

In the next year, Clarisa plans to:

  • Continue ongoing immigration cases, community education presentations, and training health care and social services providers on immigrant rights to access to health care and public benefits.
  • Collaborate with CRLAF’s coalition of legal partners to strategize how to best ensure that some of the reforms that have been implemented during the COVID-19 continue after the pandemic.
  • Work with federally qualified health centers and community-based organizations to expand community education and immigration legal services in collaboration with ongoing COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

Media

Clarisa Reyes-Becerra ’19 Awarded Equal Justice Works Fellowship

As the granddaughter of immigrant farmworkers, I endeavor to expose and fight the exclusionary policies discriminately affecting the health of immigrant farmworkers in the Central Valley, and make their stories heard, known, and accounted for.

Clarisa Reyes-Becerra /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Ashley improved educational outcomes for children affected by parental incarceration through direct representation, outreach and training, and policy advocacy.

In Boston, one out of 20 children has had a parent in prison. Parental incarceration deeply impacts a child’s life and can have a major effect on their education as well. With legal representation, families affected by parental incarceration can prevent school exclusion as well as secure appropriate school placements. Policy advocacy can also ensure that schools provide supports to help address the impact of parental incarceration on children’s lives.

Prior to law school, Ashley created a school-based legal clinic program at a legal aid organization in New Haven, CT. At Columbia, she participated in the Challenging the Consequences of Mass Incarceration Clinic and developed her skills at multiple legal services organizations. Her experiences and her longstanding commitment to criminal justice system reform inspired this project.

Fellowship Highlights

Ashley directly worked with the families of over 100 students in Massachusetts schools. She represented clients in discipline and disability-related proceedings before state agencies and the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. She also helped families obtain additional services and appropriate school placements in Individualized Education Program (IEP) Team meetings. Through her work, Ashley helped to establish a collaborative partnership with the state public defender agency to advocate for the education rights of children and families affected by parental incarceration. Ashley also conducted trainings for partners and other service providers, including caseworkers at a local reentry organization, attorneys in the state public defender agency, and community agencies. In response to the dramatic changes in public education that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ashley developed and distributed a toolkit of resources, samples, and templates for education advocacy to attorneys and social workers serving families impacted by parental incarceration, as well as Know Your Rights information and other guides for parents and community organizations.

Next Steps

After her fellowship, Ashley will clerk for a federal district court judge. Through her clerkship, Ashley hopes to gain new skills and insights that will enable her to become an even stronger advocate for her clients.

The Inspiration

The Inspiration

The Inspiration

The Inspiration

The Inspiration