Adriel increased access to legal services for low-income immigrants in underserved and rural communities in New Mexico through strategic collaboration with community partners.
New Mexico is a sparsely populated and impoverished state which prevents many communities across the state from accessing basic legal services. They are among the poorest of the working poor and foreign-born individuals are also less likely to graduate from high school, be employed in nonservice occupations, and be unemployed than native-born individuals. Moreover, many parents in immigrant families are not fluent in English, and are not familiar with their rights within American society. As a result, many immigrant parents do not take advantage of public support systems that are available to them, and they often fall victim to wage theft, consumer fraud, predatory lending or other predatory practices. To compound their problems, many immigrants in New Mexico live in communities without even one attorney. This project builds on state-wide immigrant integration efforts and addresses the lack of access to legal services by representing low-income immigrants in underserved areas of New Mexico and establishing strategic partnerships across the state.
In the past two years, Adriel has:
- Provided direct representation to 42 clients on issues such as citizenship, green card renewals, removal defense, bond redeterminations, U Visas, T Visas, and family-based petitions.
- Provided brief consultations to 390 individuals across New Mexico.
- Provided educational presentations and outreach to 728 individuals about legal issues impacting immigrants, such as a settlement with the state regarding state income tax refunds, citizenship and immigration remedies.
- Participated in more than 115 meetings to establish and to continue collaborations with 37 organizations, schools, and government agencies.
New Mexico Immigration Corps Overview
From 2016 to 2020, the New Mexico Immigration Corps deployed lawyers and paralegals to provide critically needed legal aid to immigrant children and families throughout New Mexico. A primary goal of the program was to create a pipeline of new and prospective lawyers from the immigrant community and communities of color into the public interest sector in New Mexico.
Throughout the four-year program, Fellows partnered with public interest programs at the University of New Mexico School of Law to create opportunities for law students interested in working with immigrant populations; collaborated to increase the representation of historically marginalized individuals in the legal profession; coordinated with pro bono attorneys interested in supporting low-income immigrants; and worked with community organizations to provide holistic services and support.
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Adriel plans to:
- Continue working at the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center to address legal and policy issues impacting immigrants in New Mexico.
- Continue to build an infrastructure that supports people of color and immigrants entering the legal profession.
The New Mexico Immigrant Law Center has provided me many opportunities to grow and to give back to the immigrant community. The Fellowship included legal services and systemic advocacy, which allowed me to explore various aspects of the legal profession
Adriel Orozco /
Equal Justice Works Fellow
Heather offered rural homeless adults and families a fresh start to overcoming poverty in northwest Michigan by founding a “Community Outreach Court” adapted to resolve common contributors to rural homelessness, and represented low-income renters facing eviction and imminent homelessness.
Lack of shelter is the ultimate poverty. In northwest Michigan’s gentrifying job center, Traverse City, unprecedented housing demand is driving renters to remote, dilapidated housing. Displaced renters annually drive thousands of extra miles and pay $16,076 on transportation to work at low-wage service jobs. They spend a crushing 73% of their income on housing and transportation and are uniquely susceptible to accumulating fines and bench warrants correlated with rural poverty. With virtually no vacancy, eviction is tantamount to homelessness. To disrupt this tragic cycle, we must recognize that cumulative fines and warrants are needless barriers to housing and offer alternative, nonmonetary means to eliminate them. Community Outreach Court credits self-restorative actions designed to address the root causes of a person’s poverty or homelessness.
During her Fellowship, Heather:
- Advised or represented over 430 clients facing eviction or homelessness
- Collaboratively designed and launched a Community Outreach Court adapted to address rural homelessness, in partnership with a committed team of judges, attorneys, formerly homeless adults, social service providers, and other stakeholders
- Recruited more than 40 pro bono attorneys to represent low-income tenants facing eviction and/or expunge old criminal convictions
Professor Abraham is an Associate Professor of Law and Director of the Civil Rights & Transparency Clinic at the University at Buffalo School of Law (SUNY). She continues to practice and supervise student attorneys in civil rights litigation, with a focus on housing discrimination and reducing residential segregation.
A critical part of my Fellowship is being a watchdog. I keep an eye on landlords who break the law when no one is looking.
Heather Abraham /
Equal Justice Works
Low-wage, immigrant janitorial workers face some of the worst and most pervasive employment abuses afflicting the working poor. Like many other immigrant workers, janitorial workers are often victims of wage theft and other employment abuses that can have a severe impact on their financial health. This project also addresses two abuses particular to the janitorial industry: workplace sexual assault and employer fraud schemes. Janitorial workers are especially vulnerable to workplace sexual assault because they so often are women working alone at night in dimly lit, isolated places. Janitorial workers also frequently become victims of employer fraud schemes in which employers cheat them out of tens of thousands of dollars by pretending to sell “business franchises” to these workers. An attorney is needed to combat these predatory practices and provide aid to workers facing abuse.
