Andrew (he/him/his) will utilize legal services alongside robust community outreach programs at the Legal Aid Society to secure and preserve public benefits for low-income individuals and families in Louisville, Kentucky.
Our nation’s social safety net represents an absolutely vital lifeline for ensuring that the basic needs of families and individuals are met and, moreover, that the long-term social mobility necessary to escape extreme poverty can be facilitated. However, a decades-old political agenda of ruthless welfare austerity predicated upon class oppression and the often explicitly racist distinctions between the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor have resulted in a system that brutally shames and materially harms our society’s most vulnerable citizens. Louisville is no exception, and our community deserves comprehensive guidance and representation to ensure that every economically distressed person receives the benefits they need.
Every food stamp denial, every failure to provide medical coverage, every refusal to fulfill the promise of our social safety net represents another deadly arrow fired from the cruel structure of policy violence afflicting our low-income communities. Because material relief and access to justice are often far out of reach for these communities, Andrew feels called to join the Legal Aid Society in providing aid. He hopes to facilitate economic mobility through public benefits advocacy and thereby help to alleviate the suffering administered against the often-hidden wards of our city where generational poverty remains a brutally anchored reality.
Andrew will help low-income families secure food benefits and connect Louisville’s unhoused population with steady financial lifelines via Social Security and related programs. This Fellowship will also maintain an open channel with the expungement arm of the Legal Aid Society to assist individuals who were previously ineligible for public benefits as a collateral consequence of a criminal conviction.
As a native of Louisville, Kentucky, with a single-minded interest in public service, I bear a natural connection to the community and a deep sense of moral urgency towards improving the material economic conditions of our city’s most vulnerable residents.
Andrew Chandler /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Kevin (he/him/his) advocates on behalf of incarcerated people in Kentucky and communities affected by prison gerrymandering to stop the use of the criminal justice system as a means of disenfranchising voters.
The criminal justice system is often used as a tool to disenfranchise voters. Incarceration-based disenfranchisement occurs in many forms, including impeding people in pre-trial detention from voting and shifting political power away from communities through prison gerrymandering. There are an estimated 21,000 pre-trial detainees in Kentucky, each of whom has the constitutional right to vote, but many are nevertheless unable to vote due to poor jail administration. Moreover, the Kentucky legislature has continually used prisons to egregiously gerrymander the state.
These forms of political disempowerment are under scrutinized but must be addressed. Kentuckians need a comprehensive program that will integrate direct services, policy advocacy, and litigation to make jailhouse voting more accessible and end prison gerrymandering.
Kevin is motivated by his many family reunions in Kentucky, his childhood in the South, and the overwhelming need to expand the right to vote at this critical, historical moment.
During his Fellowship, Kevin will work directly with incarcerated people in pre-trial detention to register incarcerated voters and help them vote absentee. He will engage in advocacy to improve jail practices, advance prison gerrymandering policy, and publish policy reports. Finally, he will commence litigation to end prison gerrymandering in Kentucky and ensure jails comply with their constitutional duties.
The right to vote is sacred, and nobody should be disenfranchised because of their wealth or zip code.
Kevin Muench /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Shiv (he/him/his) advocates with and for older adults in New York prisons through parole assistance and appeals representation, re-entry support, and legislative advocacy.
The percentage of older people in New York prisons has nearly doubled over the past 30 years—a dire trend as the COVID-19 pandemic places older adults in prison at particular risk of illness and death. At the same time, parole, one of the only means for obtaining release from prison, remains out of reach for many incarcerated older adults. Older adults often navigate their parole proceedings without assistance, receive repeated denials from the Parole Board, and face barriers to re-entry if they succeed in obtaining parole. Rigorous parole assistance and parole reform are important tools toward the urgent need to release older people from prison.
Shiv will strive to make parole a more accessible and successful reality for older adults in New York prisons. He will provide direct assistance in older adults’ parole applications and parole hearings, represent older adults in appeals of parole denials, and support older adults on parole in their re-entry needs. Shiv will also advocate for legislation in New York that would make more older adults in prison eligible for parole consideration.
