Jonathan Contreras

The Project

Jonathan (Jon) (he/him/his) will advocate for the repatriation of deported veterans through direct representation, policy reform, and coalition building.

For over 200 years, the United States has promised immigrant service members an expedited path to citizenship in exchange for their sacrifices. Yet for decades, the U.S. has failed to provide these service members with the citizenship they are due. As a result, hundreds of veterans were left subject to deportation and banished forever from their families and the country they fought to protect. Deported veterans are owed the opportunity to return home and reform that ensures service members can naturalize and no veterans are deported moving forward.

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Jon will represent individual veterans’ repatriation claims to vacate their deportation orders and reinstate their legal residency. Through this, he will push for legal reform at the state and federal levels to increase access to repatriation for other deported veterans. In addition, he will help build a coalition of veterans’ and immigrants’ rights activists, legal service providers, and deported veterans themselves. This coalition will support the needs of deported veterans up to and after their repatriation. Additionally, Jonathan will work with this coalition to push the DHS to adopt policies that prevent future veteran deportations and ensure that immigrant service members can naturalize.

As the child of Mexican immigrants, I am proud to stand with this community. Deported veterans fought for this country and for their right to repatriate—we owe it to them to finally bring them home.

Jonathan Contreras /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Caroline (she/her/hers) will use consumer protection laws to advocate on behalf of low-income individuals affected by the criminal legal system through direct representation, education, and policy reform.

Fines, fees, and criminal justice debt exacerbate the harms of involvement with the criminal legal system. Courts impose monetary sanctions for the vast majority of criminal convictions, which, even for minor offenses, can amount to thousands of dollars due to late fees and interest. Individuals and their families are also preyed upon by private actors who profit off of the criminal legal system, including bail agents, prison telecommunications providers, and criminal background screening companies, many of which perform background checks inaccurately or unlawfully. These harmful practices disproportionately impact people of color and impede individuals’ abilities to secure housing, obtain employment, and build wealth.

Caroline is motivated to join the National Consumer Law Center’s team as a Fellow so that she can harness consumer law as one means of addressing the deep and varied harms propagated by the criminal legal system.

Fellowship Plans

Caroline will use consumer law to advocate on behalf of low-income individuals harmed by the criminal legal system. She will represent individuals who have been injured by criminal background screening companies that unlawfully report their criminal records to prospective landlords and employers. She will also develop litigation materials to help legal services providers more effectively advocate on behalf of clients with these kinds of claims. Additionally, she will advocate for policy reform and produce a report on fines and fees associated with alternative forms of punishment, such as electronic monitoring.

Interning with the National Consumer Law Center exposed me to the ways predatory financial interests lengthen and compound criminal-system involvement for already-marginalized individuals and their loved ones.

Caroline Cohn /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Rachel (she/her/hers) will expand immigration services for older teens to an underserved region of Washington State through direct representation, community outreach, education, and pro bono partnerships.

Undocumented teenagers are uniquely vulnerable to violence, poverty, and adverse educational outcomes. Securing permanent legal status allows them to launch into adulthood with the stability they need to achieve their goals. Many of these young people may be eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), an underutilized form of immigration relief for certain children abused, neglected, or abandoned by a parent. SIJS is a powerful status that creates a pathway to citizenship, but applicants must navigate both state family courts and federal immigration proceedings to qualify—all before they turn twenty-one.

Youth in immigration proceedings have no right to court-appointed counsel, but they need attorneys to navigate this complex process. In three counties north of Seattle, Rachel will be the first attorney dedicated to securing SIJS and other immigration relief for older teens before they age out of eligibility. 

Rachel taught in middle and elementary schools for eight years before deciding to attend law school and fight for immigrant justice and human rights. Her fiery students inspired her to work for the world that should be, and not settle for the one that is.

Fellowship Plans

Rachel’s Fellowship project has three prongs. She will partner with schools and community organizations to raise awareness about SIJS and identify youth who may be eligible for SIJS or other forms of immigration relief. Next, she will recruit and train volunteer attorneys in Snohomish, Skagit, and Whatcom Counties to represent SIJS clients, and educate them on upcoming changes in Washington law that will alter the process in state court. At the same time, she will be directly representing youth clients in both family court and immigration proceedings.

