Lydia Harris

The Project

Lydia will help LGBTQIA+ survivors of violence in the Texas Rio Grande Valley through outreach, education, and direct representation.

Instances of violence, including family and intimate partner violence, have increased and become more severe since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has had exacerbating effects for LGBTQIA+ individuals, who experience violence at rates greater than or equal to their cisgender, heterosexual counterparts. These survivors face unique barriers to access survivor support resources that are not also experienced by their cisgender, heterosexual counterparts.

LGBTQIA+ survivors in the Rio Grande Valley face systemic barriers related to poverty and lack of access to resources. This project focuses on the legal needs of LGBTQIA+ survivors of violence and will contribute to existing community resources.

Fellowship Plans

During the Fellowship, Lydia will help LGBTQIA+ individuals in the Rio Grande Valley with protective orders, divorce and custody orders, and name changes. They will also engage with LGBTQIA+ communities through community partnerships and Know Your Rights sessions. Lydia will seek to connect existing resources within the Rio Grande Valley and create a network of care for LGBTQIA+ survivors of violence.

As a queer person who has seen firsthand how difficult it is to access culturally humble, affirming resources for LGBTQIA+ survivors of violence, I knew I wanted to become that kind of resource for other LGBTQIA+ survivors.

Lydia Harris /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Meghan provided legal advocacy to domestic violence victims in Bexar County, Texas, to deter and reduce the growing number of violations of civil family law court orders through direct representation services and the development of a comprehensive community education program.

Meghan provided litigation services to seek enforcement and modification of g court orders for domestic violence survivors, to ensure that survivors received promised safety and resources. Additionally, she developed and conducted comprehensive training for local law enforcement, social services providers, legal professionals, and survivors to enable those parties to effectively identify and prevent violations of court orders. The goal was to not only deter violations of court orders regarding domestic violence, but, more importantly, to enable survivors and their families to achieve protection and stability through increased community support.

Fellowship Highlights

During her Fellowship, Meghan:

  • Provided full representation to 41 clients, the majority of whom sought protective orders, and enforcement and/or modification of existing civil court orders regarding conservatorship, child support, and property division
  • Provided more than 50 general advice and counsel letters to educate her clients about Texas family and domestic violence law, as well as other issues
  • Established systematic referral relationships with Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, Inc. and the Crisis Response Team of the San Antonio Police Department (SAPD)
  • Developed and presented domestic violence law workshops to various community stakeholders, including SAPD’s Special Victims Unit and Crisis Response team
  • Co-presented “How to Effectively Represent Victims of Domestic Violence” at the 2014 Texas Poverty Law Conference
  • Developed and conducted the weekly know-your-rights class to the residents of the Battered Women and Children’s Shelter of Bexar County

Next Steps

After the completion of her fellowship in 2014, Meghan joined the Policy Department within the Office of Chief Counsel for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, focusing primarily on policy and legislative matters regarding women’s health, family violence services, and Medicaid service delivery for children in state conservatorship. In 2020, Meghan became Associate Director for the legal team providing support for state-operated mental health facilities and community programs for mental health, behavioral health, and intellectual and developmental disabilities services. In this role, she oversees a team of attorneys that collaborate with statewide mental health and IDD services stakeholder groups, legislative and advocacy organizations, and local courts, prosecutors, and defense attorneys to work towards ensuring and bettering access and quality of care to individuals and their families.

In 2019 Meghan was recognized as the Distinguished Young Alum by the St. Mary’s School of Law Alumni Association and in 2018 as the Outstanding Young Lawyer by the Austin Young Lawyers Association.

Media

Where Are They Now: Equal Justice Works Alumni Reflections Panel

The Project

Leslie advocates on behalf of children with disabilities in South Texas to ensure access to Early Childhood Intervention and Special Education services.

A child’s education is the backbone of their intellectual and social development, and it may determine the quality of life they will get to enjoy as an adult. The supports and services a child with a disability receives before and during their K-12 education are critical to their development. Despite the importance of these services and the rising numbers of children with disabilities, there has been a significant decline in Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) funding per enrolled child. Additionally, special education services in Texas have had a history of being underfunded and under-supported. Children with disabilities in South Texas are more vulnerable to the negative systemic effect of the underfunding of services because of the language and cultural barriers that exist in a predominantly Hispanic community.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

So far during the Fellowship, Leslie has:

