Ronak (he/him/his) will work to ensure that Asian American communities have equal access to and participation in local elections in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Texas.
Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial categorization in the United States. Yet too often in the political discourse, Asian Americans are ignored. Deeply engrained anti-Asian racism persists and has intensified in recent years, reflecting a long history of racial exclusion. Asian Americans remain underrepresented in local governments and school boards — composing 7.2% of the population, yet only hold 2.4% of city-level elected offices. This discrepancy is partially due to dilutive at-large elections and gerrymandered districts. These local governments directly affect peoples daily lives, controlling Asian American communities’ access to economic opportunities, quality education, and healthcare.
As the decennial redistricting cycle continues, Asian Americans have an incredible opportunity to reform local politics to enable their equal participation in local elections. Helping these communities exercise their political power can create lasting, intergenerational change.
Ronak will work with local community partners to educate, advocate, and litigate around local redistricting issues, aiming to ensure Asian American communities retain long-term access to local government. Throughout the Fellowship, he will focus on developing sustainable community capacity to fight for better redistricting outcomes and on litigating for communities who are continually ignored and shut out of their local government. This joint advocacy and litigation strategy seeks to empower communities to fight for and preserve their access to local democracy for years to come.
Equal access to our democracy is a fundamental component of racial justice. Especially at the local level, where the impact on peoples’ lives is most direct, we must ensure all communities can access transparent, responsive, and representative government.
Ronak Patel /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Nafisa will provide advocacy, outreach, and direct legal services to AMEMSA (Arab Middle Eastern Muslim South Asian) domestic violence survivors in the greater Los Angeles area.
This project serves AMEMSA (Arab Middle Eastern Muslim South Asian) abuse survivors. These communities are diverse in terms of religion and language, but individuals share the burden of a legal and societal system that privileges men, and, due to taboos about the role and rights of women in intimate partner relationships, domestic violence is widespread. In the United States, many AMEMSA women face obstacles when leaving abusive relationships. AMEMSA survivors are also less likely to seek help from law enforcement due to post 9/11 American sentiments about the population groups. Financial abuse is also prevalent in AMEMSA communities. This leads survivors to feel discouraged about leaving their abuser or pursuing legal action. While many AMEMSA abusers can afford to hire attorneys, survivors are often unrepresented and are disadvantaged in the justice system.
Nafisa’s personal connection to the population group motivates her to advocate for survivors to empower themselves and end cycles of abuse.
Fellowship Highlights to Date
So far, Nafisa has accomplished the following during her Fellowship:
- Provided direct legal services for 21 AMEMSA survivors in divorce, restraining order, and immigration matters, with Cooley’s support on one case. Nafisa also assisted 22 other domestic violence survivors outside the AMEMSA community to build substantive legal skills.
- Created Know-Your-Rights materials for immigrant survivors of domestic violence, which were translated into Arabic, Urdu, and Hindi with Uber’s support on translating materials. The materials were distributed to partner organizations and are available online.
- Engaged in community advocacy seminars and partnered with AMEMSA organizations to share information about legal rights when experiencing domestic violence and battle stigmas about seeking legal support.
In the next year, Nafisa plans to:
- Provide direct legal services for at least 40 AMEMSA domestic violence survivors in a range of family law and immigration matters.
- Create additional self-help materials, including a comprehensive family law guide for pro se litigants.
- Coordinate a pro bono clinic to assist clients with applying for a temporary restraining order.
- Continue to involve Uber and Cooley LLP in the project through legal research and clinic opportunities.
As a Bangladeshi, Muslim immigrant myself, I have witnessed the impact of domestic violence to those close to me and in my community. I want to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves.
Nafisa Ahmed /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Matt advocated to ensure that detained and recently released unaccompanied immigrant children receive the education services to which they are entitled through developing new litigation, supporting class action lawsuits, policy advocacy, collaborating with local organizations, and creating informative resources.
As of June 2021, there were over 17,000 unaccompanied children (“UCs”) in federal immigrant detention. These children are entitled to education services under federal law, state law, and the Flores Settlement Agreement. Tragically, federal and state governments frequently fail to provide the required services, particularly special education, which leaves UCs ill-equipped for public schools when they are released to their families in the U.S. Furthermore, some public schools create enrollment obstacles for released children, fail to provide them with required services, or push them into alternative education programs.
During the two-year Fellowship, Matt has:
- Developed potential new litigation to enforce the education rights of UCs with disabilities in more restrictive Office of Refugee Resettlement (“ORR”) facilities
- Wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Education urging it to issue new guidance that States and Local Education Agencies must comply with federal special education laws as applied to UCs with qualifying disabilities in their jurisdictions
- Conducted two Flores monitoring visits to ORR facilities and six trauma-informed interviews with UCs to learn about their experiences, obtain key evidence, and amplify their stories in ongoing advocacy;
- Wrote a memorandum on the ability to use materials from earlier lawsuits in the Lucas R. v. Azar case, which helped to inform strategic litigation decisions
- Provided brief services and referrals to 15 individuals who had youth law issues, including issues related to disability accommodations in schools
- In total, Matt and his team’s work potentially benefited over 70,000 immigrant children
Matt is moving to New York City and will continue working as a public interest attorney.