Ian Gustafson

The Project

Ian’s (he/him/his) Fellowship will clear criminal records, restore driving privileges, and reinstate voting rights for formerly incarcerated people in southern Mississippi.

Most people leaving prison find their ability to work, drive, access quality housing, and participate in our democracy severely hindered. These collateral consequences burden formerly incarcerated people long after their prison sentences end. In Mississippi, nearly 10% of adults have had their voting rights permanently stripped after a felony conviction; thousands more are blocked from meaningful employment and even from driving by their criminal records. It is no wonder that many formerly incarcerated people report feeling shut out of society.

In Mississippi, a state short on legal service providers, people need advocates dedicated to easing the collateral consequences of their convictions and helping them participate more fully in society.

Fellowship Plans

During the Fellowship, Ian will represent formerly incarcerated individuals who seek to expunge their criminal records, restore their driver’s licenses, and petition for their voting rights back. He will hold intake clinics at public housing properties throughout southern Mississippi and take client referrals from local non-profits that serve re-entering people. Finally, Ian will develop a toolkit for pro se litigants who seek to remedy their collateral consequences.

“How can we justify placing barriers to employment and civic participation for formerly incarcerated individuals while simultaneously demanding their seamless return to society?”

Ian Gustafson /
2022 EQUAL JUSTICE WORKS FELLOW

The Project

Misty-Ann (she/her/hers) will prepare formerly incarcerated individuals in Southern California to reunite with family, gain stability, and successfully reintegrate through direct legal services and public education workshops.

Formerly incarcerated individuals face over 44,000 legal sanctions upon release that can complicate or even prevent reuniting with family, finding employment, and securing housing, among other challenges. These barriers to reentry limit meaningful opportunities for those with a criminal record to live full, productive lives and can directly and substantially disadvantage families for generations. This project will provide much-needed streamlined direct legal services that prepare formerly incarcerated parents to reunite with their families and navigate challenges to reentry—challenges that disproportionately impact people of color and have worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Misty-Ann’s personal history, work experience with youth and adults involved in the criminal justice system, and her connection to the social justice community in Los Angeles, including Root & Rebound, inspired this project.

Fellowship Plans

During Misty-Ann’s Fellowship, she will strive to improve the well-being of system-impacted families through (1) streamlined direct legal services (e.g., representation in family, dependency, or probate court), legal workshops, and community education; (2) mitigation of the negative impact of a criminal record on family strength and stability; and (3) reduction of recidivism and multi-generational cycles of criminal justice involvement.

With the support of the Equal Justice Works Fellowship, I am returning to serve the community that inspired me to attend law school.

Misty-Ann Oka /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Mattie (she/her/hers) will work to establish the Anti-Criminalization Project at Dolores Street Community Services that will 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 Southern California as a direct result of criminal convictions. Under current immigration law, any noncitizen, even a long-time green card holder with a U.S. citizen spouse and child, can be rendered deportable due to a single misdemeanor conviction. In a criminal system in which 98% of criminal defendants plead guilty, many immigrants agree to convictions without meaningfully understanding the severe consequences they will have for their immigration status. To address these legally invalid convictions, California has created PCR vehicles to vacate these criminal convictions, but access to PCR remains extremely limited in Southern California, where 4.5 million immigrants reside. 

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.

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

The Project

Whitney represents LGBTQ+ immigrants in New York City in immigration court and affirmative immigration applications. She also advocates for the rights of LGBTQ+ immigrants held in immigration detention regarding their conditions of confinement.

Deeply rooted homophobia, transphobia, racism, and sexism manifest in immigration enforcement, detention, and court. LGBTQ+ people face hostility and lack of understanding from judges, prosecutors, and detention custodians; even their attorneys may fail to understand, respect, and appropriately advocate for their clients’ experiences and identities. Additionally, immigrant New Yorkers may be detained at a wide range of jails and detention centers throughout New York and New Jersey. The wide variety of federal, state, and local actors involved in their detention heightens the risk of violence that queer and trans individuals face in these detention centers.

