Erin Sweeney

The Project

Erin (she/her/hers) will focus on improving educational and legal outcomes for unaccompanied children by working with school districts to ensure students’ rights are met while also providing direct representation.

Thousands of unaccompanied children are being resettled in New Jersey each year. However, educators are often unaware of what rights immigrant students have, the different statuses of students, and how to meet their needs. This can leave unaccompanied children unenrolled in school and even aging out, which can prevent youth from being eligible for some forms of legal relief. Schools need to be educated on how to identify, refer, and support unaccompanied children. Lawyers need to know how to navigate school districts and ensure their client’s educational needs are met.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Erin will build relationships with at least five school districts in New Jersey to educate them on how to better support immigrant youth, leading to the creation of a guide lawyers can use to navigate educational systems. She will conduct Know Your Rights events and legal screenings to identify more students in need of immigration legal services. She will also directly represent unaccompanied minors referred from the school districts and/or who are facing educational issues such as difficulty enrolling.

Immigrant rights and the right to an education are both vital civil rights issues of our time. My Equal Justice Works Fellowship has afforded me the opportunity to bring together my passion for both to serve the most vulnerable immigrants: unaccompanied children.

Erin Sweeney /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Inspiration

The Project

A common problem in Chicago is that tenants are evicted from their housing for reasons that stem from a disability. Instead of facing eviction, people with disabilities can request a reasonable accommodation, but those requests often require medical documentation that doctors can be hesitant to provide. I will work directly with medical and mental health providers in Chicago to address the issues that our clients face as they enforce their legal right to remain independent.

The Inspiration

The Project

Kathryn prevented homeless families from being forced to sleep outside, on the subway, or in unsafe homes by providing know-your-rights materials and representing families when they were illegally denied shelter in New York City.

There is a right to shelter in New York City, but the City regularly denies shelter to eligible homeless families, forcing them to sleep in unsafe conditions. This project assisted these families at every stage of their shelter applications, including drafting informational materials, assisting them in obtaining evidence of their homelessness, and representing them at contest hearings surrounding unlawful denials of shelter. The project focused on those families that are most often illegally denied shelter, including domestic violence survivors, families with serious medical needs, families with limited English proficiency, and teenage families.

Fellowship Highlights

During her Fellowship, Kathryn:

  • Developed know-your-rights materials that explain the shelter application process for homeless families
  • Conducted outreach twice a week at Prevention Assistance and Temporary Housing (PATH), the facility where homeless families apply for shelter
  • Provided legal advice to more than 1,700 families entering PATH
  • Represented 77 families who were wrongfully denied shelter (all of whom were found eligible or found alternative housing)
  • Provided brief services to 89 families, including many families placed in medically-inappropriate shelter facilities
  • Trained attorneys, social workers, and other advocates who work with homeless families on the right to shelter in New York City
  • Participated in impact litigation involving Hurricane Sandy evacuees and homeless families
  • Provided advocacy and advice to Hurricane Sandy evacuees

Next Step

Kathryn remained at her host organization, The Legal Aid Society, as a Staff Attorney.

The Project

Beth provided direct representation to unaccompanied immigrant female minors in the Boston area who have been victims of gender-based violence. She collaborated with mental health and medical providers to increase access to critical social services for these children.

In recent months, the numbers of unaccompanied minors fleeing violence in their home countries and entering the U.S. alone has increased significantly. These minors are being immediately placed in expedited deportation proceedings. Beth’s clients are among the most vulnerable unaccompanied minors whose well-being—and even their lives—are at risk if they are deported. Children cannot successfully navigate the complex immigration legal system alone, yet they are not afforded the right to appointed counsel in immigration proceedings. Beth’s project provides critical legal representation to traumatized children who would otherwise have to participate in proceedings alone. Beth is also using her expertise to mentor law firm and corporate pro bono attorneys.

Fellowship Highlights

In the past two years, Beth has:

  • Provided legal representation to young female survivors of gender-based violence who are facing deportation
  • Developed best practices for legal representation and social services collaboration in serving this uniquely vulnerable population
  • Created model filings for pro bono attorneys representing unaccompanied minors facing deportation
  • Mentored pro bono attorneys representing unaccompanied minors in increasingly expedited and complex proceedings
  • Provide high-level mentorship to pro bono attorneys facing complex and expedited proceedings in the context of the surge of unaccompanied minors fleeing violence
  • Collaborated with social service providers and other stakeholders to ensure her clients—and similarly situated vulnerable minors—have access to the services they need

The Project

Advocate for elderly tenants with subsidized housing vouchers living in Washington, DC who are at risk of eviction and homelessness due to their landlords’ failure to comply with housing standards and the potential termination of their voucher.

Seniors in Washington, DC are increasingly at risk of becoming homeless. The Housing Choice Voucher Program makes housing affordable for low-income individuals. It caps rent at 30 percent of the tenant’s income, and the DC Housing Authority (DCHA) provides the landlord a subsidy for the remaining rent. However, DCHA terminates its subsidy if the landlord fails to maintain the property. Tenants are then forced to move out or pay market rent with the risk of being evicted. Tenants with vouchers also face voucher discrimination in the District, as many landlords refuse to lease their properties to individuals with vouchers. Through early intervention, this project will work to prevent the unnecessary displacement of and the discrimination against low-income seniors who have housing vouchers.

Fellowship Highlights

In the past two years, Olivia has:

  • Assisted nearly 200 seniors with vouchers in remaining housed and preserving their vouchers
    Established an early referral pipeline between DCHA and LCE for at-risk seniors with vouchers
    Submitted testimony to DC Council at DCHA’s oversight hearings in 2017 and 2018
  • What’s NextCreated a training manual for the project

Next Steps

Now that the fellowship is complete, Olivia plans to:

  • Complete a clerkship at the U.S. District Court of Connecticut
  • Return to the District’s direct legal services community to continue advocating for individuals’ access to housing