Maria assisted individuals affected by disasters with their immigration legal needs.
Texas is home to more than 4.2 million immigrants. At least 1.4 million of those immigrants live in the Houston metropolitan area. During disasters, the immigrant population is usually disproportionally affected. Maria’s Fellowship project aimed to ensure that immigrants living in the Harris County area had access to immigration legal services to assist them in the disaster recovery and preparedness process.
Maria comes from an immigrant family. The drive for her to advocate for the immigrant population comes from watching the struggles faced daily by her family and community.
To address the disaster recovery and preparedness needs of the immigrant community in Houston, Maria’s project had four components: (1) community outreach and legal education, (2) legal screening and intake, (3) individual representation, and (4) training and referral with legal and social services providers.
Maria previously served as an Equal Justice Works Fellow in the Disaster Recovery Legal Corps.
Meghan worked with the Disaster Resilience Program to address issues caused by COVID-19. The novel coronavirus disproportionately impacted many based on socio-economic status, race, and age. This Fellowship provided legal representation to those who were affected by the unprecedented legal issues caused by COVID-19.
This pandemic has created a sense of fear and confusion in the world. As social justice leaders, it is important to rebuild our community through whatever assistance we can offer. Legal issues are complicated in the best of times, therefore this program provided necessary legal assistance to those who needed it the most.
Meghan previously worked in the area of Disaster Law and is no stranger to the plethora of cases that follow disasters. COVID-19 has brought an unimaginable spike of housing and unemployment issues. She used her Fellowship to represent clients in eviction hearings and provide advice to those who the CARES Act does not protect. As well, Meghan continued to represent clients in unemployment hearings as well as any other public benefits cases.
Meghan previously served as an Equal Justice Works Fellow in the Disaster Recovery Legal Corps.
Robert’s project served immigrants affected by natural disasters preserve their rights and apply for immigration benefits. His Fellowship addressed the needs of immigrants who were disproportionately affected by natural disasters and who were systemically cut off from public services. Immigrants are very often left out of local, state, and federal aid after a disaster.
Robert worked with refugees and asylees to apply for permanent residency and citizenship to secure their immigration status. A stable status is crucial to remain eligible for public benefits after a natural disaster. He provided widespread pro se services for immigrants in removal proceedings. Many immigrants need help with navigating the immigration court system. Providing information is crucial to ensure that they do not inadvertently forgo any rights while in removal proceedings. Robert conducted outreach activities in a variety of ways to a variety of audiences. Immigration issues are expansive and complex, and each person has different needs. It is essential to meet individuals and families in different situations to provide a wide variety.
Robert previously served as an Equal Justice Works Fellow in the Disaster Recovery Legal Corps.
Chance. Luck. A random juxtaposition of events led me to be born into my situation. The son of an immigrant mother and an American father. However, I had access to resources to which others are systemically cut off. I do this to show to myself that I am grateful for my life. Helping others costs me proportionally nothing compared to what others have paid.
Robert Flores /
2020 Disaster Resilience Program Fellow
This Crime Victims Justice Corps Fellowship provided direct legal services to human trafficking survivors and helped these survivors access and obtain immigration relief and address the range of civil legal issues that arise from victimization. Adriana provided direct legal services to survivors of human trafficking and their qualifying family members; in addition, she increased capacity and access to civil legal help for crime victims, and conducted outreach and provided victim rights’ enforcement.
Having previously worked with victims of crime, Adriana is able to communicate effectively with survivors and assess if they are eligible for any kind of relief. She has attended numerous trainings to possess the skills necessary to be an advocate for victims of crimes.
Stephanie provided legal advocacy and support to youth aging out of foster care in Harris County, Texas, to improve their social, educa-tional, and occupational opportunities in adulthood.
Need Addressed By Project
In 2011, Harris County had 2,630 youth in long-term foster care. Judges rarely appoint attorneys to these cases due to budgetary constraints and limited resources and when they do, there are no uniform court practices established to ensure proper representation and case oversight. Many of these youth age out of the system without the resources or support necessary to obtain employment, higher education, or housing, leading to high risk for homelessness, drug abuse, mental health issues, and contact with the criminal justice system. Most youth have no advocate to help them transition out of the foster care system, resulting in many youth suffering from unidentified problems and insufficient support, which ultimately hinders their ability to live independently.
During the Fellowship, Stephanie has:
- Represented 22 youth and young adults in Permanent Managing Conservatorship (PMC) of the state by increasing access to appropriate medical, special education, and transitional services and advocating for least restrictive placement
- Assisted nine clients’ transition out of foster care with access to safe and stable housing, education, and employment opportunities
- Partnered with a district court to conduct best practices in PMC cases with a focus on youth engagement in hearings and published a report on the findings
- Coordinated and hosted a continuing legal education training for 35 child welfare attorneys and volunteer advocates
- Created five free online tutorials for students and attorneys interested in representing transition-aged youth in foster care
- Served as Legal Subcommittee Community Lead of the Harris County Child Welfare Collaborative, a local initiative created to strategize and implement practical, effective reform to the current system
Amanda provided family law services to refugees, human trafficking victims, and immigrant domestic violence victims who are seeking protective orders and divorces from their abuser and custody of their children.
