Photo of Leah Rodriguez

Leah Rodriguez

  • Hosted by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc.
  • Sponsored by Baker Botts LLP, Dell Technologies
  • Service location Austin, Texas
  • Law school The University of Texas School of Law
  • Issue area Immigrant Populations
  • Fellowship class year 2019
  • Program Design Your Own Fellowship

The Project

Leah pursued relief from removal for detained and formerly detained survivors of violence in Texas, particularly indigenous language speakers, through direct representation, resource development, and advocacy.

In Central Texas, fewer than half of non-detained immigrants have legal representation; for detained individuals, that number drops to about 20%. During the term of the Fellowship, changes in case law and policy undermined protections for refugees and disproportionately impacted asylum seekers who speak indigenous languages, who are often fleeing years of institutional discrimination and violence in their countries of origin. Rare language speakers are frequently denied appropriate language access during their hearings and throughout their detention.

Because she lives in a mixed-status family, Leah understands the fear that her clients feel knowing that a member of their family could be taken from their lives at any moment. She understands the role that the legal system plays—for better and for worse— in her clients’ lives, and her first-hand experiences with the power of the legal system frame her outlook during every client meeting.

Fellowship Highlights

During her two-year Fellowship, Leah:

  • Provided full representation or advice/brief services in over 85 immigration cases in central and south Texas
  • Represented indigenous language speakers in removal proceedings in Immigration Court, including cases of individuals who were non-detained as well as those in ICE detention
  • Hosted trainings for pro bono attorneys on the topic of representing asylum seekers in removal proceedings
  • Engaged in coalition building in the community through collaboration with over 45 groups and participation in over 60 external meetings to advance the goals and reach of the project
  • Regularly collaborated with other attorneys working on asylum cases from Texas to California and offered guidance on issues involving indigenous language speakers
  • Organized and co-led a three-part in-house training on the topic of language access, including TRLA’s Language Access Plan and Title VI obligations

Next Steps

Leah is pleased to continue her work with the Immigration Team at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid in Austin as a staff attorney at the conclusion of her Fellowship.

Media

Leaving home and the journey across Mexico

Indigenous diaspora: Reaching the border, untracked in the U.S. immigration system

Expelled to Northern Mexico and invisible in U.S. immigration courts

There are simply not enough non-profit immigration lawyers in Texas.

Leah Rodriguez /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

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