During her Fellowship, Hannah:
- Represented approximately 40 clients in wage theft and discrimination cases in civil litigation
- Provided advice, brief service, and referrals to over 500 individuals
- Conducted attorney training on janitorial justice issues
- Continued legal outreach and coalition building with community groups
- Conducted presentations on the employment rights of survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Hannah plans to:
- Continue her work at the Equal Justice Center
- Increase participation in Equal Justice Center’s Legal Aid for Survivors of Sexual Assault program by creating a pilot program with a local women’s shelter
- Supervise new Equal Justice Center attorneys
Many of the roughly 1.4 million transgender individuals in the United States live in Los Angeles County. Because few medical providers specialize in transgender care, those who do often are saturated and lack capacity to treat all of the patients in need. Doctors are in a unique position to screen for legal needs affecting patient health. Addressing primary legal issues can alleviate what eventually manifests as medical concerns, and can also increase capacity at transgender health clinics.
In the past two years, Jordan has:
- Launched the Transgender Medical-Legal Partnership (MLP) with Bet Tzedek Legal Services and the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Transgender Health Program.
- Provided legal assistance to nearly 450 clients, fighting discrimination and harassment in housing, employment, and public accommodations; appealing health insurance coverage denials of medically necessary care; and writing petitions for legal name and gender marker changes, among others.
- Trained and recruited 366 pro bono attorneys, community volunteers, and law students to volunteer with the Transgender MLP.
- Created Know Your Rights trainings and brochures tailored to transgender rights in housing, employment, public accommodations, and health insurance.
- Hosted 27 legal name and gender marker change clinics.
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Jordan plans to:
- Continue the work of her project at Bet Tzedek Legal Services.
- Collect and analyze data from the Transgender MLP to determine the short-term impact of legal interventions on patient health and to support expansion of the MLP model.
- Continue representing clients in fighting harassment and discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations, and health insurance.
- Partner with community organizations to promote policy changes.
- Continue hosting legal name and gender marker change clinics.
Henrissa advocated for formerly incarcerated youth with disabilities by providing trauma-informed, civil legal representation, training probation officers and community-based providers on best practices when serving youth with disabilities, and supporting youth-led advocacy.
Juvenile confinement and its associated adverse social and educational impacts disparately affect youth of color and youth with disabilities. At 27 percent, Contra Costa County’s youth confinement rate is much higher than the state average of 18 percent. Yet probation departments struggle to connect delinquency-involved youth, particularly those with disabilities, to family settings and to comprehensive, trauma-informed services and supports.
In the past two years, Henrissa has:
- Provided wide-ranging legal advice and representation (including reentry, benefits and housing eligibility, extension of benefits, and unlawful detainer) to 114 formerly incarcerated at-risk youth;
- Successfully re-entered numerous formerly incarcerated and at-risk youth with mental health issues into foster care;
- Secured SSI screenings and CalFresh/Medi-Cal benefits for clients;
- Secured Medi-Cal-funded specialty mental health services for delinquency-involved youth;
- Conducted weekly legal clinics at a local youth homeless shelter;
- Presented to a group of over 50 partners, including the County Assistant Chief of probation, San Pablo Police Department, County Public Defender’s Office, and community-based organizations on key issues affecting youth with disabilities in the juvenile justice system;
- Working alongside youth leaders, founded and built out Young Leaders Igniting the Fight for Equity (Y-LIFE), a youth-led advocacy group designed to integrate the perspectives of systems-affected youth into the practices and policies of local decision-makers and youth-service providers;
- Applied for and received a grant to fund the work of Y-LIFE and pay its members a competitive stipend.
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Henrissa plans to:
- Distribute Y-LIFE’s “Navigating Your Success” toolkit to community partners and incarcerated youth;
- Continue to support the advocacy efforts of Y-LIFE and other youth-led advocacy efforts;
- Work to prevent homelessness by representing clients during eviction proceedings and helping clients with disabilities secure reasonable accommodations to preserve their housing.
Legal services and support for Native people, particularly those who have been alienated from their tribal communities due to relocation and incarceration, are sharply limited, and no specialized legal services exist for this population. This means that many Native people cannot access their special protections for custody of their children; tribal benefits; and religious and cultural services.
Melina represented Native American survivors of trauma in a variety of legal settings. She created a legal and social services program in Chicago for Native people who have been sexually exploited and supported tribes in building legislation and policies to combat this exploitation. Melina also challenged racially discriminatory practices in public schools and worked with incarcerated Native people to protect access to their tribal rights while in prison
In the past two years, Melina has:
- Represented over 200 incarcerated Native clients to get them enrolled in their tribes; restore their tribal benefits; get them access to religious and cultural services in prison; remedy medical and mental health services issues; obtain divorces; and take administrative action against prison officials for violating their rights.
- Provided brief advice or services to 30 students and parents of students who were discriminated against in school or denied their special education benefits.
- Designed a series of memos designed for incarcerated Native people to understand their rights.
- Partnered with tribes to challenge racial discrimination by state agencies.
- Trained dozens of tribal and other government leaders on legislative and policy strategies to prevent sex trafficking and other forms of exploitation on reservations.
