Nafisa Ahmed

The Project

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.

Next Steps

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

The Project

Molly implemented a holistic outreach and representation model to pursue zealous and creative immigration legal representation for transgender immigrant survivors of violence and trafficking with complex cases.

In New York City, transgender immigrant women experience pervasive and widespread discrimination and marginalization. Because of this intolerance, the community is disproportionately vulnerable to violence and human trafficking. The intersecting oppressions of a lack of immigration status and the criminalization of many forms of survival prevent many from accessing vital legal advocacy. This project worked to overcome such barriers by engaging in community outreach to educate and pursue direct legal representation for transgender survivors of violence and trafficking.

Fellowship Highlights

Despite an increasingly challenging immigration legal environment, Molly won asylum status and T visas for five transgender immigrant survivor clients, and has immigration applications pending for numerous others. Molly worked with out-of-state counsel to help clear trafficking and transphobia-related criminal records for several clients, assisted in international family reunification, and obtained employment authorization for numerous individuals.

Molly also provided advice, conducted brief service, and gave referrals to 50 individuals, and conducted Know Your Rights workshops and presentations to community groups throughout the city. She also educated legislators in Albany and New York about proposed legislation that would impact her clients.

What’s Next

Molly will remain at her host organization as an immigration staff attorney, where she will continue to zealously represent transgender immigrant survivors with complex cases and conduct community-based outreach.

The Project

Whit worked with incarcerated transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) individuals to address the issues they face in prison, specifically access to hormones and other medical needs, access to gender-affirming clothing, and reporting sexual assault.

TGNC people in custody (PIC) are eight times more likely than the general inmate population to experience sexual abuse by a staff member, and are 12 times more likely to experience sexual abuse by another inmate. Further, TGNC PIC are often denied access to medical needs, which leaves them thirty times more likely to attempt suicide. My project works with TGNC PIC to ensure that they are safe, able to access remedies when they experience sexual assault, and able to gain access to life-saving medical treatment.

Fellowship Highlights

During their Fellowship, Whit sent over 400 letters to TGNC people in prisons and jails in 26 different states in the US. Whit fully represented four individuals in advocating for their rights in facilities. Whit also developed advocacy letter templates that have been successfully used by other advocates in the field and conducted 18 for lawyers and coalition partners. The project was written about twice in national publications, and Whit’s work was spotlighted at the National LGBT Bar Association’s Lavender Law Conference.

What’s Next

Whit plans to continue volunteering with the project to ensure that this work advocating on behalf of those in need continues. Whit is also consulting with the National Center for Transgender Equality while they wait for their next full-time opportunity.


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