Establishing a Pipeline of Public Interest Attorneys in New Mexico to Support Immigrant Families

/ Blog Post

By April Hewko, program manager at Equal Justice Works, with contributions from Adriel Orozco, executive director at New Mexico Immigrant Law Center and 2016 Equal Justice Works Fellow

Immigration law is incredibly complex and ever-changing, making it nearly impossible to navigate without the guidance of a lawyer. Through our Fellowship opportunities, Equal Justice Works has made a clear commitment to increasing access to justice for immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees. Since 1993, we’ve created 386 Fellowship opportunities focused on supporting immigrant populations, most recently mobilizing a network of 7 paralegals and 6 lawyers (Fellows) who were hosted by the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center (NMILC).

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; the team of 13 paralegal and attorney Fellows served more than 7,400 immigrant individuals through consultations, provision of legal information, and/or direct representation. 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.

Photo of the New Mexico Immigration Corps Fellows. Top row (L-R): Deshawnda Chaparro, Eduardo Garcia, Martha Laura Garcia Izaguirre. Bottom row (L-R): Adriel Orozco, Diana Torres, Rebekah Wolf.

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 more than 40 pro bono attorneys interested in supporting low-income immigrants; and worked with community organizations to provide holistic services and support. More broadly, the program addressed racial equity in the nonprofit and legal sector in New Mexico by ensuring Fellows came from the communities they served, while including impacted communities in decision making, and collaborating with like-minded organizations that prioritized equity.

Restrictive immigration policies at the federal level over the past four years and during the more recent COVID-19 pandemic impacted the Fellows’ work environment and how they were able to serve the immigrant community. However, due to the flexibility of the Fellowship, program participants were able to respond to the increased arrests of immigrants, the continuing needs of DACA recipients, and the detention of asylum seekers throughout the last four years. Fellows were also able to focus their work on the needs that were exacerbated because of the pandemic (e.g., language access, criminal and immigration detention, and screening for additional needs such as housing assistance) by transitioning to electronic formats and collaborating with other organizations to advocate for more protections and resources for the immigrant community. This was a priority for the Fellows as the pandemic disproportionately affects Black, Latinx, and immigrant workers.

Over the course of the program, Fellows conducted more than 250 legal education community outreach events and activities for over 6,500 participants, such as citizenship and DACA pro se workshops and Know Your Rights presentations and trainings. These events, as well as regular individual consultations with clients, were essential over the last four years, as laws and policies changes caused confusion, fear, and insecurity for clients and the community in general.

Fellows in the New Mexico Immigration Corps benefitted from collaborating with partner organizations and other Equal Justice Works alumni and Fellows in their cohort. The cohort model provides the opportunity for Fellows to have hands-on experience in specific issue areas and become a part of a core group of dedicated practitioners who share a common passion, learn together, share resources, innovate, problem-solve, and build a stronger community of practice.

“I learned a lot and greatly benefitted from being able to meet and confer with other Fellows nationwide. I got a lot of support from the host organization and was given access to all the tools I needed,” said Martha Laura Garcia Izaguirre, 2017 Equal Justice Works Fellow.

I learned a lot and greatly benefitted from being able to meet and confer with other Fellows nationwide. I got a lot of support from the host organization and was given access to all the tools I needed.

Martha Laura Garcia Izaguirre /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

Following the four-year program, NMILC has been able to secure grants to sustain the positions of six of the seven Fellows. Adriel Orozco, executive director of NMILC and 2016 Equal Justice Works Fellow, reflected, “The New Mexico Immigration Corps allowed NMILC to strengthen its supervision and mentorship programs, particularly with a racial equity lens. Additionally, the project allowed NMILC to be responsive to the many challenges that arose for the immigrant community because of anti-immigrant policies at the federal level as well as the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Equal Justice Works is looking for opportunities to expand its reach of immigration-related cohorts in the future. One such way is by increasing efforts to expand its Disaster Resilience Program, which helps communities, including immigrant communities, before, during, and after a disaster, including COVID-19.

We are proud of what our Fellows in the New Mexico Immigration Corps have achieved over the last four years, providing direct legal services and outreach and strengthening the pipeline of legal talent in New Mexico to serve immigrant families.

The New Mexico Immigration Corps program was funded with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and other donors.

Learn more about becoming an Equal Justice Works Fellow