Alexis Alvarez

The Project

Alexis’s (she/her) project with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Racial Justice Program will challenge and reform occupational licensing regimes that exclude women of color from gainful employment based on criminal arrest or conviction history.

Nearly one in three working-age adults have criminal records in the United States, and one in four jobs require a license from the government. Many people are summarily denied licenses because of past convictions or arrests, even when that history has no relationship to their ability to work in that industry competently and safely. Eliminating these restrictions will allow women of color who are disproportionately targeted by the criminal justice system to have expanded access to employment.

Throughout her career working to end the criminalization of poverty, Alexis has spoken with many people stuck in cycles of poverty and incarceration due to an unjust system of laws and regulations that makes it extremely difficult to find gainful employment. Eliminating these discriminatory occupational licensing restrictions will break these cycles by ensuring people have every opportunity to support themselves and their families.

Fellowship Plans

Alexis will challenge current occupational licensing restrictions through litigation and storytelling advocacy. She will partner with re-entry organizations to share stories of people who have struggled to find employment due to these harmful licensing restrictions. Amplifying these important stories will demonstrate the devastating impact these restrictions have on people of color. Alexis will also bring litigation to strike down restrictions that disproportionately exclude women of color.

Equitable access to employment is essential for living a productive, successful life in this country. Removing unnecessary and unfair occupational licensing restrictions has the potential to open millions of jobs to millions of people.

Alexis Alvarez /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Javiera is building a network of service providers to address the legal needs of unaccompanied immigrant and refugee children in Eastern Washington.

No child should face Immigration Court alone. Children and families who come to KIND are among the most vulnerable in our society. Many have fled life-threatening violence, struggle with varying forms of trauma, and come to the United States in hopes of finding safety. Unaccompanied immigrant children are not provided with an attorney in their removal (deportation) proceedings; without counsel, it is nearly impossible for them to navigate the U.S. immigration system.

Javiera immigrated to the United States when she was sixteen years old. Throughout her journey, she was treated with empathy. Today, she hopes to be an advocate and support other children in their journeys.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

During the first year of the Fellowship, Javiera has:

  • Provided full legal representation to 15 unaccompanied immigrant children in SIJS applications, applying for work permits, biometric appointments, ICE check-ins, representing clients in Immigration Court, and connecting clients with social services
  • Launched active outreach program in Eastern Washington that includes contacting local service providers and community groups, preparing virtual presentations and webinars for pro bono attorneys, identifying, and pursuing partnership opportunities, and initiating recruitment of pro bono attorneys
  • Conducted three presentations for students, parents of unaccompanied children, and foster parents of unaccompanied refugee minors
  • Established a collaborative relationship with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and Lutheran Community Services Northwest, enlisting allies to help expand project reach and exposure
  • Recruited five pro bono volunteers to support KIND’s work.

Next Steps

In the next six months, Javiera plans to:

  • Expand outreach program by connecting with stakeholders, recruiting volunteers, and engaging in education at selected community sites
  • Continue placement of individual clients with pro bono attorneys to expand project capacity to serve unaccompanied immigrant children in Eastern Washington
  • Train, mentor, and provide other resources to pro bono attorneys and the judicial bench
  • Expand caseload to provide full direct legal representation to 22 unaccompanied immigrant children

Media

Two 2020 grads receive Equal Justice Works Fellowships

KIND was founded based on the conviction that no child should face immigration court alone. The same conviction has inspired me to direct my efforts to immigration law actively.

Javiera L. Wood /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Josephine supports indigenous Central American immigrant youth by representing them in removal proceedings, by improving medical-legal partnerships in New York, and by creating resources for culturally and trauma-informed representation.

In 2019, about a quarter of migrants apprehended at the U.S.-Mexican border were indigenous Mayans from Central America. New York is the third-highest receiver of unaccompanied immigrant children (UIC) nationally and is home to many Mayan communities. Mayan youth arriving in the United States face obstacles to accessing resources, including language barriers, discrimination, and alienation from formal legal, medical, and educational systems. Many are survivors of trauma and are likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety.