As a teacher, I worked with students and parents who came to the United States from all over the world. They were proud of their resilient families and passionate about immigrant justice. Now I am too.

Rachel Sohl /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Leveraging the expertise of Prison Law Office, A.D. (he/him/his and they/them/theirs) will advocate alongside incarcerated and detained trans people with disabilities in jails. His work will challenge harmful and discriminatory conditions of confinement.

Trans people (including transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary individuals) experience significant discrimination, mistreatment, and violence in California prisons, jails, immigration detention centers, and psychiatric facilities, including sexual and physical violence, solitary confinement, inadequate mental health and medical care, harassment, and denials of fundamental self-expression. These deplorable conditions make locked facilities uniquely disabling for trans people. They cause high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal ideation, and other mental health conditions, and exacerbate trans individuals’ existing mental health conditions. By focusing on marginalized and underserved trans people, this project will challenge the structural barriers that trans people with disabilities face when seeking justice, fair treatment, and adequate care.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the first year of the Fellowship, A.D. has:

  • Provided brief service, referrals, and legal advice to hundreds of individuals, including 68 in person visits, 18 video visits, 88 phone calls and 145 letters, and distributed hundreds of resources.
  • Leveraged structured negotiations and litigation to secure strong protections for LGBTQ+ individuals in multiple County jails
  • Testified to the State Legislature about County Jail conditions
  • Developed and provided trainings and presentations on the intersections of disability justice, trans liberation, and abolition

Next Steps

In the next year, A.D. plans to:

  • Expand the project into other types of locked facilities
  • Develop Know Your Rights packets and other resources for incarcerated individuals
  • Work with sponsors and community organizations to increase the project’s pro bono capacity

Media

Celebrating the 2021 Fellows Upholding LGBTQ+ Rights

As a trans lawyer, I will fight for the most marginalized people in my community. They deserve fierce legal advocacy and caring community.

A.D. Lewis /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Noah aspires to reduce imprisonment in Illinois by ensuring that people on parole have full access to their constitutional rights—including effective procedural protections and state-funded representation—and by reducing the use of incarceration as the default response to perceived parole violations.

After finishing a prison sentence, most Illinoisan’s freedom is contingent on compliance with stringent conditions of release. Upon suspecting a violation, parole agents can lock someone up without judicial oversight. Every year, about seven thousand people on parole are sent back to prison for technical violations like losing touch with parole agents, moving without permission or failing to sign up for mental health services. The vast majority are unrepresented by counsel during their revocation proceedings.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the first twelve months, Noah has:

  • Provided advice and brief services regarding the mandatory supervised release system to approximately 50 people.
  • Provided full representation to 12 clients and reunited 10 individuals with their families through direct representation during parole revocation proceedings and administrative appeals.
  • Provided information about peoples’ due process rights and procedural options while facing parole revocation to dozens of detained people facing revocation (or their loved ones).

Next Steps

In the next year, Noah plans to:

  • Develop systemic-reform litigation.
  • Support a coalition of advocates dedicated to transforming Illinois parole.
  • Conduct workshops, meet with legislators and develop public education materials for individuals facing revocation.

It is a tragedy that incarceration is often Illinois’s first response to people who need help—the Constitution promises a more generous world to all of us.

Noah Breslau /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Julia enforced the ADA rights of welfare recipients with disabilities through direct services, administrative advocacy, and the creation of accessible training programs.

What’s Next?

Julia is the executive director of the John Paul Stevens Fellowship Foundation, investing in summer public interest fellowships for law students who want to build careers in civil rights, legal aid, and public defense. Previously Julia served as CEO of OneJustice, where she led the organization’s work to bring life-changing legal help to Californians in need through a statewide network of law firms, law schools, corporate legal departments, and 100+ nonprofit legal organizations.

Media

Broadening Access to Justice in Rural California

Civil Justice: The Promise of America

I wake up every single day of my life and I'm so thankful for the work that I have done and that I get to do. I'm so grateful for that initial investment in my career.

Julia R. Wilson /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Nathan will design, advocate for, and implement robust public defense services in Texas to serve the legal needs of indigent arrestees, starting in Austin/Travis County and applying lessons from that process across the state.

