Dominique Mejia

The Project

Dominique (she/her/hers) uses advocacy, outreach, and litigation to protect Illinois immigrant youth from deportation by accessing state court via a new law that expands Special Immigrant Juvenile Status eligibility.

Every year, thousands of unaccompanied immigrant children enter the United States fleeing violence, abuse, and neglect. They may face deportation and family separation if they cannot establish eligibility for immigration relief. Some of these immigrant youth can obtain protection through Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), which creates a path to lawful status for immigrant youth who have been abandoned, abused, or neglected. Although federal law makes SIJS available to youth under 21, many states limit eligibility for predicate orders to children under 18, effectively excluding eligible youth based on their residence. In 2021, Illinois expanded eligibility to 18 to 21-year-olds. There is now an urgent need to increase awareness of the new law and ensure immigrant youth have access to attorneys with experience in both the immigration and Illinois court systems.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Dominique will represent immigrant youth in both state court and immigration proceedings. She will also conduct legal trainings for attorneys, judges, and immigrant youth advocates who may screen and represent clients in SIJS proceedings, as well as provide pro bono training and support. Additionally, Dominique will develop best practices and models for implementing this new law in Illinois.

My interest in immigration law and public service generally is deeply rooted in my personal experience being a child of undocumented Mexican immigrants. I learned from a young age about the importance of community and putting others before oneself, but I also learned the harsh realities of living without privilege and security which fuels my passion for this cause.

Dominique Mejia /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Joseph’s (he/him/his) project will provide legal representation, community education, and outreach to domestic home healthcare workers in Chicago to enforce their rights under the new Illinois Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights.

Illinois is home to roughly 85,000 domestic workers, roughly 47,000 of whom are home healthcare workers. Most are women, people of color, and immigrants. They play an important role in caring for older adults and people with disabilities in their homes, but they are also three times more likely than other workers to live in poverty. Joseph’s project will educate domestic workers about their employment-related rights and provide direct legal representation to address discrimination, wage theft, retaliation, and harassment.

Joseph has made workers’ rights and economic justice the central motivator of his law school career. He understands the unfair and enormous burden placed on individuals with limited proficiency in English to access justice. He believes that creating a more equitable, worker-centered approach in the workplace will lead to greater economic security for individuals in low-income, immigrant communities.

Fellowship Plans

Joseph will work with community partners in Chicago to strengthen enforcement of the new Illinois Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights by identifying violations. His project will develop multi-lingual and literacy-appropriate know-your-rights materials and host community events to disseminate information about the Illinois Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights. He will also pursue enforcement of the Illinois Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights with city and state agencies to address discrimination, wage theft, retaliation, and harassment.

My Equal Justice Works Fellowship has afforded me the opportunity to serve low-wage workers, particularly domestic workers in Chicago. I’m proud to fight for a more just workplace free of discrimination, wage theft, harassment, and retaliation.

Joseph Garcia /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Morgan (she/her/hers) advocates for the due process and access to counsel rights of detained immigrants through direct representation at the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) and federal circuit courts across the country.

While immigrants are five times more likely to win relief when represented, few detained immigrants are able to access an attorney, particularly as detention in remote locations with few resources increases. Detention-related barriers to securing representation and administrative policies prioritizing rapid adjudication often result in detained immigrants’ inability to adequately present their claims. Without counsel to identify and address problematic trends on appeal, many such trends go unchallenged.

In a system where, at times, basic human rights can be dependent on immigration status, safeguarding due process and access to counsel rights for immigrants is essential – both for the individuals themselves and for advancing systemic change.

Fellowship Plans

Morgan’s project seeks to address the due process issues detained immigrants face through individual representation with a focus on systemic impact. Morgan will work with the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC)’s national partners to identify individual cases emblematic of the trends infringing on detained immigrants’ due process and access to counsel rights. Morgan will then initiate direct appeals to the BIA and federal circuit courts on these issues and provide appellate representation to these individuals. Morgan will also collaborate with NIJC’s partners to highlight these due process and access to counsel issues in detention through administrative advocacy, outreach, public campaigns, and strategic litigation.

After seeing the horrendous effects of the Trump administration’s family separation policies first-hand, I became determined to focus my legal career on pursuing systemic change in the U.S. immigration system. Basic human rights should not be dependent on immigration status.

Morgan Drake /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Amanda provides legal assistance to cost-burdened senior homeowners in Cook County to (a) help preserve their homeownership rights so that they can afford to age in place and (b) ensure seniors have succession plans so they can pass their property interest on to designated beneficiaries.

Through the Housing Preservation Project, Amanda assists seniors in making estate plans to keep their homes out of probate. This helps ensure preservation of families’ equity, by avoiding the cost and expense of probate, and avoids property loss due to heirship issues, which may impact not only the intergenerational transfer of wealth but also avoid additional property vacancies in communities.

Before law school, Amanda completed a year of service with Illinois JusticeCorps, where she provided legal information to pro se litigants in rural Knox County, Illinois. In that capacity, it became apparent to Amanda the difference that access to basic legal information can make. Amanda pursued law school to increase access to justice for low and moderate-income Illinois residents.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

During the first year of the Fellowship, Amanda has:

  • Successfully advocated for an extension of temporary recording fee reduction and, ultimately, a permanent reduction for Transfer on Death Instrument (TODI) recording fees at the county-level
  • Provided full representation to 93 clients, predominately drafting and recording TODI, as well as Deceased Joint Tenancy Affidavits, drafting and recordation of quitclaim deeds, powers of attorney documents, and last wills & testaments
  • Provided brief service to 96 individuals through real estate tax exemption assistance and title searches
  • Reached 400 community members through outreach presentations and community-based events
  • Gave eight CLE presentations, including a joint CLE and pro bono workshop for 19 PayPal attorneys

Next Steps

In the next year, Amanda plans to:

  • Work to publish an article about the potential of expanding HPP state-wide
  • Continue providing community-based services to low- and moderate-income homeowners and conducting community education and outreach
  • Work with new community-based agencies to expand the program’s reach
  • Continue training and engaging pro bono attorneys, including sponsor attorneys

Housing stability is integral to the quality of life. Having the option to age-in-place is crucial to seniors’ dignity. At the same time, simple estate planning can help ensure that homes are seamlessly passed on to future generations and prevent properties from becoming vacant, thereby impacting communities at large.

Amanda Insalaco /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Inspiration

The Inspiration

The Inspiration

The Project

Jarrett met the needs of elder abuse victims by providing direct legal representation to elderly victims of abuse (age 60 or above) who were seeking Orders of Protection against their abuser.

The Project

My project involves outreach, advocacy and direct representation to immigrant victims of crime under the U visa. I work with community-based organizations, law enforcement agencies, and regional and national networks of immigration and domestic violence advocates. I also provide direct representation to those eligible for the U visa.

Media

The Inspiration