Aubree Aguinaga

The Project

Aubree (she/her/hers) represents New York City pre-trial detainees during disciplinary hearings and provides advocacy and education to meet the needs of low-income individuals experiencing human rights issues at Rikers Island.

Recent New York City policy allows counsel during jail disciplinary hearings for the first time, presenting an immediate need for research, education, data, and representation for low-income people of color who cannot afford bail in the Bronx. Bail amounts are 35% higher for people of color than White people, and individuals who cannot afford bail are four times more likely to receive a longer prison sentence since infractions can be introduced in bail applications and trigger new charges.

Aubree grew up in a primarily Cuban environment and recognized how her privilege differed from her community members, who were Afro-Latinx or Indigenous. While they shared a similar community, culture, education, and upbringing, she recognized she was treated differently than people she loved, who experienced the effects of institutional racism, incarceration, and barriers to justice in a way she did not due to the color of their skin.

Fellowship Plans

Aubree will create educational training programs for lawyers on disciplinary hearing rights, provide legal representation for clients in disciplinary hearings, and provide oversight by suing Rikers and the Department of Corrections (DOC) to challenge human rights violations. She will monitor the DOC’s shared data and combine it with her observed data to determine the efficacy of its new disciplinary hearing procedures. She will structure litigation to focus on implementing strategies that lay the foundation for broader systemic relief.

My Equal Justice Works Fellowship has afforded me the opportunity to serve members of the Bronx, the poorest congressional district and the borough with the largest Latinx population. I want to directly support Latinx communities by elevating the voices of the Bronx through advocacy in the plight of mass incarceration.

Aubree Aguinaga /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Zuhra’s (she/her/hers) project will focus on creating a community-informed response to the legal and social service needs of displaced Afghans in Georgia.

Nearly 80,000 Afghan nationals were evacuated into the United States in August 2021 after the rapid Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Many Afghan arrivals need to pursue asylum and demonstrate a credible fear of persecution by the Taliban to remain safely in the U.S. As such, there is an increased need for asylum attorneys in a state that is already struggling to meet the needs of vulnerable immigrants. This fellowship will complement and expand upon the work of GAIN’s flagship Asylum program to create a community-informed response to the legal and social service needs of displaced Afghans in Georgia.

Zuhra’s upbringing in Clarkston, Georgia, a largely immigrant community, gave her an appreciation for diversity, respect for immigrant families, and motivation to advocate for human rights.

Fellowship Plans

The primary objective of this project is to provide wraparound legal and social services to displaced Afghans who do not qualify for support through the traditional resettlement process. Zuhra will provide legal advocacy and representation for displaced Afghans, with a special focus on women and girls. She will also work to bridge immigrant and refugee-serving agencies to facilitate social service support for recent Afghan arrivals. Additionally, Zuhra will create a peer-to-peer Afghan support network, composed of Afghan community members and friends of Afghans.

My heart aches for the people of Afghanistan, who have endured unimaginable turmoil for decades. As an Afghan American woman, I am honored to serve this community by assisting them in obtaining stability in the United States.

Zuhra Aziz /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Hope (she/her/hers) will provide direct legal services for citizens in rural Texas border communities facing obstacles to obtaining proof of identity and citizenship.

Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) estimates that they receive 50-70 calls every year from United States citizens having trouble obtaining driver’s licenses, passports, social security cards, and other identity documents because federal and state laws do not account for the realities of low-income transitional families living on the Texas-Mexico border. People with birth certificates signed by midwives (parteras) and people who attended secondary school in Mexico for a period often have a particularly difficult time meeting the evidentiary requirements for obtaining proof of citizenship documents. The technical administrative knowledge required to pursue these claims, combined with their time-intensive and fact-specific nature, means that TRLA is currently unable to address the need among its client communities for these claims.

Hope’s experience living and working in rural communities across the American South makes her familiar with the barriers low-income people in rural communities face in accessing resources. Hope’s time spent working as part of TRLA’s civil rights team introduced her to the issues faced by many border community citizens in obtaining proof of identity and citizenship.

Fellowship Plans

Hope will represent people in rural border communities having trouble obtaining proof of identity and citizenship documents in administrative proceedings with state agencies, the Social Security Administration, and the U.S. Department of State. For individuals facing prolonged denial of the benefits of U.S. citizenship, 8 U.S.C. § 1503 offers clients a remedy in federal court. Hope will also be conducting outreach to raise awareness and hosting identity document application clinics along the middle border region, as well as working to develop streamlined resources for other TRLA attorneys handling proof-of-citizenship claims.

Born and raised in rural Georgia, I understand how difficult it can be for disadvantaged populations in resource-scarce rural areas to access basic government services.

Hope Bettler /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Carlos provides litigation, advocacy, and community programming to meet the identified needs of Black and Brown residents in neighborhoods in the Metropolitan D.C. areas that are plagued by unjust, racially motivated police practices.

