Brenda Pfahnl

The Project

Brenda (she/her/hers) will launch an innovative CDFI-Legal Partnership (CDFI-LP) to provide immigration and small business legal services which address the nexus between immigration status and economic justice for immigrants in Minnesota.

Minnesota’s Latinx population is growing steadily while the state’s white population has begun to decline. However, the typical white family in Minnesota holds five times the wealth of the typical Latinx family. This disparity extends to Latinx-owned businesses. Most recently, immigrant entrepreneurs were significantly impacted by the dual pandemics of Covid-19 and racial injustice. Following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, protests were centered in the heart of the immigrant business districts of Minneapolis in St. Paul, having the unintended consequences of property damage and extended business closures.

Immigration status directly impacts the stability felt by immigrant business owners and their family members. Gaining pathways to legal status and citizenship would allow entrepreneurs to invest more confidently in their future.

Fellowship Plans

This project will create a partnership between three non-profit organizations to serve clients more holistically and efficiently. The fellow will directly engage with Latinx entrepreneurs and their family members by providing legal intake, direct legal services, and referrals to staff attorneys and pro bono volunteers. Additionally, she will create a case study of this unique partnership and provide trainings to organizations and trade associations interested in replicating this model elsewhere.

As the granddaughter of immigrants, I felt a strong desire to serve immigrants who choose to make Minnesota their home. My Equal Justice Works Fellowship has allowed me to use my CDFI background and firm belief in the power of community partnerships to serve the legal needs of Minnesota’s Latinx community.

Brenda Pfahnl /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Mackenzie provides outreach, education, and legal representation to young adult immigrants in Minnesota, focusing on responding to legal changes with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

DACA status can have a profound effect on an undocumented person’s life: not only because it provides protection against deportation, but also because it creates many opportunities. With DACA status, a person can get a driver’s license, a social security number, and a work permit, all of which make it easier to access education and stable, higher-paying employment. Therefore, the need for free legal representation for young adult immigrants who may be eligible for DACA is significant, especially in light of the unavailability of fee waivers for DACA applications and the intense scrutiny of immigration applications.

Mackenzie is passionate about working with immigrants because of her experience working as a student director at the Detainee Rights Clinic, where she represented detained immigrants in removal proceedings, and as an attorney-advisor at the Otay Mesa Immigration Court. Mackenzie’s experiences in immigration law further solidified her commitment to expand access to legal services for immigrant communities and to advocate for the rights of those communities.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the first year of the Fellowship, Mackenzie has:

  • Conducted screenings and intakes for potential initial DACA filers in Minnesota and helped maintain a waitlist of almost 100 people who are hoping to apply for DACA in Minnesota.
  • Trained pro bono attorneys on how to complete both DACA renewal and Initial DACA cases.
  • Established collaborative partnerships with several Twin Cities area community colleges and gave presentations to students and staff about immigration 101 and immigrant rights.
  • Worked with multiple clients to renew their DACA status.
  • Obtained Advance Parole for a DACA client who was able to return to Mexico and visit her family for the first time in almost 16 years.

Next Steps

In the next year, Mackenzie plans to:

  • Continue working with community colleges and local high schools by presenting students and staff with relevant immigration legal information and possibly providing immigration legal assistance onsite.
  • Continue working with pro bono attorneys on DACA renewal and initial cases, as well as working with pro bono volunteers on conducting Know Your Rights presentations in schools.
  • Continue working on DACA renewal and initial cases, as well as providing immigration legal support to my DACA clients such as assistance with U visas and deportation defense.


Mackenzie Heinrichs ’18 Named Equal Justice Works Fellow