As a queer, first-generation American, Whitney’s commitment to providing culturally competent immigration representation and conditions of confinement advocacy for queer and trans immigrants is deeply personal. She is passionate about providing access to quality immigration representation and advocacy that creates space for individuals’ full, authentic identities and selves.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the first twelve months of the Fellowship, Whitney has:

  • Provided full representation to 18 clients on their immigration matters
  • Successfully advocated for the release of a transgender woman from immigration detention following nearly three years of detention, during which time she participated in a hunger strike and social media advocacy
  • Created a referral system through which immigration staff at The Bronx Defenders can refer LGBTQ+ clients for consultation, support, and/or co-counseling
  • Presented to the immigration practice at The Bronx Defenders regarding changes to the current screening processes to make them more thorough and inclusive of LGBTQ+ clients and issues, and implemented those changes

Next Steps

In the next year, Whitney plans to:

  • Identify procedures for the detention of trans, gender-nonconforming, and non-binary (“TGNCNB”) immigrants at each of the facilities at which immigrant New Yorkers are typically detained and common issues with conditions of confinement
  • Identify and advocate for changes in detention practices and policies to increase the safety of TGNCNB people in detention
  • Successfully represent LGBTQIA+ clients whose gender identity and/or sexual orientation is relevant to their claim for relief in trial-level immigration proceedings

Media

Five NYU Law graduates named 2020 Equal Justice Works Fellows

The Project

Joshua provides systemic legal advocacy, outreach, and policy change surrounding insurance coverage to low-income children and their families at Arkansas Children’s Hospital through a medical-legal partnership.

As families lose coverage, they are less inclined to seek medical attention, miss or ration medication, incur insurmountable medical debt, and face challenges with employment. Health care coverage is arguably the most important social determinant of health. Health policy and research have enlightened advocates and health care professionals on the spiraling effect a lapse in coverage causes to low-income families. Although new state requirements were projected to impact a small number of Medicaid recipients, figures are suggesting large numbers of recipients are negatively affected. Reports indicate that recent changes in the State’s health care requirements have impacted over 18,000 Arkansas residents.

Joshua was first introduced to medical-legal partnerships as a second-year law student at Cecil. C. Humphreys School of law. There, he had the opportunity to help children and their families at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, where he fell in love with this work.

Fellowship Plans

Joshua’s project will offer assistance for children and families who are facing barriers, either obtaining coverage or having certain procedures and equipment covered by insurance. The project includes providing direct representation for patients and their families as well as legal clinics aimed at addressing the sub-issues with medical coverage. The project also includes a state-wide advocacy component aimed at creating a collaborative voice among health care stakeholders and Medicare recipients in Arkansas.

As legally trained advocates, I believe we have an even bigger obligation to care and get out and do something about it.

Joshua Lester /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Emily’s Fellowship served to advance gender-based asylum law through direct representation and impact litigation.

Women and girls around the world are victims of various forms of gender-based violence in countries that offer impunity to the perpetrators. Survivors of gender-based persecution—be it female genital mutilation, honor killings, abduction and rape by gangs, or violence at the hands of intimate partners—seek refuge in the United States, but current law does not recognize that the gendered nature of their harm warrants asylum. Because the U.S. government seems bent on eliminating the grounds for gender-based asylum, there is an urgent need to expand representation for these women and girls in their asylum claims and to push asylum law to recognize gender-based persecution.

Emily made a commitment to dedicate her career fighting for the safety of the tens of thousands of women who are victims of domestic abuse in countries that offer them no hope of protection or justice. While working as the COO of Akola Project – a non-profit that empowers women to realize and walk in their own agency as change makers – Emily learned that the most marginalized women are typically migrants. Her passion for serving immigrant and refugee women was cemented as she worked to adapt Akola’s model to best impact this population.