More than 80% of individuals stopped in the Metropolitan D.C. areas are Black or Brown residents. With Washington, D.C. being the fastest gentrifying city in America, People of Color are being displaced and over-policed at alarming rates. Current over-policing tactics of over responsiveness to calls for service, increased patrols, and “corner-clearing” are leading residents of color to feel at odds with the officers who are reported to protect them. Further, an increase in stop and frisk tactics across the region is leading to more frequent violations of residents’ Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

The D.C. Metropolitan area is in need of a comprehensive response that combines direct representation for those whose rights have been violated, empowerment of People of Color’s voices, and community development campaigns to address the ongoing systemic racism Black and Brown residents face.

Carlos’s upbringing in a working-class family of color motivates his commitment to racial justice.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

So far during his Fellowship, Carlos has:

  • Filed a lawsuit of first impression to define District of Columbia tenants’ rights to organize and be free from law enforcement harassment.
  • Drafted legislation and authored testimony to the District of Columbia Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety regarding the important lack of oversights on Special Police Officers in the District.
  • Co-counseled in the representation of protestors advocating for police accountability in the summer of 2020 arrested by police for exercising their First Amendment rights.
  • Established a partnership investigation project into collecting data on stop-and-frisk interactions in Montgomery County, Maryland.
  • Submitted several information requests to government entities in an investigation with community partners about ongoing policing tactics by DMV law enforcement agencies to categorically place Black and Brown residents into gang databases.

Next Steps

In the next year, Carlos plans to:

  • Advance current investigative projects by filing lawsuits to enforce information reporting laws and demand for public audits of current police practices.
  • Establish and expand outreach to community groups and potential plaintiffs to prepare for trial litigation/community development projects.

Media

Inside D.C. Police’s Sprawling Network of Surveillance

Elon University 2022 Top 10 Under 10 Alumni Award recipients announced

Latino man sues two D.C. police officers for alleged illegal stop-and-frisk, homophobic slurs

Building a Better Future Together

As a first-generation attorney and child of Puerto Rican descent, I feel morally obligated to fight the prejudicial systems that have placed so many People of Color at a disadvantage in our contemporary society.

Carlos Andino /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Kier provided representation to veterans seeking discharge upgrades, with priority given to veterans with PTSD symptomology, TBI, or other mental disabilities.

For many potential clients, a discharge upgrade is a necessary first step to being eligible for benefits including healthcare, legal assistance, social work, housing, and education. Providing legal assistance with discharge upgrades is a critical component of the comprehensive legal support that best situates a veteran to thrive in their community. Kier provided legal assistance to veterans by either offering full representation or pro se assistance in creating and filing an effective discharge application.

As a native of Atlanta, Kier has witnessed homeless individuals, many who are veterans, struggle to cope with their mental incapacity while trying to seek the basic services they need to survive. Kier’s goal is to assist the underserved, particularly veterans, so that these individuals can gain access to the services they vitally need.

Fellowship Highlights

During the two-year Fellowship, Kier:

  • Provided legal assistance to over 200 veterans and full representation to 10 veterans seeking discharge upgrades
  • Held six discharge training sessions for sponsor and non-sponsor volunteers
  • Held 10 monthly Military Monday events for veterans seeking assistance with VA/DOD
  • Assisted the Clinic with nine Wills clinics, helping prepare 120 legal documents for veterans
  • Submitted five (5) discharge upgrade cases during the pandemic and responded to an advisory opinion for a pending discharge application

Next Steps

Kier plans to continue to volunteer assisting veterans and hopes of transitioning back to the federal government. In the meantime, Kier will continue her hobby of acting and serving as a closing attorney.

The Project

This particular Fellowship provided the first location/attorney in DuPage County, Illinois for trafficking survivors where those individuals can obtain brief advice, full representation, comprehensive advocacy and social services through Metropolitan Family Services. This Fellowship focused on providing comprehensive legal representation and access to social services, assisting clients in coming forward to law enforcement, and conducting outreach events on crime victims’ rights, indicators of trafficking, legal remedies and access to services to the communities of Cook and DuPage County. 

Alexandra leveraged the full resources of Metropolitan Family Services to provide comprehensive legal services to a multitude of unique clients that have been victims of human trafficking in Cook and DuPage County, Illinois. 

Throughout Alexandra’s young legal career, she has always maintained a passion for helping those in her community who cannot help themselves. This Fellowship allowed for the opportunity to expand the services Metropolitan Family Services provides to an area that is routinely in need of immigration services and has identified red flags for human trafficking: DuPage County, Illinois. Being an Equal Justice Works Fellow allowed Alexandra to use the skills she has honed over her career to further these objectives and help her community. 

 

The Inspiration

The Inspiration

The Project

More than 240,000 children in Texas are being raised in households without either parent. A new Texas law allows parents to delegate some of their parental rights to relatives without the cost and trauma of court proceedings. Adrea helped relative caretakers perform basic tasks, like enroll the child they care for in school and apply for public benefits on her behalf. Additionally, Adrea provided legal education and direct representation on other children’s issues including custody, special education, school discipline, and teen violence.