I have learned invaluable lessons from community members incarcerated in New York. Through this project, I build on what they taught me and hope to honor their ongoing efforts toward a more just world.
Shiv Rawal /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Arielle provides holistic advocacy for transgender, gender-nonconforming, intersex (TGNCI) and/or HIV+ immigrant New Yorkers to gain immigration status and access to health care—including gender-affirming procedures—through direct immigration legal services, community partnerships, and legislative advocacy.
There are an estimated 15,000 to 50,000 transgender undocumented individuals in the U.S. Undocumented TGNCI individuals, doubly marginalized due to citizenship status and gender identity, face particular vulnerabilities: one in four transgender individuals report experiencing discrimination in health care, and one in three report verbal harassment or refusal of treatment. Disparities in care are compounded when an individual is undocumented, and as a result, uninsured. Further, TGNCI undocumented individuals are often criminalized and detained due to police profiling, targeting and harassment. If detained, TGNCI individuals are subject to conditions that lead to rapid deterioration in their physical and mental health, such as solitary confinement, inconsistent administration of HIV medication, and denial of hormones.
Fellowship Highlights to Date
During the first year of the Fellowship, Arielle has:
- Launched the UndocuCare TGNCI+ Project and provided immigration legal representation to 25 individuals who identify as transgender and/or are living with HIV, including work permits granted for 10 clients with their correct gender marker
- Solidified a community partnership with the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project (QDEP) and presented to members on access to health care and other public benefits for immigrant New Yorkers
- Advocated on behalf of asylum seekers to have harmful ankle monitors removed
- Established a mutual referral partnership with the LGBT Community Center of Manhattan, ensuring that TGNCI clients obtain access to gender-affirming health insurance navigation
- Hosted a legal name change clinic and training with the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF) for fellowship sponsors AIG and S&C, who took on clients’ legal name change cases pro bono
In the next six months, Arielle plans to:
- Ensure continued access to health care and gender-affirming procedures for clients and continue representing TGNCI clients and/or clients living with HIV in their immigration proceedings
- Work with clients to obtain identity documents with their correct legal name and gender
- Deepen expertise for T-visa and U-visa cases for survivors of trafficking and other crimes and increase outreach to NYC-based and sex-worker led organizations already doing this work
While working at the border and in immigrant detention centers outside of New York City, I saw firsthand how manageable illnesses can turn fatal in immigrant detention—especially for LGBTQ and HIV+ folks.
Arielle Wisbaum /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Lexie worked with the Domestic Violence Project (DVP) at the Urban Justice Center, which is committed to supporting and advocating for domestic violence survivors. In line with the DVP’s holistic approach, Lexie addressed survivors’ housing needs along with other legal issues they face. Additionally, Lexie survivors of their housing rights, offer direct representation to those facing housing discrimination and engage the community through outreach and advocacy efforts to ensure that the VAWA ‘s housing provisions and NY laws are implemented.
Nonprofit community development corporations (CDCs) build much of the affordable housing and community facilities in low-income neighborhoods. They need legal help to get the most from new laws and programs that have encouraged green building in the private and public sectors. My goals are to help CDCs access green development resources so that residents can enjoy the health, environmental and economic benefits of green building, and to help Brooklyn A and other advocates develop an expertise in green community development.
Marissa provided direct representation, community education and policy advocacy to homeless and street-involved male youth and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth and immigrant populations who are experiencing (or at-risk for) trafficking or exploitation in both the formal workplace and street-level informal survival economies.
Male youth and LGBTQ youth are largely overlooked in anti-trafficking initiatives. Those engaging in survival sex for food and shelter or experiencing labor exploitation often do not realize they may qualify for immigration relief, public benefits, or other legal remedies. In recent years, young men of color, immigrant youth, and transgender youth in low-income communities have been targeted through racial profiling and the policing of sex work under the New York Police Department’s “stop-and-frisk” program, driving victims of exploitation and trafficking underground and away from the legal services they are entitled to and need. Marissa’s project will expand New York Legal Assistance Group’s LGBTQ Law Project to focus specifically on serving male youth and LGBTQ youth.