  • Helped over 20 families of very young children with disabilities have access to appropriate special education supports and services
  • Filed and successfully settled a due process complaint in a special education matter in which a child with a disability was being denied access to services
  • Developed and published an entire page of Early Childhood Intervention information and resources in English and Spanish on Disability Rights Texas’ website (www.disabilityrightstx.org/en/category/eci/)
  • Collaborated with the community and statewide organizations to conduct presentations on Early Childhood Intervention and Special Education, reaching over 1,000 attendees including parents of children with disabilities, school staff who work with students with disabilities, ECI program staff, other professionals who work with young children with disabilities and low income, immigrant communities
  • Collaborating with 12 groups, including pediatric hospitals and other non-profits serving the immigrant and disability community, to expand the reach and impact of the project

Next Steps

In the next year, Leslie plans to:

  • Represent more families in special education meetings and due process proceedings, as well as file a systemic complaint
  • Continue to partner with local and statewide organizations to expand outreach by conducting presentations and distributing resources

Media

Texas Access to Justice Commission honors St. Mary’s Law for pro bono service

My brother has taught me how to embrace diversity and differences through compassion and service, and my family’s experience with my brother’s disability has taught me the power of being relentless in the pursuit of justice.

Leslie Alvarez /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Human trafficking is modern-day slavery. It is the exploitation of men, women, and children for forced/coerced labor or sex by a third-party for profit or gain. A common fallacy is that human trafficking is a crime that is found in city streets and dark motel rooms and therefore victims are not easily identifiable.  Human trafficking victims work in a myriad of industries, not limited to: domestic servitude, escort services, construction, field/farm labor, landscaping and the restaurant industry. Victims are usually vulnerable and searching for financial opportunities. Traffickers promise wages, opportunities for legal status, and a better way of life then what they are currently experiencing and induce them into working for them for little to no pay. Human traffickers can be family, significant others, and employers. 

Unfortunately, it is one of the leading and fastest growing economic industries, one which Texas is not immune to. The chains that bind them are invisible, therefore they are either not detected by law enforcement and/or medical personnel and sometimes can be confused for domestic violence. Most victims do not self-identify as victims of human trafficking and the fear that has been instilled in them against law enforcement and the shame that accompanies the work they were forced to engage in impacts them from reaching out for assistance and services. The threats they face are far too great sometimes for them to attempt an escape. Therefore, statistics will always be skewed as victims are misidentified, deported or incarcerated without proper screening or simply do not ever speak up. 

Angela’s goal was to provide culturally competent, trauma-informed legal services to U.S. citizen and foreign national survivors of trafficking throughout 68 county service areas in Texas. Additionally, Angela provided direct representation for survivors, focused on immigration relief, including, but not limited to, T- and U- visas. She assisted survivors with direct representation for wage and hour claims or other civil remedies to recover money damages related to victims’ trafficking, crime victims’ rights services, including assistance with reporting to law enforcement. Providing counsel and advice and referrals for survivors who do not desire or whose legal issues do not require direct representation is another service she offered to victims. Furthermore, she assisted victims in cooperating with law enforcement investigations and accompaniment at criminal hearings and trials. 

Angela’s passion for helping others find their voice coupled with her desire for human dignity motivate her and challenge her to champion for these victims. Her past work in the non-profit and government sector working with the low to moderate income and most vulnerable of populations have provided the foundation needed in building rapport with her clients and identifying their immediate needs to provide effective and long-lasting benefits. 

Media

Supporting Human Trafficking Survivors Through Civil Legal Aid

From my previous career, I know it takes years to build a network. But thanks to the Fellowship, I have a wealth of connections—professionals with great knowledge and experience I can call on.”

Angela Martinez-Alvarado /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Deyanira addressed the legal issues of those affected by Hurricane Ike by recruiting pro bono attorneys and volunteer law students. Additionally, Deyanira assisted low-income Houston residents with their legal issues even if they were not affected by the hurricane.

The Project

Meghan provided legal advocacy to domestic violence victims in Bexar County, Texas, to deter and reduce the growing number of violations of civil family law court orders through direct representation services and the development of a comprehensive community education program.

Meghan provided litigation services to enforce existing court orders for domestic violence victims, ensuring that victims receive promised safety and resources. Additionally, she developed and conducted comprehensive training for local law enforcement, legal profession-als, and victims to enable those parties to effectively identify and prevent violations of court orders. The desired outcome is not only to deter violations of court orders regarding domestic violence, but, more importantly, to enable victims and their families to achieve protection and stability.

