John Ross McCullough

The Inspiration

The Project

Jennifer helped low-income immigrant and beginning family farmers in Minnesota navigate myriad legal issues and access government programs through direct representation, outreach and education, and administrative advocacy.

The Inspiration

Need Addressed By Project

Many of Minnesota’s new farmers come from Hmong, Latino, and other immigrant communities who aspire to make a living by reclaiming their cultural traditions in farming. Often living in poverty, these farmers have achieved a fragile success, which is threatened every day by significant legal, administrative, and cultural conflicts and misunderstandings. Farming is a heavily regulated industry that requires thorough understanding of zoning, food safety, environmental, and other applicable laws. Moreover, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) agricultural loan, insurance, and risk management programs are critical financial lifelines, but require adherence to strict criteria and deadlines. Minnesota USDA officials often lack the cultural competence needed to effectively help immigrant farmers whose native language is not English. Also, USDA officials often are unfamiliar with the smaller, diversified operations managed by many beginning farmers. Immigrant and beginning farmers need legal assistance to ensure access to government benefits critical to small farm surviva

Fellowship Highlights

During her Fellowship, Jennifer:
• Provided full representation to nearly 100 immigrant and beginning farmers on such matters as lease negotiations and drafting, cooperative formation and governance, and accessing government farming programs
• Collaborated with partner organizations to hold 26 workshops and trainings that reached more than 500 immigrant and beginning farmers on a wide range of legal topics, including government cost-sharing programs for farmers, civics, loan programs, labor and employment law for small-scale vegetable farmers, farm internships, farm transitions and leasing, accepting food stamp vouchers, and licensing requirements for produce reselling
• Researched, written, and published the “Farmers’ Guide to the Farm Service Agency Microloan Program,” a comprehensive guide to help all potential borrowers—from immigrant farmers with no credit history to more seasoned borrowers—access the agency’s microloan program
• Created and distributed legal educational materials to nearly 1,000 farmers

The Project

The project includes identifying unaccompanied minors in Maryland who are in need of representation in immigration court, screening for relief, and providing legal services and referrals to relevant non-legal services. The project’s goals are seeking to ensure that as many of the unaccompanied children in removal proceedings in the Baltimore immigration court get excellent representation as possible, including by working with other legal and social services providers and pro bono attorneys, and to facilitate identification of children who may have been abused, trafficked or traumatized and acting to address those needs.

Immigrant children who flee from their home countries without their parents are uniquely vulnerable to many forms of exploitation and abuse. Unaccompanied children of course face the multiple barriers to stability and success experienced by other undocumented individuals. However, as children who are often without adult protection, these children will face even more challenges navigating an unfamiliar legal system in a country where the principal language is not their own, while also seeking stability within new family structures, new school systems, and a completely new culture. Additionally, the unaccompanied children who are coming from Central America in larger numbers in the last few years are typically fleeing from a variety of types of violence or extreme poverty. In order that these children be treated in a manner that reflects the child welfare standards typical in other U.S. court proceedings involving children and in a manner that acknowledges the unique vulnerabilities of children fleeing violence, traumatic experiences and poverty, these children need competent representatives who can assist them in navigating the legal system and in accessing other needed services.

The project addresses the need for unaccompanied minors to receive legal assistance in presenting their claims before the immigration court. A recent, nonpartisan study by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse indicated that the strongest factor influencing the outcome of unaccompanied children’s immigration cases was whether those children had a legal representative. The forms of immigration relief for which many children are eligible involve many complicated steps and gathering lots of information and documentation. This has proven very difficult for children forced to navigate the system alone when they are unable to find legal representation.

Additionally, many children who have made the dangerous journey to the United States, or who are fleeing from violence in their home countries, need other, non-legal services to heal from trauma and achieve safety here in the U.S. Wherever possible, we seek to connect our clients with those services.

Having worked alongside immigrants advocating for immigration reform and with immigrant families in the Midwest, Los Angeles, and in the Washington and Baltimore metro areas, my eyes have been opened to the many ways that lack of access to justice impacts low-income immigrant communities. As such, I am committed to the mission of helping immigrants, particularly children, overcome those barriers and achieve their goals despite the many challenges facing them and to improving systems to remove many of these barriers.
As I have more than five years of intensive experience working in the field of immigration law and preparing applications as a paralegal, law clerk and a student attorney, including on a variety of remedies available to victims of persecution and violent crime, I am well equipped to assist minors with their petitions. Having worked in positions requiring Spanish fluency for more than 6 years, including as a medical interpreter, I am well equipped to communicate effectively with Spanish-speaking immigrant children and their families.

Fellowship Plans

  • Develop and amend screening and intake materials for use with unaccompanied children in immigrant proceedings.
  • Participate in informational presentations and screen for relief at the Baltimore Immigration Court’s unaccompanied child dockets.
  • Begin accepting cases and providing representation to children screened at court.
  • Build relationships with other legal and social services providers to increase referral network and increase representation of children both in immigration court and the family law court of Special Immigrant Juvenile cases.
  • Develop and increase expertise in screening for trafficking and trauma, representing unaccompanied minors, and local practices in the D.C. and Baltimore immigration legal services community.