Nafisa Ahmed

The Project

Nafisa will provide advocacy, outreach, and direct legal services to AMEMSA (Arab Middle Eastern Muslim South Asian) domestic violence survivors in the greater Los Angeles area.

This project serves AMEMSA (Arab Middle Eastern Muslim South Asian) abuse survivors. These communities are diverse in terms of religion and language, but individuals share the burden of a legal and societal system that privileges men, and, due to taboos about the role and rights of women in intimate partner relationships, domestic violence is widespread. In the United States, many AMEMSA women face obstacles when leaving abusive relationships. AMEMSA survivors are also less likely to seek help from law enforcement due to post 9/11 American sentiments about the population groups. Financial abuse is also prevalent in AMEMSA communities. This leads survivors to feel discouraged about leaving their abuser or pursuing legal action. While many AMEMSA abusers can afford to hire attorneys, survivors are often unrepresented and are disadvantaged in the justice system.

Nafisa’s personal connection to the population group motivates her to advocate for survivors to empower themselves and end cycles of abuse.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

So far, Nafisa has accomplished the following during her Fellowship:

  • Provided direct legal services for 21 AMEMSA survivors in divorce, restraining order, and immigration matters, with Cooley’s support on one case. Nafisa also assisted 22 other domestic violence survivors outside the AMEMSA community to build substantive legal skills.
  • Created Know-Your-Rights materials for immigrant survivors of domestic violence, which were translated into Arabic, Urdu, and Hindi with Uber’s support on translating materials. The materials were distributed to partner organizations and are available online.
  • Engaged in community advocacy seminars and partnered with AMEMSA organizations to share information about legal rights when experiencing domestic violence and battle stigmas about seeking legal support.

Next Steps

In the next year, Nafisa plans to:

  • Provide direct legal services for at least 40 AMEMSA domestic violence survivors in a range of family law and immigration matters.
  • Create additional self-help materials, including a comprehensive family law guide for pro se litigants.
  • Coordinate a pro bono clinic to assist clients with applying for a temporary restraining order.
  • Continue to involve Uber and Cooley LLP in the project through legal research and clinic opportunities.

As a Bangladeshi, Muslim immigrant myself, I have witnessed the impact of domestic violence to those close to me and in my community. I want to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves.

Nafisa Ahmed /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) seeks to achieve equal justice for poor and low-income people in greater Los Angeles. LAFLA was one of the first legal aid organizations in the country to create a specialized unit to serve the Asian and Pacific Islander community in the 1990s. Jean served the Asian and Pacific Islander community in the greater Los Angeles in a variety of ways by providing direct representation, offering counsel and advice, providing referrals, and educating community members about their legal rights through workshops and seminars. Through this fellowship, Jean assisted and represented survivors of domestic violence, sexual assaults, and other serious crimes to obtain protection and adjust their status. 

As a previous Title IX Investigator, Jean offered trauma-informed services. Jean provided linguistically and culturally appropriate services to crime victims, and as a bilingual attorney, she conducted regular legal clinics in Korean to assist monolingual Korean speakers. She also regularly provided legal help at the Domestic Violence Clinic in the courthouse in Downtown LA. Through this fellowship, Jean helped protect and advance the rights of the most underserved in Los Angeles. 

The Project

Brooke provided legal services and advice to low income and homeless veterans. Also, Brooke assisted these veterans with eviction defense to avoid homelessness; expungments to remove barriers to employment; SSI/SSDI applications and appeals to ensure that disabled veterans have access to basic life necessities; and other civil legal problems that pose barriers to a veterans employment or housing.

The Project

Kevin provided representation to indigent individuals facing legal barriers to gaining employment.

The Project

Pilar provided legal representation to unaccompanied children released to sponsors in Los Angeles who fled serious forms of sexual, domestic, and gang violence, human trafficking or other heinous crimes. She will also create a social services directory to be used in Los Angeles and replicated in other Kids In Need of Defense (KIND) offices that will connect legal and non-legal service providers to better address the various obstacles that face child migrants, such as access to mental health providers and education services.

Over the past year, the United States saw a drastic increase in unaccompanied children (UACs) coming to the United States seeking safety. Many of these children are fleeing serious forms of violence, such as sexual violence, domestic violence, human trafficking, gang-based violence or other heinous crimes. The children are not provided with legal representation. They have to gather evidence, prepare declarations and argue against an experienced government attorney by themselves for the chance to stay in the United States. According to reports by the Office of Refuge Resettlement, between January 1 to July 31, 2014, 3909 UACs were released to sponsors living in California. The sponsor is often a family member or friend, but is usually someone the child has not seen in many years, if at all. In addition to navigating a complex legal system, the children and their sponsors have to navigate their way through the public school system, and figure out how to access vital non-legal social service providers, all while speaking a different language.

Fellowship Highlights

During Pilar’s Fellowship, Pilar:

  • Identified unaccompanied children who are eligible for relief
  • Recruited and train pro bono attorneys to take cases
  • Established working relationships with organizations that advocate for the non-legal needs of the children

The Project

Caroline will protect the rights of children with unmet mental health needs through direct representation and community education in education law, public benefits, and medical benefits cases. She will use these cases to identify systematic barriers to the mental health services guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act.

Children with mental health needs are not receiving proper educational accommodations, medical treatment, or legal representation in benefits, special education, and discipline proceedings. Instead, they are being systematically pushed out of schools and into prison. 35% of students with an Emotional Disturbance (ED) graduate high school—compared to the overall average of 76%. 73% of all ED students who drop out of school are arrested within five years. 85% of children in juvenile detention facilities have qualifying disabilities, but just 37% received any kind of services in their mainstream school. The Affordable Care Act (ACA), implemented in 2014, is intended to increase access to health care. It calls for more robust mental health services and requires all health plans to offer coverage for mental health services at the same rate as other traditional medical services. It is unclear how the ACA’s improvements to children’s mental health services will actually be implemented. However, it is crucial in these early stages that Medicaid advocates pay close attention and guide the process to achieve the best results for children living in poverty.

The Project

Jordan alleviated health challenges faced by low-income transgender individuals in Southern California by assisting with underlying legal issues through a Medical-Legal Partnership.

Many of the roughly 1.4 million transgender individuals in the United States live in Los Angeles County. Because few medical providers specialize in transgender care, those who do often are saturated and lack capacity to treat all of the patients in need. Doctors are in a unique position to screen for legal needs affecting patient health. Addressing primary legal issues can alleviate what eventually manifests as medical concerns, and can also increase capacity at transgender health clinics.

Fellowship Highlights

In the past two years, Jordan has:

  • Launched the Transgender Medical-Legal Partnership (MLP) with Bet Tzedek Legal Services and the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Transgender Health Program.
  • Provided legal assistance to nearly 450 clients, fighting discrimination and harassment in housing, employment, and public accommodations; appealing health insurance coverage denials of medically necessary care; and writing petitions for legal name and gender marker changes, among others.
  • Trained and recruited 366 pro bono attorneys, community volunteers, and law students to volunteer with the Transgender MLP.
  • Created Know Your Rights trainings and brochures tailored to transgender rights in housing, employment, public accommodations, and health insurance.
  • Hosted 27 legal name and gender marker change clinics.

What’s Next

Now that the Fellowship is complete, Jordan plans to:

  • Continue the work of her project at Bet Tzedek Legal Services.
  • Collect and analyze data from the Transgender MLP to determine the short-term impact of legal interventions on patient health and to support expansion of the MLP model.
  • Continue representing clients in fighting harassment and discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations, and health insurance.
  • Partner with community organizations to promote policy changes.
  • Continue hosting legal name and gender marker change clinics.