Hillary (she/her/hers) serves Minnesotans returning home from prison by providing civil legal aid and coordinating pro bono representation through the Minnesota Collaborative Justice Project.
The Minnesota Collaborative Justice Project aims to improve the experience and outcomes of formerly incarcerated Minnesotans by reducing barriers to successful reentry, including addressing their civil legal needs upon release. Unaddressed civil legal needs often create burdensome barriers to successful reentry. For example, meaningful and sustainable employment is a key factor in reducing recidivism. However, debilitating debts substantially hinder the success of clients by deterring them from participating in the formal economy. In addition, many reentering clients also need help obtaining a valid driver’s license. Reliable transportation is integral to seeking and maintaining employment; it bolsters independence and productivity while relieving stress in everyday interactions by providing accurate identification. Parental incarceration is also often an abrupt and damaging interruption to family life. Reentry provides an opportunity to reestablish parenting time and strengthen the parent-child bond, while sharing the overall responsibility of caregiving.
Hillary will promote successful reentry by offering civil legal services to formerly incarcerated individuals returning to the community in Minnesota. She will recruit pro bono lawyers and legal staff in Minnesota to provide pro bono legal services to reentry clients. She will present quarterly training programs to pro bono attorneys and empower formerly incarcerated individuals by offering triannual ‘know your rights’ programs to address the common civil legal barriers to reentry.
One tangible way I can support racial and economic justice in my city is by helping to alleviate some of my clients’ stress caused by civil legal issues. The legal work is one means to the end goal of liberation.
Hillary Richard /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Julia Potach (she/her/hers) combats racial injustices caused by the disparate impact of the “crimmigration” system through collaborative litigation and education for noncitizens who urgently need to overturn unjust convictions.
As large numbers of refugees and immigrants have made Minnesota their home, many have come in contact with the criminal justice system, which disproportionately impacts communities of color at every stage. Criminal convictions make refugees and immigrants ineligible to adjust their immigration status or seek relief, regardless of the circumstances of their arrest and evidence of rehabilitation. While post-conviction relief promises a way to successfully mitigate the adverse immigration consequences of a conviction, immigration legal service providers have historically lacked the capacity and specialized training to provide representation that spans both the federal immigration and state criminal legal systems.
Julia provided legal services to families held in the country’s largest immigration detention center before attending law school. Her work there inspired her to advocate for the most marginalized and vulnerable immigrants.
During her Fellowship, Julia will represent immigrants and refugees with criminal records, especially those who would be good candidates for post-conviction relief and have long periods of residence in the community. She will also engage in advocacy efforts to increase access to immigration-related post-conviction relief in Minnesota. Additionally, she will provide community legal education about the immigration consequences of criminal convictions and the availability of post-conviction relief vehicles to mitigate such consequences.
For many noncitizens with criminal records, post-conviction relief is the only way to remain in the United States and avoid indefinite separation from their families and communities.
Julia Potach /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Mackenzie provides outreach, education, and legal representation to young adult immigrants in Minnesota, focusing on responding to legal changes with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
DACA status can have a profound effect on an undocumented person’s life: not only because it provides protection against deportation, but also because it creates many opportunities. With DACA status, a person can get a driver’s license, a social security number, and a work permit, all of which make it easier to access education and stable, higher-paying employment. Therefore, the need for free legal representation for young adult immigrants who may be eligible for DACA is significant, especially in light of the unavailability of fee waivers for DACA applications and the intense scrutiny of immigration applications.
Mackenzie is passionate about working with immigrants because of her experience working as a student director at the Detainee Rights Clinic, where she represented detained immigrants in removal proceedings, and as an attorney-advisor at the Otay Mesa Immigration Court. Mackenzie’s experiences in immigration law further solidified her commitment to expand access to legal services for immigrant communities and to advocate for the rights of those communities.
Fellowship Highlights to Date
In the first year of the Fellowship, Mackenzie has:
- Conducted screenings and intakes for potential initial DACA filers in Minnesota and helped maintain a waitlist of almost 100 people who are hoping to apply for DACA in Minnesota.
- Trained pro bono attorneys on how to complete both DACA renewal and Initial DACA cases.
- Established collaborative partnerships with several Twin Cities area community colleges and gave presentations to students and staff about immigration 101 and immigrant rights.
- Worked with multiple clients to renew their DACA status.
- Obtained Advance Parole for a DACA client who was able to return to Mexico and visit her family for the first time in almost 16 years.
In the next year, Mackenzie plans to:
- Continue working with community colleges and local high schools by presenting students and staff with relevant immigration legal information and possibly providing immigration legal assistance onsite.