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Melina plans to continue to represent incarcerated Native people in claims against prisons for violation of their religious rights.
Over the last few years, the United States has experienced an unprecedented surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America entering the country at the southern border. Fleeing horrific violence—much of it gang-related—many of these children end up in New York, the state with the second highest number of unaccompanied minors, hoping to start a new life. Instead, they are forced to face the immigration process alone, as the U.S. government does not provide free, court-appointed attorneys to asylum seekers.
Lauren’s project focused on delivering high quality, specialized legal assistance to unaccompanied minors and creating a space for these children to grow and heal from the trauma of their past.
During her Fellowship, Lauren was able to provide free legal representation to 71 immigrant children; achieving monumental victories for her clients, including four green cards, 10 asylum grants; 25 successful Family Court outcomes for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status; and one DACA approval. She conducted more than 33 legal screenings of children seeking an attorney, including five detained children who were separated from their parents under the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy. Additionally, she co-founded a girls empowerment group called Las Mariposas, which translates to, “The Butterflies”.
Following her Fellowship, Lauren has stayed on with Safe Passage Project, where she remains committed to representing unaccompanied minors in immigration court. She continues to lead Las Mariposas, while incorporating a new focus on support group discussions. Lauren hopes to establish her own nonprofit, called The Brave House, which will be a shelter for immigrant girls in New York City.
This project directly responded to the needs of immigrants on the Texas border by addressing civil rights violations, including dangerous conditions at detention centers, due process violations during the detention and/or removal process, and arbitrary policies regarding the certification of U visas for immigrants who are the victims of crimes. The project also provided much-needed know-your-rights training for immigrant communities and their families, empowering individuals to exercise their rights and identify abusive unconstitutional behavior in the immigration system.
In the past two years, Brooke has:
- Represented noncitizens in removal proceedings
- Investigated dangerous detention center conditions
- Advocated for humane U visa processes for victims of crime
- Provided know-your-rights workshops and trainings throughout the El Paso border region
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Brooke plans to continue her work in immigration law by working in deportation defense.
Andrea advocated on behalf of detained immigrants in removal proceedings through direct legal representation, Know Your Rights programming, and pro bono referral to increase legal representation. Andrea also informed the advocacy community and collaborated with local organizations to improve access to legal help and improve detention conditions.
Andrea’s project served vulnerable, indigent asylum-seekers who had recently arrived in the U.S. with no knowledge of the U.S. immigration system in a “low priority” facility that houses immigrants with little to no criminal history. There, immigrants languish with minimal meaningful prospect of release. Andrea’s project served survivors of torture and domestic violence to increase odds of success, release, and access to legal information. Due to changes ushered in by the new Administration, Andrea’s project included urgent cases of vulnerable persons detained at other underserved ICE facilities and began to use a Detention Hotline to address the needs of people in custody.
In the past two years, Andrea has:
- Provided legal assistance to over 700 people.
- Provided legal consultations to approximately 600 detained people.
- Provided nearly 100 Know Your Rights Presentations to detained immigrants.
- Represented approximately 90 clients before the Immigration Court and approximately 80 of those in release from detention or custody-related matters.
- Found pro bono counsel for over 30 asylum-seekers in ICE custody.
- Represented detained immigrants in cancelation of removal for permanent and non-permanent residents.
- Represented approximately 15 detained and non-detained immigrants before the Board of Immigration Appeals.
- Represented Somalis in Motions to Reopen subsequent to a failed deportation flight to Somalia.
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Andrea plans to:
- Continue the work of her project as a Staff Attorney at Americans for Immigrant Justice.
- Continue to advocate for vulnerable persons in ICE custody in the Detention Program.
Kena worked to ensure disadvantaged unincorporated communities in California’s Central Valley had equitable access to safe water and other basic municipal services through advocacy, litigation, and public education.
Californians in Fresno, Madera, and Merced counties lack reliable access to basic municipal services including safe, affordable water. This problem is particularly acute for residents of the counties’ 200 disadvantaged unincorporated communities—totaling 300,000 residents, and primarily comprised of low-income immigrants and people of color—where many residents live on less than $34,000 a year and devote up to 20 percent of their annual income to buy bottled water. The consequences are dire: disadvantaged community residents face higher rates of health complications and food insecurity, decreased educational opportunities, and ultimately fall deeper into poverty.
In the past two years, Kena has:
- Secured statewide translations of water quality reports provided to the public, allowing greater access to information for limited English proficient populations throughout the state of California;
- Provided public comment to the State Water Board, which lead to the establishment of health protective standards for a carcinogenic chemical known as 123 TCP;
- With sponsor pro bono support, developed training materials and workshop information to empower communities to advocate on behalf of themselves on water and sanitation infrastructure issues;
- Collaborated with 18 community groups and organizations;
- Conducted survey of resident needs, and helped developed a new community group in an unincorporated community in Fresno County;
- With sponsor pro bono support, researched and published a report about the Human Right to Water in California;
- Laid groundwork for relevant impact litigation work following conclusion of Fellowship.
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Kena plans to continue working on racial and economic justice issues.