Photo of Mattie Armstrong

Mattie Armstrong

  • Hosted by Dolores Street Community Services
  • Sponsored by Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP
  • Service location San Francisco, California
  • Law school University of California, Berkeley School of Law
  • Issue area Criminal Justice Reform, Immigrant Populations
  • Fellowship class year 2021
  • Program Design-Your-Own Fellowship

The Project

Mattie (she/her/hers) is working to establish the Anti-Criminalization Project at Dolores Street Community Services to fight the criminalization of immigrants by providing post-conviction relief (PCR) and immigration representation, while also engaging in state and local policy advocacy, working on federal litigation, and preparing resources to help expand access to services for criminalized immigrants and immigrants particularly vulnerable to criminalization.

Each year, countless immigrants are detained and deported from California as a direct result of contact with the criminal system. Under current immigration law, any noncitizen, even a long-time green card holder with a U.S. citizen spouse and child, can be deported due to a single misdemeanor conviction. In a rigged criminal system where 98% of criminal defendants plead guilty, many immigrants sustain convictions without meaningfully understanding the devastating consequences this will have on their immigration status. The Anti-Criminalization Project works to vacate legally invalid convictions and defend criminalized immigrants from deportation. Mattie has seen firsthand the suffering caused by both the criminal and immigration systems, and she hopes to help prevent this devastation to families and communities in California.

Mattie has seen firsthand the suffering that ensues when an immigrant is subjected to mandatory detention and deportation as a result of contact with an unjust criminal system. She believes more must be done to prevent this devastation to families and communities in California.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the first year of the Fellowship, Mattie has:

  • Helped free a client from ICE detention after he had spent over 11 years behind bars
  • Successfully vacated two theft convictions for a client to prevent the client’s deportation
  • Co-wrote an amicus brief to the Board of Immigration Appeals arguing that noncitizens must be able to reopen their deportation cases when the underlying criminal convictions have been vacated
  • Worked to file a Motion to Depublish a legally incorrect decision that had come down from the California Court of Appeals that would have hurt post-conviction relief efforts in California

Next Steps

In the next year, Mattie plans to:

  • Train and assign pro bono counsel to prepare PCR motions and present them in criminal court
  • Develop trainings and resources that instruct immigration attorneys and pro bono counsel on how to carry out PCR representation
  • Continue advocating for increases in state funding for PCR work in California

Post-conviction relief is one of the most powerful ways to prevent the disproportionate harm a criminal conviction can have on an immigrant’s life and community

Mattie Armstrong /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

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