- Continue working with pro bono attorneys on DACA renewal and initial cases, as well as working with pro bono volunteers on conducting Know Your Rights presentations in schools.
- Continue working on DACA renewal and initial cases, as well as providing immigration legal support to my DACA clients such as assistance with U visas and deportation defense.
Mary’s Fellowship defended and expanded the rights of Somali Minnesotans to liberty, due process, and family unity through strategic litigation in immigration and federal courts, and related public education and advocacy.
There is an urgent, unmet need for representation among Somali Minnesotans whom ICE plans to detain and deport. Many could qualify for relief from deportation because they face persecution in Somalia or because of family ties in Minnesota. Unfortunately, most are unable to effectively pursue defenses to deportation because authorities are once again subjecting them to coercive, arbitrary, and often unlawfully prolonged civil detention. But most detained Somali Minnesotans lack the resources and counsel necessary to challenge their deportation orders in immigration courts while also fighting for release in federal court.
During the two-year Fellowship, Mary:
- Provided representation that resulted in multiple Somali men and women remaining in the United States and obtaining release from ICE custody
- Provided direct representation, consultations, and pro se support to individuals in ICE custody
- With a team of students and other attorneys, as well as individually, filed petitions for writs of habeas corpus in federal court successfully challenged unconstitutional detention and bond procedures
- Partnered with other organizations in the Twin Cities to improve legal and healthcare assistance to Somali people inICE custody and upon release from ICE custody
Mary plans to continue working with immigrants in removal proceedings in Minnesota with the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota. She will provide individual representation and continue policy work and impact litigation to work toward systemic change.
Paul engaged in habeas corpus and other federal immigration litigation to defend low-income immigrants in Minnesota against unlawful immigration detention.
Recent years have seen unprecedented numbers in federal immigration detention under both Democratic and Republican administrations. The impact of mass immigration incarceration is particularly acute in Minnesota, as the state is home to large immigrant and refugee populations, including the nation’s largest population of Somalis. While procedurally complicated, federal habeas actions are the most powerful tool to defend noncitizens’ individual liberties. Unfortunately, the vast majority of detainees lack counsel and only a handful of Minnesota attorneys have habeas expertise in the immigration context
Paul applied to law school while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Guatemala. His experiences there repeatedly demonstrated the vital importance of working to ensure each and every person has equal access to the justice system and inspired him to spend his career representing similarly marginalized and underrepresented populations.
During his Fellowship, Paul:
- Represented a medically vulnerable individual in a case challenging her continued detention during the COVID-19 pandemic and secured her release after 18 months in immigration detention.
- Challenged the constitutionality of an immigrant’s prolonged detention during withholding-only proceedings and secured his release after nearly 20 months of civil detention.
- Co-counseled Pedro O. v. Garland, the First District of Minnesota habeas decision requiring the government to bear the burden of proof at an initial bond hearing ordered for a noncitizen detained under 8 U.S.C. § 1226(c).
- Prevented the imminent deportation of a United States citizen and secured his release after 10 months in ICE custody.
Paul continues to work for his host organization, ACLU of Minnesota, as a staff attorney. His work focuses on defending and expanding the constitutional rights of noncitizens subject to civil immigration detention.
This Fellowship assisted victims in navigating the complex civil and criminal legal systems. Through coordinated and collaborative efforts with community partners, the Fellowship allowed for continued network growth providing wraparound legal services. Crime victims were able to properly identify what agencies can support their unique needs and have a voice in matters of vital interest to them. Sara provided education and outreach to crime victims. Additionally, she delivered direct civil legal services and victims’ rights enforcement in criminal matters.
As a former Justice John Paul Stevens Fellow and AmeriCorps member, Sara has a demonstrated commitment to public service work. She was particularly suited for the Crime Victim Justice Corps Fellowship given her experience as a judicial law clerk. During her two years clerking, Sara worked on a case in which the judge applied the doctrine of forfeiture by wrongdoing after the victim in an incest case went missing and she refused to testify or recant when finally located. The experience fueled Sara’s desire to assist victims of crime.
This project focuses on Somali youth in Minnesota, many of whom have experienced the trauma of war and who face a cultural divide between their Somali heritage and American society. Additionally, some Somali youth find their immigration status in jeopardy due to criminal convictions while others were brought to the U.S. without proper immigration status. Through education, community collaboration, and direct representation, this project works to secure the immigration status of Somali youth.
Cities, counties and the state are beginning to purchase foreclosed properties. They’re doing it, primarily, with federal money. When they fix them, rent them, or sell them, they will do so in a way that will further fair housing goals. Luke’s project focused on using policy advocacy, direct representation, and litigation to ensure that these entities did not employ the same racial steering and predatory practices that led to the foreclosures in the first place.