Jessica Valadez

The Project

Jessica aims to support tribal communities and child welfare systems to prevent, identify, and address the commercial sexual exploitation of native youth in California through legal advocacy, education, and collaboration.

Centuries of eradication, erasure, and assimilation-based policies sought to separate and destabilize native families. As a result, a deep mistrust between native communities and local, state, and federal governments developed. These policies have resulted in native youth facing higher than average rates of addiction, suicide, health disparities, and low academic achievement. One of the most pernicious remnants of this systematic oppression is the ongoing commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) of native youth.

Despite legal and policy changes across the state, recognizing that CSE is an issue of child abuse, little has been done to address this issue among native youth. Jessica is working collaboratively with government agencies, community-based organizations, and tribal communities to ensure Native youth have access to culturally appropriate legal services supports.

Jessica’s experiences as a parentified minor and first-generation woman of color drive her to advocate for youth and other vulnerable populations.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

During the first year of the Fellowship, Jessica has:

  • Worked as part of a state-wide coalition to advance legislation (AB 124) to address the criminalization of survivors of human trafficking.
  • Continued developing relationships with key governmental and community stakeholders.
  • Deepened understanding of issues affecting Native youth and trained team on the Indian Child Welfare Act.
  • Engaged Native and community-based partners in drafting guidance and recommendations on addressing the needs of Native youth who have been commercially sexually exploited.

Next Steps

In the next six months, Jessica plans to:

  • Continue building her team’s knowledge and understanding of issues affecting Native American youth.
  • Develop desk guide for child welfare workers and Native-serving organizations to provide background and guidance on addressing the needs of Native youth who were trafficked.
  • Continue developing and deepening relationships with tribal, community, and government partners.
  • Identify opportunities to center youth voices and leadership in her work.
  • Work in partnership with Native-serving organizations and survivors to better serve Native youth.

Collaboration between tribal communities and local governments is essential to effectively address the needs of CSE tribal youth. Bearing witness to survivors’ lived experiences and using these experiences to drive policy is a crucial step in addressing this pressing issue.

Jessica Valadez /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Susan worked to expand legal representation and resources for incarcerated immigrants facing deportation while in prison through direct representation, policy advocacy, and coalition building.

Incarcerated immigrants in the Institutional Hearing Program (IHP) are overlooked and underserved—just 9 percent have attorneys and there are no legal outreach programs at any IHP sites in the country. Without guidance or support, most people in the IHP simply accept deportation, and the few who choose to fight their cases often face a violation of their due process rights. IHP hearings are conducted via video teleconference or in makeshift courtrooms inside of prisons, and facility policies severely impede representation. The IHP program currently adds over 5,000 new cases annually.

Fellowship Highlights

During the two-year Fellowship period, Susan:

  • Consulted and provided legal advice to over 150 people in the IHP at FCI Dublin before their initial hearings, and represented these individuals in their initial hearings
  • Provided full-scope representation to 12 people in their removal proceedings
  • Advocated to Bureau of Prisons and ICE about conditions of confinement on behalf of dozens of people
  • Collaborated with a coalition of community organizations and pro bono attorneys to examine the policies and practices of the IHP at FCI Dublin and pushed for reforms

Next Steps

Following the Fellowship, Susan has stayed on at Centro Legal de la Raza as a staff attorney in the Abolishing ICE Detention Project, representing incarcerated immigrants and supporting organizing to end the immigration detention system.


ICE limited testing at Bakersfield immigration facility with COVID-19 outbreak