Evelyn Garcia Lopez

The Project

Evelyn will provide pro se record sealing resources to low-income individuals in Harris County, Texas through an innovative, technology-driven tool.

The free, public self-help website ClearYourRecordHarrisCounty.org, launched by The Beacon in August 2021, and made possible through funding from the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, allows any individual with a Harris County criminal record to determine eligibility to seal their record through nondisclosure and navigate through the step-by-step process of self-filing in Harris County.

There are approximately 400,000 individuals with Harris County criminal records who are eligible to have all or part of their record sealed. This Fellowship project is focused on connecting with those individuals whose records are preventing them from accessing housing, employment, and educational opportunities. In doing so, the project seeks to address the racial and economic disparities reflected in the criminal justice system.

Fellowship Plans

Evelyn will help users navigate ClearYourRecordHarrisCounty.org and the pro se process, and she will track and troubleshoot common barriers in navigating the site. She will provide direct representation for ancillary civil legal issues to wholly remove individuals’ legal obstacles to employment and housing. Through case manager workshops and clinics, she will also help community organizations and pro bono attorneys assist users in completing the forms for filing. The long-term goal of the project is to increase the number of pro se filings and to work with courts and government entities to improve procedures for pro se filers in Harris County.

For people who do not have much, a criminal record becomes the weight that keeps them from accessing all the basic things that help one thrive in life: an education, a good job, and a place to live. By removing legal barriers, this project creates opportunity and gives people in need a chance to overcome other obstacles in their lives.

Evelyn Garcia Lopez /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Claire (she/her/hers) will provide appellate representation to detained indigent immigrants in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, with a focus on direct representation, pro se education, and pro bono attorney training.

Although being ordered removed from the United States is arguably the most disruptive event in the life of an immigrant and their family, most immigrants go through the removal process without having an attorney and without truly understanding their rights and options. Once individuals lose their case in immigration court, their last opportunity to challenge their removal is to appeal, but they have very few options for finding counsel to represent them on appeal, especially if they are indigent and detained. In the entire Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, there are only a few nonprofit organizations that are willing to represent detained immigrants and none currently have the resources to do more than a handful of appeals.

Claire aims to remedy this lack of resources and representation for individuals in immigration detention who want to appeal their cases and help increase fairness in the removal proceeding process. Claire’s desire to keep families together motivates her work to help immigrant detainees.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Claire will represent immigrant detainees in their immigration appeals. She will develop resources to give detainees a better understanding of the appeals process so that they can represent themselves when Claire is unable to. She will also build her host organization’s network of pro bono attorneys willing to represent detainees on appeal.

Media

Claire Brown '20 Receives Equal Justice Works Fellowship

No one deserves to be separated from the life they know or forced to live without their family simply because they couldn't afford an attorney to appeal their case. Or were detained. Or didn't understand the law.

Claire Brown /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Ms. Mohseen focused on advocating for Muslim inmates and detainees denied access to religious accommodations as guaranteed by the law.

Through her Fellowship project, Ms. Mohseen sought to address the issue of unmet religious accommodation needs of Muslim inmates and detainees. Despite laws which protect the right of institutionalized people to practice their chosen religion with limits only where the limit is in furtherance of a compelling government interest that cannot be accomplished in a less restrictive way, the lived reality is that many Muslim inmates and detainees are denied accommodations and therefore must violate their religious beliefs. With a large percentage of the U.S. prison population self-identifying as Muslim, and with this number presumably increasing or staying constant due to conversion while in prison, this is an issue which will continue to arise.

Fellowship Highlights

Ms. Mohseen developed and published a comprehensive model handbook that outlines various beliefs of different sects of Islam generally as it pertains to prisons and prisoners and also addresses the law and provides examples of best practices, particularly as have been implemented in some facilities. Ms. Mohseen also directly represented inmates and supported other organizations’ efforts in expanding religious accommodations. Through direct representation, Ms. Mohseen was able to secure changes to policies regarding religious headwear for the entire Virginia Department of Corrections and was able to expand the availability of religious texts in a Florida civil commitment center.

Next Steps

Ms. Mohseen will remain at CLCMA as a civil staff attorney where she will continue her work on religious accommodations in prison while expanding her practice area to all civil litigation matters within the organization’s scope. She hopes to maximize the impact of strategic litigation in the prison rights space by partnering with sister organizations.

Media

Standing Up for Human Rights

Equal Justice Works Fellow: Najmu Mohseen

TAMU Law Alumna Receives A Prestigious Fellowship

Belief Behind Bars: Religious Freedom and Institutionalized Persons

Opinion: Muslim Inmates Deserve the Same Legal Rights as the Jan. 6th Insurrectionists

My purpose as a lawyer is to better the lives of the underserved and I believe that Muslims are currently one of the most underserved groups.

Najmu Mohseen /
Equal Justice Works Fellow