Many families seeking assistance from immigration legal aid organizations are simultaneously in need of family law services for help with adoption, divorce, and child custody. This is particularly evident in Violence Against Women Act applications in which immigrant domestic violence victims are seeking legal status in the United States while also seeking a protective order or divorce from their abusive U.S.-citizen spouse and custody of any children. Establishing and growing a direct referral program between Lone Star Legal Aid and local immigration legal aid organizations will help to holistically meet the legal needs of both refugees resettling in Houston and the immigrant victims of domestic violence and human trafficking.
During her Fellowship, Amanda:
- Provided advice and brief service to nearly 70 immigrant domestic violence victims, supporting their right to apply for a protective order and file for divorce and child custody in Texas
- Provided full representation of nearly 40 immigrant clients on family law matters, parental rights termination, guardian-ship designation, protective orders, divorce and child custody
- Developed a direct referral program with Catholic Charities Center for Immigration Assistance, YMCA International, Kids in Need of Defense, and Casa Juan Diego Shelter
Mani addressed the issue of disproportionate minority contact through a holistic approach by providing legal representation to children who are in the criminal justice system, the mental health system and the foster care system. Mani’s project allowed an attorney to provide wrap-around legal services to children in foster care, rather than having several attorneys represent one child for various legal issues. This was a new approach to dealing with the significant overlap of involvement that individual foster care youths face in numerous legal systems, like the criminal justice, child welfare, health care, and educational systems. By allowing an attorney to become familiar with the child and their needs, they were able to successfully advocate for the child. Additionally, the project worked with various foster care organizations to provide trainings for foster care parents.
In the past two years, Mani has:
- Provided direct representation in school disciplinary, special education, and criminal proceedings for over 63 clients.
- Testified before the committees of both chambers of the Texas Legislature and worked to help pass a bill decriminalizing school truancy.
- Developed a collaboration with the Randall O. Sorrels Legal Clinic at South Texas College of Law, through which he provided legal assistance to transition-age youth who are in Child Protective Services’ (CPS) care and need assistance in criminal matters
Where are they now?
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Mani plans to:
- Continue providing holistic representation to youth who are in multiple systems through his host organization, The Earl Carl Institute For Legal and Social Policy, Inc.
Amanda will provide disaster-related services to help disaster survivors stabilize, recover, and rebuild after the severe storms, tornadoes, straight-line winds and flooding that recently occurred in south and east Texas.
Beginning 5/4/15, and continuing, several storms hit south and east Texas causing major flood and wind damage to citizens’ homes, vehicles, and other property. This area was declared a federal disaster, and survivors need help to rebuild their lives after the storms that destroyed their homes and personal property. Legal problems can result from disasters like these recent floods. It is essential that Texans receive the legal assistance they need to get their lives back on track and to recover.
Brettney assisted people who are on probation, a diversion program, or recently/pre-release inmates who need to re-integrate and become stable members of the community by assisting them with obtaining the resources and legal assistance necessary to maintain a living that keeps them healthy, working, in a home, and out of jail.
Currently, low income detainees facing criminal justice detention are provided criminal representation for their current case but have no legal support services to support their successful reentry through ID restoration, clearance of other criminal history, advocacy for reinstatement of public benefits, and reentry education. Provision of these services would smooth the reentry process and facilitate access to employment, housing, healthcare and reduction of recidivism.
In the past two years, Brettney has:
- Handled 91 expunction and non-disclosure matters, as well as 164 drivers’ license eligibility matters, to help clients to gain access to housing and employment
- Developed and presented Legal Education covering 11 different areas of rights to empower people of this community and population
- Obtained over $57,000 in cash benefits for clients by helping courts understand how fines and fees prevented this population from moving forward with their lives post incarceration
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Brettney plans to continue her project for this population and expand it to more probation, re-entry, and pre-release facilities across the Houston Area.
Roberto Flores is a 2018 Equal Justice Works Fellow serving in the Disaster Recovery Legal Corps (DRLC). As native of Houston, Roberto has seen the city devastated by many natural disasters. Additionally, coming from an immigrant family, he understands how valuable legal assistance can be for those who may not know where to seek help. Roberto has been with YMCA International since 2014, and he will continue working with unaccompanied minors and providing direct representation to immigrants in matters such as family-based petitions, adjustment of status, naturalization, and affirmative asylum.
Roberto’s project includes assisting immigrants and mixed-status families affected by Hurricane Harvey with immigration legal services. These services include defense work for individuals in immigration court proceedings at the Houston Immigration Courts and helping individuals apply for asylum, cancellation of removal, and other forms of relief. Roberto also assists individuals submitting applications to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office for immigration benefits such as family petitions, adjustment of status, naturalization, and affirmative asylum.
Roberto obtained his B.A. in political science and psychology from the University of Houston and his J.D. from the South Texas College of Law. He is also proficient in Spanish.