Fellowship Highlights

During her Fellowship, Meghan:

  • Provided full representation to 41 clients, the majority of whom sought protective orders, and enforcement and/or modification of existing civil court orders regarding conservatorship, child support, and property division
  • Written more than 50 general advice and counsel letters to educate her clients about Texas family and domestic violence law, as well as other issues
  • Established systematic referral relationships with Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, Inc. and the Crisis Response Team of the San Antonio Police Department (SAPD)
  • Developed and presented domestic violence law workshops to various community stakeholders, including SAPD’s Special Victims Unit and Crisis Response team
  • Co-presented “How to Effectively Represent Victims of Domestic Violence” with Equal Justice Works Fellow Sarah Loeffler at the 2014 Texas Poverty Law Conference
  • Taught the weekly know-your-rights class to the residents of the Battered Women and Children’s Shelter of Bexar County

The Project

Emily developed a juvenile division in Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas’s Abilene office that provided education and advocacy for youth struggling with homelessness and opportunity barriers created by their prior involvement with the justice system.

There are more than 100,000 runaway and homeless youth in Texas each year, hundreds from Abilene. Abilene is a relatively small town of 117,000, but its youth population struggles with many of the same issues as youth in much larger metropolitan areas: homelessness, unstable home life, and involvement in the juvenile justice system. Even minor offenses can impede securing future meaningful employment, higher education, and freedom from the transgressions of youth. Most of these youth are unaware of the possibility of sealing or expunging their juvenile records. Northwest Texas, however, has lacked free legal services specifically dedicated to serving its youth, and helping them get on the right track as they approach adulthood.

Fellowship Highlights

During her Fellowship, Emily has:

  • Directly assisted more than 315 clients in overcoming legal barriers impeding independent and successful adulthood, 155 of whom received full representation
  • Published two Youth Rights Handbooks discussing the rights of unaccompanied minors and the effects of juvenile referrals
  • Led 26 workshops, continuing legal education courses, and presentations regarding juvenile matters throughout the state. Emily led two seminars at the 2015 Texas Poverty Law Conference and taught six additional legal education courses. She was invited to address and educate all of the Homeless Student Liaisons in the Region 14 Educational Service Center district about the rights of homeless and unaccompanied public school students
  • Developed relationships with countless community organizations, spreading the word about legal aid services available to juveniles, such as juvenile probation departments, local courts, community resource coordination groups, the West Texas Homeless Network and more

Where are they now?

Now that the Fellowship is complete, Emily will continue her juvenile-focused work with the Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas and train additional attorneys to handle juvenile specific matters.

The Project

Through the Legal Services for Unaccompanied Children Project, justice AmeriCorps – Equal Justice Works Fellows will conduct thorough intakes of potentially-qualifying children. Fellows will offer direct legal representation to qualifying children in their removal proceedings as well as before United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) and certain family court proceedings related to a child’s immigration case. The justice AmeriCorps – Equal Justice Works fellows will screen clients for trauma, abuse and trafficking and make referrals to additional services, as appropriate.

I hope that our collective effort will allow for more unaccompanied minors to be represented and that in the future, there will be free universal representation of minors in immigration proceedings.

Luz E. Ruiz /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Ryan offered direct legal representation to qualifying children in their removal proceedings as well as before United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) and certain family court proceedings related to a child’s immigration case. Additionally, Ryan screened clients for trauma, abuse and trafficking and make referrals to additional services, as appropriate.

The Project

Provide direct representation to post 9/11, female and LGBTQ veterans who are homeless or at risk for homelessness, while establishing a new Medical Legal Partnership in the Boston Metro Area, and growing existing relationships with organizations assisting these subpopulations.

The Inspiration

Need Addressed By Project

Studies have shown that female and LGBTQ veterans are unable to utilize their benefits as veterans, either due to lack of information or wrongful discharge status. Post 9/11 veterans are less comfortable accessing legal services in the traditional ways in which they are offered. Legal aid must adapt in order to effectively represent a younger generation of veterans.

The Right Person For This Project

Kristen is the right person for the project because:

  • She represented veterans in administrative hearings as a Rule 3.03 Certified Law Student Advocate with Veterans Legal Services
  • She assisted attorneys with full and limited representation of domestic violence victims as a clerk for the Bexar County Family Justice Center and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid
  • As the child of a Vietnam veteran, she has a personal connection to veterans and a unique understanding of the important role that legal aid may play for this population
  • She has over 10 years of experience in community organizing and working with low-income populations

Plans For First Six Months of Fellowship

In the first six months, Kristen will:

  • Identify and provide direct services to homeless veterans or those or those at-risk for homelessness in the Boston Metro area
  • Begin research for post 9/11 veteran intake system by interviewing veterans in the target group, reviewing studies, and identifying possible program options
  • Begin collaboration with site for Medical Legal Partnership and develop specific timeline for opening site at the Women’s Health Center
  • Reach out to LGBTQ groups and health centers in the area to create plan for increasing representation