Brenda Pfahnl

The Project

Brenda (she/her/hers) will launch an innovative CDFI-Legal Partnership (CDFI-LP) to provide immigration and small business legal services which address the nexus between immigration status and economic justice for immigrants in Minnesota.

Minnesota’s Latinx population is growing steadily while the state’s white population has begun to decline. However, the typical white family in Minnesota holds five times the wealth of the typical Latinx family. This disparity extends to Latinx-owned businesses. Most recently, immigrant entrepreneurs were significantly impacted by the dual pandemics of Covid-19 and racial injustice. Following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, protests were centered in the heart of the immigrant business districts of Minneapolis in St. Paul, having the unintended consequences of property damage and extended business closures.

Immigration status directly impacts the stability felt by immigrant business owners and their family members. Gaining pathways to legal status and citizenship would allow entrepreneurs to invest more confidently in their future.

Fellowship Plans

This project will create a partnership between three non-profit organizations to serve clients more holistically and efficiently. The fellow will directly engage with Latinx entrepreneurs and their family members by providing legal intake, direct legal services, and referrals to staff attorneys and pro bono volunteers. Additionally, she will create a case study of this unique partnership and provide trainings to organizations and trade associations interested in replicating this model elsewhere.

As the granddaughter of immigrants, I felt a strong desire to serve immigrants who choose to make Minnesota their home. My Equal Justice Works Fellowship has allowed me to use my CDFI background and firm belief in the power of community partnerships to serve the legal needs of Minnesota’s Latinx community.

Brenda Pfahnl /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Brooke will increase access to high-quality, culturally appropriate and individualized parent representation and improve outcomes for children and families involved in the child protection system in Minnesota.  

Every year, thousands of families enter the child protection system in Minnesota. Minnesota is one of only a handful of states that does not mandate the right to court-appointed counsel in child protection proceedings. Additionally, there is currently no statewide system to appoint qualified attorneys to represent parents. This structure results in some parents receiving minimal legal representation while others receive no legal representation at all. High-quality legal representation is imperative for positive outcomes for families, as parent attorneys play an important role in advocating for their client’s needs and ensuring reunification. Brooke’s project is focused on improving outcomes for families by ensuring that all parents in Minnesota receive high-quality legal representation.  

As a certified student attorney with the Mitchell Hamline Child Protection clinic, Brooke had the opportunity to represent parents, grandparents and children. Through her experiences with the clinic, she saw firsthand the impact the child protection system can have on the families who enter it.  Brooke is passionate about improving the child protection system in Minnesota and ensuring successful outcomes for the families who come in contact with it.  

Fellowship Plans

Brooke will work collaboratively with the Institute to Transform Child Protection to increase education and training for parent attorneys practicing in Minnesota, and reform the child protection system in the state through strategic appeals and policy advocacy. Brooke will develop tools and resources for current and future parent attorneys that incorporate best practices. She will also reform the system in Minnesota by bringing strategic appeals that protect parents’ rights and help develop an improved body of caselaw. Finally, Brooke will effectuate change through policy reform.   


Alum’s clinic work at Mitchell Hamline paved the way for a Minnesota Supreme Court appearance

The Project

The prevalence of human trafficking is growing in Minnesota and specifically in the St. Cloud area. To address this growing issue, human trafficking task forces were created for individual counties. For example, Stearns County (where Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid’s St. Cloud office is located) has a task force that addresses human trafficking through a response protocol and through law enforcement involvement. Another way Minnesota is addressing human trafficking is through a new law that requires hotels to train its employees to recognize and screen for sex trafficking. Now, through this Crime Victims Justice Corps Fellowship, there is an attorney in St. Cloud, Minnesota who works with survivors of human trafficking. 

As a Crime Victims Justice Corps Fellow, Cole provided civil legal services to human trafficking survivors. He addressed client needs, such as expungement work, housing, family law and immigration needs. Most of the clients faced financial insecurity, so one goal was to make the clients economically self-sufficient. Clients could look towards the fellow and Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid to address their safety and security, which may be in the form of petitioning for an Order for Protection or fighting an eviction. 

Cole is interested in public interest work because of the opportunity to help people and make a real difference in their lives. That is why he went to law school. Most of his experience is in immigration and family law. During law school, Cole clerked at Legal Services of NorthEastern Minnesota where he practiced housing law. He also volunteered at Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid’s Minneapolis office where he practiced immigration law, specifically with U Visa and naturalization cases. These experiences solidified his interest in public interest and immigration work; therefore, Cole saw the Equal Justice Works Fellowship as the perfect opportunity to apply his experiences while assisting and empowering human trafficking survivors to improve their lives. 

The Inspiration

The Project

Ariel represented homeowners facing foreclosure, including loan modifications and foreclosure mediation. Her work also involved building capacity and collaborating with other legal service providers, housing counseling agencies, and community non-profits. Ariel coordinated foreclosure CLE’s and create legal education materials that assist private attorneys and housing advocates in an effort to increase services and representation for homeowners.

The Project

Marlee provides legal advocacy and outreach services to American Indian mothers who struggle with opiate addiction and who are involved with the child protection system.

American Indian children have higher rates of disparity and disproportionality than any other race. Indian parents failing to comply with court-ordered case plans through the county lose their children an average of twice a week in Minnesota. American Indians in Minnesota die of opiate related overdoses at rates of up to five times higher than any other race.

Fellowship Highlights

In the past year, Marlee has:

  • Provided direct representation and supportive services to 15 clients
  • Ensured clients were equipped with needed support and culturally appropriate services
  • Joined the Urban Indian Opiate Response Committee to address the opioid epidemic and raised awareness for Traditional Healing Ceremonies in Twin Cities
  • Presented at the Minnesota Indigenous Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition Annual Conference and Stand Against Child Abuse Conference
  • Created and participated in a parent-child protection education training for American Indian families
  • Developed and soft launched the first pro bono legal clinic for American Indian families to address housing issues

Next Steps

In the next six months, Marlee plans to:

  • Collaborate with US Bank and Dorsey & Whitney LLP to launch an ongoing pro bono legal clinic for American Indian families
  • Create a directory of culturally-appropriate resources that are currently available to urban American Indian families
  • Educate other agencies and service providers about the gaps and barriers clients face in accessing resources
  • Implement a support group for American Indian mothers who struggle with opiate addiction


Advocating for American Indian Mothers in Minnesota: The Equal Justice Works Fellowship