Highlights to Date
In the past two years, Marissa has:
- Trained 54 legal and social services providers on employment and immigration legal remedies for youth experiencing or at risk of trafficking or workplace exploitation
- Conducted legal education workshops for 36 at-risk youth
- Provided legal advice, brief services, individual consultations, and referrals to 24 homeless youth clients
- Represented seven survivors of trafficking in applying for T visas and other forms of immigration relief
- Engaged in media and policy advocacy to increase public awareness of the legal needs of client populations
- Created training materials to increase the number of attorneys screening for and working on issues related to youth trafficking, exploitation, and low-wage labor
Melissa provided direct representation and community education to low-income New Yorkers with arrest and conviction records to reduce barriers to employment and facilitate successful reentry.
Almost one-third of U.S. adults — approximately 70 million people — have arrest or conviction records. These individuals confront enormous barriers to obtaining employment, especially if they are poor. In New York City, a criminal record reduces the likelihood of getting a callback or job offer for low-wage work by nearly 50 percent. New York provides strong anti-discrimination protections to people with criminal records; however, there has been only limited enforcement of these protections to date. This project will break down barriers to employment by enforcing New York’s strong anti-discrimination laws and empowering New Yorkers with criminal records to defend their rights and obtain stable employment.
In the past two years, Melissa has:
- Recovered $117,500 for clients who suffered wage loss and emotional distress when they were unlawfully denied employment because of their criminal record
- Provided legal services on 765 criminal records discrimination matters, thereby reducing hundreds of barriers to employment
- Obtained or retained 26 occupational licenses, work clearances, or jobs through full representation of clients
- Helped 61 people prepare personal statements and rehabilitation evidence to present to employers and agencies considering denying them employment or licenses on the basis of their criminal record
- Persuaded 3 government agencies to change policies that adversely affected low-income New Yorkers with arrest and conviction records
- Provided 21 trainings to low-income New Yorkers with criminal records or their advocates
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Melissa plans to:
- Continue empowering clients to enforce New York’s criminal records discrimination laws
- Continue providing legal services to individuals confronting barriers to employment because of their arrest and conviction records
- Continue helping clients with criminal records obtain or retain occupational licenses and jobs
- Continue working with government agencies to change policies that negatively impact New Yorkers with arrest and conviction records
- Continue providing trainings to low-income New Yorkers with criminal records and their advocates
Amira reunited refugee and asylee families in the Tri-State area through direct legal representation, targeted outreach, and community education.
This project was established to address the growing need of U.S. volunteer agencies that assist refugees and asylees (“VOLAGS”) in the Tri-State area who have reported that they have hundreds of eligible clients in need of legal assistance. These family-based applications are critical legal avenues allowing persecuted people to continue to get to safety in the U.S. and join their families.
In the past two years, Amira has:
- Organized five screening clinics for pro bono attorneys and paralegals to assist by screening and providing legal advice to over 120 prospective clients
- Developed training program including a written manual, a screening form, and other materials to educate and guide pro bono attorneys and paralegals on how to effectively screen refugee and asylee family reunification cases
- Identified and conducted over fifty intakes with clients seeking family reunification and provided advice or direct representation to over sixty clients and their beneficiaries
- Assisted in two separate airport pickups for clients who arrived in the U.S. after successful representation
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Amira plans to work with the International Refugee Assistance Project as a staff attorney where she will continue the work she started as a fellow and continue to represent and provide legal information to refugees, focusing on family reunification. Additionally, Amira is excited to continue directing Eshhad – Center for the Protection of Minorities, a nonprofit she founded in 2013. At Eshhad she will grow the work of her team of volunteers in collecting and documenting violence against religious, cultural, and ethnic minorities in the Middle East.