Alison (she/her/hers) connects Bronx Residents to the public benefits they need through a new medical-legal partnership, working with community organizations to identify barriers and advocate for improvements to public benefits.
As the borough with the most COVID-19 hospitalizations and the highest unemployment rate, the Bronx was hit hard by the pandemic. One in seven residents were infected with COVID-19 before the Omicron wave in late 2021. Alison’s project will leverage legal tools in partnership with community organizations to ensure that pandemic recovery in the Bronx is equitable.
Alison’s project aims to improve two core social determinants of health: economic stability and healthcare access, for Bronx residents through an innovative medical-legal partnership. Her Fellowship has three core goals: increasing access to public benefits (especially medical benefits) to enable pandemic recovery; addressing systemic challenges faced by benefits program participants; and combining community lawyering with medical-legal partnerships.
As someone who has benefited immensely from public benefits like the GI bill, I know our social safety net can work for people if we design it that way. I’m excited to improve access to benefits now while pushing the system to be better in the future.
Alison Roberts /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Erika (she/her/hers) will collaborate with crisis-response mutual aid groups nationwide to provide legal assistance and develop programs for replicable and sustainable grassroots economic regeneration.
At the outset of COVID-19, people instantly recognized that government aid and charity would be insufficient. Within weeks, communities all over the country began organizing mutual aid networks, at a scale unseen since the Great Depression. Transfers of money, food, and favors have radically reconfigured the flow of resources in communities and reshaped how households can meet their needs.
These groups have turned to the Sustainable Economies Law Center en masse for legal advice on issues relating to tax, governance, privacy, liability, and entity formation. But this is just the tip of the iceberg of legal support needed.
During her Fellowship, Erika will work closely with mutual aid groups as they grow and develop into permanently organized communities that can support their members with access to money, jobs, and economic stability. She will engage in education and training programs on financial regulations and services; help these groups build governance structures for sustainable growth, creating paid jobs and long-term skill development for current volunteers; and help them enter partnerships with local banks or credit unions for lending with borrower-friendly rates and terms.
Erika’s background motivates her commitment to developing a grassroots movement for economic justice and sustainable change.
When I was twelve, my mother—the breadwinner of our family—fell suddenly ill and passed away. Ultimately, it was a supportive community that empowered my family to recover and heal from our loss. In this moment, as communities grapple with the twin health and economic crises wrought by COVID, I felt really inspired by the mutual aid movement’s grounding in hope and community support.
Erika Sato /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Serena (she/her/hers) will work to support incarcerated people with innocence claims as they navigate California’s parole process.
Since 1989, there have been 236 exonerations on the basis of wrongful convictions in California alone. Today, we have the benefit of years of research that has informed us as to which criminal procedure practices carry a high risk of error and can no longer be used to secure a criminal conviction. However, this information provides no retroactive benefit to correct the miscarriage of justice experienced by many people who remain in prison despite those exact practices being used to convict them in years past.
Although an incarcerated person’s plausible innocence claim is not supposed to be grounds for denying a parole request, under the current California parole process there is no framework that the parole board can look to in determining exactly how plausible innocence is established. The parole process needs a framework that can reliably establish when an innocence claim is plausible. Innocent people deserve every opportunity to secure justice.
Serena’s work in the parole process motivates her commitment to improving incarcerated people’s opportunities to advocate for their release.
During her Fellowship, Serena will represent people with plausible innocence claims who are eligible for release under California’s parole process. In collaboration with criminal procedure experts, she will design a framework that provides factors that establish when an innocence claim is plausible. Ultimately, she will design a training based on her findings to present to the Parole Board so that it has better tools to make determinations regarding innocence claims.
I have had the pleasure of getting to know and working with a man who has been incarcerated for 45 years for a crime he has always maintained he did not commit. He deserves a meaningful opportunity to fight for his freedom. Every incarcerated person does.
Serena Witherspoon /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Alexandra expands healthcare access for immigrant communities who are experiencing low-income situations in Massachusetts through direct legal representation, policy advocacy, and community outreach.