Before law school, Josephine worked to support indigenous communities fighting gender-based violence and historical wrongs in Guatemala. Throughout law school, she worked with asylum-seeking families and youth, including indigenous clients who were additionally harmed by the immigration system. Josephine believes that the indigenous peoples of Central America deserve legal services that acknowledge and affirm their full humanity in a system that falls short of doing so.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

During the first year of the Fellowship, Josephine has:

  • Represented 25 unaccompanied children and three parents of children in Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, Asylum, U-Visa, and other removal defense proceedings and provided legal consultations and referrals to another 13 clients
  • Implemented training of legal, medical, mental health, and programmatic staff on working with Indigenous communities, reaching 100 individuals
  • Created a screening tool for lawyers and legal assistants to use to screen Mayan youth in government custody and removal proceedings
  • Met with four organizations seeking to replicate the project’s medical-legal partnership model in New York, New Orleans, and Baltimore

Next Steps

In the next year, Josephine plans to:

  • Continue representation of Indigenous youth, including by implementing innovative strategies under quickly changing immigration law
  • Expand screening tool to better assist legal providers in spotting asylum issues for Indigenous youth and create a guide for service providers
  • Continue to develop partnerships to allow for holistic representation of unaccompanied youth

The Project

Alaina directly represented children whose cases involved domestic violence issues as Lawyers For Children’s (LFC) Domestic Violence Specialist at the Manhattan Family Court.

The Inspiration

Need Addressed By Project

Family Court cases involving domestic violence are unique and highly complex family law proceedings that involve a number of moving parts. There can be a lot at stake: physical danger; psychological and developmental harm; the separation of children from their families, sometimes permanently; and potential trauma in foster care. Given the delicate subject matter and the inordinate number of domestic violence cases in the Manhattan Family Court, these cases require specialized expertise and the provision of dedicated, focused services. This project established LFC’s only dedicated Manhattan Family Court Domestic Violence Specialist. Additionally, this project provided a model for children’s attorneys in other Family Courts.

Fellowship Highlights

In the past two years, Alaina has:
• Represented 183 children (131 families) on 284 dockets in the Manhattan Family Court. These cases included high-conflict custody, family offense, abuse and neglect, foster care, and termination of parental rights dockets where clients were victims of or exposed to domestic violence.
• Counseled clients and advocated for their wishes by interviewing clients and their parents, filing and defending motions, engaging in discovery and evidentiary objections, negotiating settlements, preparing for trial, referring clients for therapy and other services, and advocating at daily hearings and trials.
• Created a guide for LFC’s teenage clients addressing how to identify healthy and unhealthy relationships and how to access domestic violence resources.
• Designed and implemented a survey that captured, for the first time, the percentage of cases at the Manhattan Family Court that involve domestic violence. The survey will be used in future systemic reform efforts.

Where are they now?

Now that the Fellowship is complete, Alaina will:

• Continue as LFC’s Domestic Violence Specialist in Manhattan Family Court, which has been made a permanent component of LFC’s programs and services.

• Work with LFC’s older clients in foster care who have started dating and are in emotionally and/or physically abusive relationships.

• Use skills gained over the past two years to advocate for case management reforms and other systemic reform efforts.

The Project

Pilar provided legal representation to unaccompanied children released to sponsors in Los Angeles who fled serious forms of sexual, domestic, and gang violence, human trafficking or other heinous crimes. She will also create a social services directory to be used in Los Angeles and replicated in other Kids In Need of Defense (KIND) offices that will connect legal and non-legal service providers to better address the various obstacles that face child migrants, such as access to mental health providers and education services.

