Brenda Pfahnl

The Project

Brenda (she/her/hers) will launch an innovative CDFI-Legal Partnership (CDFI-LP) to provide immigration and small business legal services which address the nexus between immigration status and economic justice for immigrants in Minnesota.

Minnesota’s Latinx population is growing steadily while the state’s white population has begun to decline. However, the typical white family in Minnesota holds five times the wealth of the typical Latinx family. This disparity extends to Latinx-owned businesses. Most recently, immigrant entrepreneurs were significantly impacted by the dual pandemics of Covid-19 and racial injustice. Following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, protests were centered in the heart of the immigrant business districts of Minneapolis in St. Paul, having the unintended consequences of property damage and extended business closures.

Immigration status directly impacts the stability felt by immigrant business owners and their family members. Gaining pathways to legal status and citizenship would allow entrepreneurs to invest more confidently in their future.

Fellowship Plans

This project will create a partnership between three non-profit organizations to serve clients more holistically and efficiently. The fellow will directly engage with Latinx entrepreneurs and their family members by providing legal intake, direct legal services, and referrals to staff attorneys and pro bono volunteers. Additionally, she will create a case study of this unique partnership and provide trainings to organizations and trade associations interested in replicating this model elsewhere.

As the granddaughter of immigrants, I felt a strong desire to serve immigrants who choose to make Minnesota their home. My Equal Justice Works Fellowship has allowed me to use my CDFI background and firm belief in the power of community partnerships to serve the legal needs of Minnesota’s Latinx community.

Brenda Pfahnl /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

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.

Next Steps

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.


Mackenzie Heinrichs ’18 Named Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Colleen strengthened legal services to veterans in Minnesota who were homeless or in crisis of becoming homeless by providing direct representation to those unable to access existing legal services, expanded outreach to female veterans, and developed multiple resources to improve the structure of the Vetlaw legal clinic program.

This Fellowship filled a gap in legal service by providing direct representation to positively motivated homeless veterans or veterans in crisis who were undeserved by current legal services partnerships and the pro bono network in Minnesota. Colleen’s Fellowship also identified and collaborated with a network of community organizations, attorneys, and advocates serving female veterans specifically. Finally, this Fellowship expanded the capabilities of MACV’s Vetlaw program by improving the structure and organization of our current legal clinics for veterans and providing brief services to veterans between legal clinics.

Fellowship Highlights

In the past two years, Colleen has:

  • Created full representation model within a social services organization.
  • Represented almost 25 veterans with family, housing, consumer, and criminal expungement cases who lacked the ability to adequately represent themselves in complex and often highly contested cases.
  • Provided advice and brief services to almost 500 veterans which successfully resolved conflicts without full representation services.
  • Developed multiple resources and scheduling procedures to improve the structure and organization of the Vetlaw legal clinic program.
  • Where are they now?

Next Steps

Now that the Fellowship is complete, Colleen plans to continue working the Vetlaw program.

The Project

Minnesota is a leading refugee resettlement state, and its immigrant population has tripled in the last 30 years. Agricultural and factory work draws immigrants to rural areas that lack adequate legal services. Many immigrants do not receive the legal advice and representation they need. Unfamiliarity with the law often results in consequences as extreme as deportation. This constant threat and fear of deportation destabilizes families and communities. This project created access to legal representation, referrals, and advice to immigrant communities.

Fellowship Highlights

In the past two years, Kerry has:

  • Established two medical legal partnerships in rural Minnesota
  • Assisted 170 persons located in rural Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota through direct representation, referrals, and pro se materials
  • Conducted Know Your Rights workshops immigrants, service providers, and the general public, giving an overview of the immigration system, the deportation process, and a guide to safety planning and preparing for removal proceedings
  • Partnered with healthcare providers throughout the state of Minnesota to identify ways in which they can support and protect their immigrant patients

What’s Next

Now that the Fellowship is complete, Kerry plans to:

  • Expand the reach of her current medical-legal partnership in Southeast Minnesota with her medical partner in Red Wing, MN
  • Partner with a new Equal Justice Works Fellow to create MLPs in areas of need in North Dakota
  • Represent a greater number of clients in removal proceedings

The Project

Timothy is increasing access to legal assistance for underserved noncitizens living in North and South Dakota through medical-legal partnerships, collaboration with pro bono attorneys, and community education.

Noncitizens living in North and South Dakota suffer from a lack of access to free legal assistance for their immigration needs. There are no organizations in either state that provide free legal representation for immigration matters. Compounding this problem is the fact that both North and South Dakota are within the jurisdiction of the Immigration Court in Bloomington, MN, over 200 miles away from either state.

Fellowship Highlights

In the past year, Tim has:

  • Helped three ND-based women file for relief under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) after suffering abuse and extreme mental cruelty for many months at the hands of their US citizen husbands.
  • Started partnering with two community health centers in and around Fargo, ND.
  • Provided a comprehensive immigration-law policy update to all members of the Upper Midwest Healthcare Legal Partnership Learning Collaborative in December.
  • Filed Motion to terminate removal proceedings for a Ghanaian woman living in Fargo, ND, which was recently approved; now helping her apply for citizenship.
  • Provided community education and know your rights presentations to noncitizens in Sioux Falls and Flandreau, SD.
  • Represented several individuals, both detained and non-detained, in their removal proceedings before the immigration court.

Next Steps

In the next year, Tim plans to:

  • Explore possibilities for Fellowship project’s sustainability in both North and South Dakota.
  • Take on his first case(s) from South Dakota.
  • Increase pro bono engagement with his project through presentations, fellowship updates, and possible representation provided by pro bono attorneys.
  • Continue to provide comprehensive immigration legal services to more and more individuals.


3M 2019 Pro Bono Report