Photo of Maria Rodriguez

Maria Rodriguez

  • Hosted by Kids in Need of Defense (KIND)
  • Sponsored by Fish & Richardson P.C., Microsoft Corporation
  • Service location Atlanta, Georgia
  • Law school University of Connecticut School of Law
  • Issue area Children/Youth
  • Fellowship class year 2018
  • Program Design Your Own Fellowship

The Project

Maria provides immigration legal services to unaccompanied children through direct representation, enhance local capacity among pro bono and other non-profit partners, and establish coordinated social services for unaccompanied children and families in the metro Atlanta area.

Unaccompanied children are not provided legal representation in their immigration proceedings, and unaccompanied children in Georgia are particularly vulnerable due to the scarce number of non-profit legal providers in the area. Further, Atlanta is one of the most difficult jurisdictions in the country to obtain immigration relief — the asylum grant rate in the Atlanta Immigration Court is just 2 percent, compared to 48 percent nationally. Rapidly changing immigration policies and increased immigration enforcement in the Atlanta area have heightened the vulnerabilities of unaccompanied children. Finally, compounding these legal challenges are hurdles unaccompanied children in Georgia face navigating social services eligibility.

Fellowship Highlights

In the past year, Maria has:

  • Provided full representation to 26 unaccompanied children in SIJS, T-Visa, U-Visa, and asylum cases;
  • Conducted intake and brief legal consultations to 29 unaccompanied children;
  • Assisted a 6-year-old child safely return to Guatemala to reunite with his parents after being separated at the U.S./Mexico Border under the “Zero Tolerance” Policy;
  • Trained over 50 lawyers in the Atlanta Metro Area and Northern Georgia to represent unaccompanied minors in immigration cases, and presented to two schools about forms of relief for immigrant children;
  • Mentored cases placed with pro bono attorneys across Georgia and recruited 12 law student volunteers.

Next Steps

In the next year, Maria will:

  • Continue to provide direct representation to unaccompanied minors in immigration proceedings, with a particular focus on children under the care of the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services;
  • Engage new law firms to assist unaccompanied minors in immigration proceedings through introductory and advanced immigration trainings;
  • Continue to develop state-specific sample documents and SIJS manual to guide pro bono attorneys;
  • Create a referral network of social services providers in the metro Atlanta area for unaccompanied minors in need of services during the immigration process;
  • Continue to mentor sponsor attorneys on pro bono cases.

Meet Other Fellows Like Maria

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Colleen Wisdom

Host: Advocacy, Inc.

Sponsor: Texas Access to Justice Foundation

Devon Rios

Host: Learning Rights Law Center

Sponsor: Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP

Tim Stevens

Host: Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, Inc.

Sponsor: Greenberg Traurig, LLP

Sarah Wallerstein Koren

Host: Community Legal Aid SoCal

Sponsor: The Florida Bar Foundation