Kate (she/her/hers) will provide client-centered legal representation and systemic advocacy to ensure adolescents in foster care access personalized comprehensive services for their transition into adulthood.
The Massachusetts foster care system consistently fails to provide the children in its care with federally-mandated comprehensive services to support their transition into adulthood. This failure causes devastating harm to Black, Latinx, and disabled children who are disproportionately separated from their families and placed into foster care. Adolescents in foster care have the lowest high school graduation rates in Massachusetts and face increased risk of homelessness, poverty, and further trauma as adults.
The children in foster care deserve a lawyer who will advocate alongside them to ensure that the state implements policy and action so that every child in their care accesses the personalized community-based resources necessary for their transition into adulthood.
Kate’s project is motivated by her experiences working with resilient young people facing challenges from systems involvement, disabilities, and/or mental health issues. Kate is dedicated to disrupting the oppressive systems that harm young people by ensuring that systems-involved young people have their voices heard and are given the personalized community-based resources they need to achieve their goals.
During the Fellowship, Kate will work with teens in the foster care system to provide legal representation on educational matters regarding their rights to access tailored transitional services. She will survey young people previously or currently in the foster care system to understand the qualities of effective community-based resources that will inform policy advocacy, as well as build connections to resource providers in the under-served Springfield area. Kate will also train child advocates and pro bono attorneys on legal advocacy techniques for getting comprehensive transitional services for youth in foster care and/or with special education needs.
It is essential to center the expert voices of young people in foster care when making decisions about their lives so that they will receive the resources, community supports, and self-advocacy skills they need to thrive as adults.
Kate DiVasto /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Leah pursued relief from removal for detained and formerly detained survivors of violence in Texas, particularly indigenous language speakers, through direct representation, resource development, and advocacy.
In Central Texas, fewer than half of non-detained immigrants have legal representation; for detained individuals, that number drops to about 20%. During the term of the Fellowship, changes in case law and policy undermined protections for refugees and disproportionately impacted asylum seekers who speak indigenous languages, who are often fleeing years of institutional discrimination and violence in their countries of origin. Rare language speakers are frequently denied appropriate language access during their hearings and throughout their detention.
Because she lives in a mixed-status family, Leah understands the fear that her clients feel knowing that a member of their family could be taken from their lives at any moment. She understands the role that the legal system plays—for better and for worse— in her clients’ lives, and her first-hand experiences with the power of the legal system frame her outlook during every client meeting.
During her two-year Fellowship, Leah:
- Provided full representation or advice/brief services in over 85 immigration cases in central and south Texas
- Represented indigenous language speakers in removal proceedings in Immigration Court, including cases of individuals who were non-detained as well as those in ICE detention
- Hosted trainings for pro bono attorneys on the topic of representing asylum seekers in removal proceedings
- Engaged in coalition building in the community through collaboration with over 45 groups and participation in over 60 external meetings to advance the goals and reach of the project
- Regularly collaborated with other attorneys working on asylum cases from Texas to California and offered guidance on issues involving indigenous language speakers
- Organized and co-led a three-part in-house training on the topic of language access, including TRLA’s Language Access Plan and Title VI obligations
Leah is pleased to continue her work with the Immigration Team at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid in Austin as a staff attorney at the conclusion of her Fellowship.
There are simply not enough non-profit immigration lawyers in Texas.
Leah Rodriguez /
Equal Justice Works Fellow