Susana Sandoval Vargas

The Project

Susana provided direct representation, impact litigation, and outreach to low-wage Latina immigrant workers in the Chicagoland area to empower them to defend their workplace rights and create systemic change.

There are more than 3 million low-wage immigrant Latina workers in the United States. These Latinas constitute more than two-thirds of the country’s low-wage immigrant women workers and make up large shares of the labor force in many service and light industrial occupations. Lack of formal education and limited English proficiency, combined with the fear of employer retaliation and immigration enforcement, leave this community vulnerable to illegal employment practices, including wage theft, unsafe workplace conditions, sexual harassment, and human trafficking. The challenges faced by Latina immigrant workers have been exacerbated by immigration enforcement policies and the global pandemic. Fear has trickled into these women’s daily lives.

For more than five years, Susana worked at a nonprofit where numerous immigrant women shared their hardships with her, including stories of domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, and employment exploitation. Tormented and shocked by the abuses and oppression these women face, Susana decided to dedicate her life to helping the immigrant community. Recognizing the enormous unmet legal needs of immigrant women was the deciding factor for her to attend law school and the inspiration behind her project.

Fellowship Highlights

Through her Fellowship project, Susana built strong relationships with community partners across the Chicagoland area. These partnerships allowed her to reach over 800 individuals in the Chicagoland area to educate them on their workplace rights through educational presentations. Susana also provided brief advice to at least 70 low-wage workers. Even during the middle of a global pandemic, Susana continued being a resource to the community. This was important because during the pandemic low-wage workers had concerns about their workplace rights, especially front-line workers. In addition, Susana advocated for two state agencies to provide in-language services that will increase access to justice for limited-English-proficient low-wage workers.

Next Steps

Susana will continue working at MALDEF after her fellowship. Susana plans to establish more collaborative partnerships to expand her project’s reach and exposure beyond the Chicagoland area to areas where services are more limited to marginalized communities. She will also bring impact litigation to challenge broader-based employer misconduct that harms low-wage workers. Susana will also further investigate and gather data on employment issues faced by low-wage workers to develop more strategies to create systemic change.

As an immigrant, as a DREAMER, I know and understand first-hand the hardships that immigrants face in the United States every day. For that reason, I have dedicated my career to helping this community. I am passionate about empowering the immigrant community to protect and defend their civil rights. I am very grateful to have the opportunity to represent this vulnerable community against employer abuses.

Susana Sandoval Vargas /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Inspiration

The Project

Teresa provided direct immigration legal representation, outreach, and advocacy on behalf of released unaccompanied minors in the Washington, DC metropolitan area who are victims of severe forms of violence, including intra-family violence, community violence, sexual violence, and trafficking.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) states that, in 2014 alone, more than 8,000 unaccompanied minors were released to their sponsors living in Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia. High percentages of these children have experienced community violence by armed criminal cartels or gangs or have experienced abuse or violence within their own homes. Furthermore, the most vulnerable of these children, those having experienced severe forms of violence or trafficking, are not always properly identified or connected with appropriate social service providers. A streamlined referral and information-sharing process is required in order to better address the mental health and social needs of these recently arrived survivors of violence.

Teresa is the right person for the project because:

  • She will draw on her experience working with immigrant children at Kids in Need of Defense
  • As a Northern Virginia native, Teresa has a special understanding of, and commitment to, the immigrant population in the target community
  • Throughout law school, she focused her coursework and internship opportunities on immigration and family law, which will be vital for her fellowship project

Fellowship Highlights

During Teresa’s Fellowship, Teresa:

  • Identified unaccompanied minors who have been victims of severe forms of violence for direct representation
  • Began outreach to non-profits, social service agencies, and schools on the need for comprehensive services and build connections with local trafficking-related organizations to identify child trafficking victims
  • Created a one-page, child-friendly fact sheet on the SIJS process for dissemination to families involved in their children’s cases and to the wider community