Over the past year, the United States saw a drastic increase in unaccompanied children (UACs) coming to the United States seeking safety. Many of these children are fleeing serious forms of violence, such as sexual violence, domestic violence, human trafficking, gang-based violence or other heinous crimes. The children are not provided with legal representation. They have to gather evidence, prepare declarations and argue against an experienced government attorney by themselves for the chance to stay in the United States. According to reports by the Office of Refuge Resettlement, between January 1 to July 31, 2014, 3909 UACs were released to sponsors living in California. The sponsor is often a family member or friend, but is usually someone the child has not seen in many years, if at all. In addition to navigating a complex legal system, the children and their sponsors have to navigate their way through the public school system, and figure out how to access vital non-legal social service providers, all while speaking a different language.

Fellowship Highlights

During Pilar’s Fellowship, Pilar:

  • Identified unaccompanied children who are eligible for relief
  • Recruited and train pro bono attorneys to take cases
  • Established working relationships with organizations that advocate for the non-legal needs of the children

The Project

Kaitlyn provided targeted representation to parents with physical, developmental, and intellectual disabilities in child welfare cases so that they have an equal opportunity to maintain family integrity.

As a result of uninformed child welfare policies and the mistaken belief that people with disabilities are unfit to parent, parents with disabilities are disproportionately referred to child welfare services and experience removal of their children in up to 80% of cases. Yet studies have consistently found that there is no relationship between intelligence and parenting capabilities. Under Title II of Americans with Disabilities Act, parents with disabilities are entitled to protection from unlawful discrimination in the administration of child welfare programs. Despite their ADA protections, parents with disabilities rarely receive the accommodations to which they are entitled, which leads to the unnecessary separation of their families. Specialized representation of parents with disabilities that is grounded in access to appropriate resources, disability experts, and practice guides will improve attorneys’ abilities to demand the proper accommodations their clients need to overcome barriers to reunifying their families.

Fellowship Highlights

During the Fellowship period, Kaitlyn:

  • Provided full representation to over 88 clients in child welfare cases
  • Assisted 20 parents in reunifying with their children
  • Assisted 42 parents successfully resolving and closing their child welfare cases
  • Surveyed the services available to support parents with disabilities
  • Provided training on the ADA for lawyers and advocates

Next Steps

Kaitlyn continues practicing at The Bronx Defenders as a staff attorney in their Family Defense Practice. Kaitlyn also continues her work representing parents with disabilities, as well as other parents involved in child welfare cases in the Bronx.

The Project

Elizabeth provided direct representation to unaccompanied immigrant children in the Central Valley of California, coordinated social services, and worked with school districts to conduct Know Your Rights outreach.

This project aimed to address the gap in representation of unaccompanied immigrant and refugee children in the Central Valley, a region in which there is limited access to pro bono legal assistance and social services. KIND is the primary nonprofit legal service provider in the Central Valley specializing in legal representation of unaccompanied children. This project increased KIND’s capacity to represent more children. This project also leveraged local community organizations to connect unaccompanied children with needed social services, specifically focusing on schools and Know Your Rights (KYR) education.

Fellowship Highlights

During her two-year Fellowship, Elizabeth:

  • Represented 31 clients, all of whom are unaccompanied children living in the Central Valley, and pursued various forms of immigration relief such as asylum, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), U-visas for victims of crime, and T-visas for victims of human trafficking
  • Obtained seven state court predicate orders for clients pursuing SIJS, and raised creative and successful arguments to state court judges in four counties’ probate and family courts
  • Successfully represented a child in a Motion to Reopen, resulting in the rescinding of a removal order
  • Worked with local partners to promote and execute Saturday outreach events for the local community where we provide immigration consultations and KYR education
  • Assisted with KIND resource fairs in Modesto and Mendota, including conducting a KYR presentation during the Mendota resource fair geared towards unaccompanied children and their sponsors
  • Collaborated with legal and social services providers throughout the Central Valley to build removal defense capacity and advocate for representation of children in immigration court
  • Conducted Pro Bono trainings with Sidley Austin in Palo Alto and GitHub in San Francisco

Next Steps

Following the Fellowship, Elizabeth has remained at KIND’s Fresno Satellite Office as a staff attorney, where she continues to represent unaccompanied children in the Central Valley of California.