Fellowship Highlights

During the two-year Fellowship program, Emily:

  • Filled a gap in services through direct representation of gender-based asylum seekers at USCIS, immigration courts, the Board of Immigration Appeals, and the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, as well as legal aid to pro se clients in Migrant Protection Protocol proceedings
  • Provided direct immigration representation to 24 clients, as well as brief services and advice to over 150 additional individuals
  • Contributed to impact litigation efforts through amicus campaigns and coordinated appeals efforts to advance gender-based asylum law
  • Partnered with advocates on the ground in Matamoros, Mexico to build new initiatives that brought valuable legal aid support to asylum seekers stuck outside the U.S. border
  • Drafted a stock amicus brief to the Board of Immigration Appeals arguing for gender-based asylum through the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies’ technical assistance program
  • Conducted 25 training sessions for pro bono attorneys and other partners
  • Collaborated with 11 groups and attended over 80 coalition meetings to expand the impact and reach of the project

Next Steps

Emily will stay on at Human Rights Initiative of North Texas to continue and expand pro bono representation of asylum seekers.

Media

Dallas Immigration Advocates Seek to Protect Women Fleeing Gender Violence

The Project

Ms. Mohseen focused on advocating for Muslim inmates and detainees denied access to religious accommodations as guaranteed by the law.

Through her Fellowship project, Ms. Mohseen sought to address the issue of unmet religious accommodation needs of Muslim inmates and detainees. Despite laws which protect the right of institutionalized people to practice their chosen religion with limits only where the limit is in furtherance of a compelling government interest that cannot be accomplished in a less restrictive way, the lived reality is that many Muslim inmates and detainees are denied accommodations and therefore must violate their religious beliefs. With a large percentage of the U.S. prison population self-identifying as Muslim, and with this number presumably increasing or staying constant due to conversion while in prison, this is an issue which will continue to arise.

Fellowship Highlights

Ms. Mohseen developed and published a comprehensive model handbook that outlines various beliefs of different sects of Islam generally as it pertains to prisons and prisoners and also addresses the law and provides examples of best practices, particularly as have been implemented in some facilities. Ms. Mohseen also directly represented inmates and supported other organizations’ efforts in expanding religious accommodations. Through direct representation, Ms. Mohseen was able to secure changes to policies regarding religious headwear for the entire Virginia Department of Corrections and was able to expand the availability of religious texts in a Florida civil commitment center.

Next Steps

Ms. Mohseen will remain at CLCMA as a civil staff attorney where she will continue her work on religious accommodations in prison while expanding her practice area to all civil litigation matters within the organization’s scope. She hopes to maximize the impact of strategic litigation in the prison rights space by partnering with sister organizations.

Media

Standing Up for Human Rights

Equal Justice Works Fellow: Najmu Mohseen

TAMU Law Alumna Receives A Prestigious Fellowship

Belief Behind Bars: Religious Freedom and Institutionalized Persons

Opinion: Muslim Inmates Deserve the Same Legal Rights as the Jan. 6th Insurrectionists

My purpose as a lawyer is to better the lives of the underserved and I believe that Muslims are currently one of the most underserved groups.

Najmu Mohseen /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Kate’s project is centered on the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Center in Taylor, Texas. This is a former medium-security prison converted to house immigrant families as they await their immigration hearings. This project had three parts. First, Kate recruited a pro bono panel of attorneys to represent these immigrant families in their asylum hearings. Second, Kate gave orientation and rights presentations to the families as they enter the facility. Third, Kate provided individual representation to clients.

Media

The Project

Lindsay’s project empowered African immigrant women survivors of gender-based violence in Washington D.C., Virginia, and Maryland, to seek immigration relief through providing culturally sensitive legal services and outreach.

As an Equal Justice Works Fellow and later a staff attorney, she launched and led the African Women’s Empowerment Project at the Tahirih Justice Center, conducting outreach to and representing survivors of gender-based violence in the DC metro area.

Next Steps

Lindsay Harris currently works as an assistant professor of law at UDC David A. Clarke School of Law and Co-Director of the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic.

My inspiration is the clients I have had the privilege of serving—their incredible strength, dignity, resilience, and beauty despite all that they have overcome in life.

Lindsay Harris /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

My project addresses the needs of young people who are placed/incarcerated on delinquency charges into the residential custody of the N.Y. Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS). I provide enhanced representation and direct assistance to these youth on their complaints of mistreatment in custody and conditions of confinement. I also work with the Special Litigation and Law Reform Unit on systemic responses.

The Inspiration