Through the Public Charge rule, non-U.S. citizens could have their admission to the United States denied or their applications for lawful permanent residency refused. In March 2021, it was announced that the 2019 Public Charge Final Rule would no longer be in effect. Despite the end of that rule, immigrants still fear its effects and do not to enroll in or upgrade their health insurance coverage, incurring unaffordable medical debt or a lack of access to medical services due to being uninsured or underinsured. Alexandra works to identify and alleviate these barriers to healthcare access.
Fellowship Highlights to Date
During the first year of the Fellowship, Alexandra has:
- Grown the project into a fully operational Medical-Legal Partnership for Immigrants with Rian Immigrant Center and Boston Medical Center, and Alexandra receives legal referrals from Boston Medical Center.
- Alexandra has provided brief advice and full representation to 68 clients in healthcare access, unaffordable medical debt, and insurance enrollment cases.
- She has given five trainings on the intersection of health insurance eligibility and immigration.
- She has been active in three legislative coalitions focused on healthcare access for immigrants, healthcare access for young people, language access, and Medicaid reform and contributed to policy-based efforts to alleviate barriers to healthcare for immigrants.
In the next year, Alexandra plans to:
- Continue to provide direct representation to clients in their insurance enrollment, unaffordable medical debt, and health insurance access.
- Assist in the expansion of the Medical-Legal Partnership to two additional health providers.
- Develop pro bono clinics for her sponsors and volunteer lawyers and law students.
- Take an active role in policy advocacy initiatives in the policy coalitions she works with, and identify new coalitions to work with, to increase the project’s profile within immigrant communities.
As the daughter of an immigrant who received support from initiatives similar to this project, I feel compelled to continue to address the barriers to healthcare that low-income immigrants face.
Alexandra Warren /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Emma advances community goals to further a sustainable and equitable economy in Chicago’s historically disinvested low-income communities of color by collaborating with community groups, creating tools and resources to better understand and reform complicated city policies, and providing legal services for transactional and permitting processes.
Historically disadvantaged communities of color in Chicago are disproportionately burdened by environmental harms and are working on proactive solutions to these harms, often despite steep barriers. Emma’s project addresses these barriers by providing advocacy and direct legal services to small businesses and community organizations creating healthier, safer, and economically sustainable environments. Her advocacy focuses on equitable water access and urban agriculture. Partnership organizations include urban agriculture support networks, green space and water advocates, and small businesses focused on sustainability and addressing environmental injustices.
Emma’s dedication to a cleaner environment motivates her to empower those most impacted by industry and pollution to create safer and healthier communities.
Fellowship Highlights to Date
In the past year, Emma has:
- Provided legal support to urban growers navigating water access options for the 2021 growing season
- Advocated for equitable water access, infrastructure, and policies with community partners
- Presented at information sessions and conferences on areas such as land use and zoning, LLC and nonprofit formation, and water access
In the next year, Emma plans to:
- Create a legal clinic focused on providing land and property law advice to urban growers
- Host a legal panel where attorneys will present information and answer questions on common legal issues urban growers face in the City of Chicago
- Advocate for broader policies supporting sustainable development tools like urban agriculture
- Provide legal assistance to policy advocates seeking to implement equitable water access and infrastructure
I am eager to work alongside communities to affirmatively reduce environmental injustice and encourage sustainable development.
Emma Clouse /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Patricia provided legal services to immigrants detained in North Texas. Many of these people have relief available to them, but most forgo even applying for relief due to the lack of representation currently available. Additionally, Patricia alleviated this problem by educating detained immigrants and families regarding their rights, providing legal representation for detained immigrants, and providing training and support to pro bono attorneys willing to represent detained immigrants.
I provide legal support to low-income communities in the East Bay Area as they work to secure community benefits from new development. Such benefits include affordable housing, good local jobs, and environmental health protections. Even in the current housing crisis, the East Bay remains ripe for growth. If new development is to preserve and strengthen existing communities, low-income residents must have a voice in shaping it. My work helps grassroots groups to understand and use land-use laws and regulations to achieve more equitable development.
My organization, the Capital Area Immigrants' Rights (CAIR) Coalition has been visiting immigration detention centers, conducting “know your rights” presentations, and providing direct legal representation for detained immigrants in Virginia for over five years. As part of my project, I am expanding CAIR Coalition's efforts into Maryland. I am currently responding to inquiries and visiting non-citizens at four immigration detention centers in Maryland, in addition to providing direct legal services for these individuals detained in Maryland.