The quality of counsel low-income defendants in Texas receive varies widely based on where they are arrested and what kind of indigent defense system the county has established. While everyone is entitled to counsel for most offenses, the systems and lawyers providing representation have limited oversight – meaning that defendants with deficient attorneys often have no recourse. When people don’t receive adequate representation they are more likely to be incarcerated, convicted, and sentenced more harshly than people with a zealous defense.

Before law school, Nate worked to provide legal and holistic support services to indigent defendants and their families at the Orleans Public Defenders, where he realized the importance of adequately-resourced defense counsel to vindicate the rights of defendants. He believes that vigorously defending individual rights in criminal cases is critical to advancing not just fundamental fairness but also broader issues of economic, racial, and gender justice.

Fellowship Plans

Before law school, Nate worked to provide legal and holistic support services to indigent defendants and their families at the Orleans Public Defenders, where he realized the importance of adequately-resourced defense counsel to vindicate the rights of defendants. He believes that vigorously defending individual rights in criminal cases is critical to advancing not just fundamental fairness but also broader issues of economic, racial, and gender justice.

When someone has a zealous advocate, it doesn’t just change that one person’s life—it can be transformative for their family and the community as a whole.

Nathan Fennell /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Lauren will interrupt the cycle of poverty and improve the life outcomes of LA’s transition-age foster youth by preventing and challenging vehicle impoundments that perpetuate hardships and punish indigence.

LA County serves over 25,000 foster youth in the nation’s largest foster care system. These youth face a dramatic reduction in support and resources when they turn 18. Without an adult to guide them through the processes of obtaining car registration, insurance, and a license, they are at greater risk of amassing Vehicle Code violations that can lead to car impoundment. When an affected youth cannot pay fees associated with impoundment, the car is sold and the youth still owes outstanding loans on the car they no longer possess, while struggling with the consequences of having no car in the vast, dispersed region of LA.

In law school, Lauren worked with homeless and low-income adult clients who were underserved throughout their lives at times when additional support would have mattered. She hopes that by serving young clients, she can interrupt patterns that inhibit independence before they begin.

Fellowship Plans

Lauren’s project will prevent impoundments before they occur and challenge those that do occur. She will host legal clinics to counsel transition-age foster youth through Vehicle Code violations and offer direct representation to youth with traffic citations or parking tickets that make them vulnerable to impoundment. Lauren will also represent youth at impoundment hearings and update a state-wide advocacy manual to guide others through the process of challenging impoundments.

The Project

Claire assisted severely debt-burdened borrowers in California in managing and discharging their federal student loan debts, and particularly addressed abusive practices by predatory for-profit colleges and student loan servicers.

Fellowship Plan

Federal student loan debt has grown tremendously in the U.S. in recent years: currently, there are approximately 45 million people holding $1.7 trillion in such debts. Approximately one-third will not be able to make their payments, the majority of whom attended for-profit colleges. This crisis is particularly acute for low-income communities and people of color, who are targeted through aggressive advertising and marketing. Borrowers’ legal rights to various types of federal student debt discharge and to more optimal repayment plans are under-enforced and insufficiently vindicated. Education should be a key to social mobility, personal development, and achieving one’s life aspirations. The industries that have exploited this promise in pursuit of private profits harm students and society at large and must be held accountable

Fellowship Highlights

During the two-year Fellowship, Claire has:

  • Assisted approximately 160 clients with managing student loan repayment and defaults; applying for student loan forgiveness; and student loan servicing issues
  • Obtained federal student loan discharges for clients totaling over $200,000; and $10,460 in refunds from the California Student Tuition Recovery Fund
  • Worked in conjunction with co-counsel on litigation challenging the Department of Education’s unlawful handling of borrower defense to repayment applications

Next Steps

Claire will continue to advocate for robust consumer protection for student loan borrowers at the Student Borrower Protection Center, based in Washington D.C.

Media

Education Department Officials Secretly Rigged Process to Deny Borrower Defense Applications For Debt Relief, Project on Predatory Student Lending

College Enrollment Drops, Student Debt Grows: Will Debt Cancellation Help?

Andrea Campos, like many others, is struggling to stay financially afloat with student loans

The Inspiration