We are proud to congratulate the Director of LAF’s Immigrants and Workers’ Rights Practice Group, Miguel Keberlein, who recieved the Paul & Sheila Wellstone Award in a ceremony last night. It was awarded by the Freedom Network, a national alliance of advocates working with survivors of human trafficking. The award is named in honor of U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone and his wife, Sheila, both champions of human rights and justice. The Wellstone Award recognizes individuals and agencies that have made a unique or outstanding contribution to combating human trafficking and slavery in the United States. Miguel received the award for his advocacy on behalf of migrant seasonal farm workers, who are often victims of human trafficking. An excerpt of his moving acceptance speech follows:
“We all come to this work for different reasons and from different backgrounds. For myself, I spent much of my youth growing up in my mother’s home country of Guatemala in a very remote village during the height of the civil war. War is not kind and the atrocities one witnesses can easily shake one’s belief in mankind. But there are always lessons to be learned and much good can come from the darkest of moments, something I am always reminded of when I work with our clients. My father has always considered Don Quixote as his hero and I’ve received the book as a gift from him on several occasions throughout my life. I look back now and I know why. In the face of reality in a world that too often tells us we can’t, sometimes we are required to forge ahead by seeing the world for all that it can be. I believe in a world the way Paul and Sheila Wellstone saw it, the way my father sees it, and indeed the way Don Quixote sees it. Together we can create a world where respecting human dignity is the cornerstone of our society, and where human trafficking is something of the past.”
An LAF client has been in the Chicago news lately, and while her story is unique, it is not surprising. We see people like Mary Ann every day: innocent victims discriminated against by overburdened systems.
When Mary Ann refused to let her daughter’s abusive ex-boyfriend enter her apartment, he poured gasoline in the windows and set her public housing unit on fire. After months of hospitalization and painful recovery, she faced homelessness because the housing authority blamed her for the fire damage and refused to rent her a new apartment. With LAF’s help, Mary Ann is settled into a new public housing unit, where she and her daughter are safe from abuse.
You can read more of Mary Ann’s story in the Chicago Tribune here, and on the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law’s blog here. Because of the incredible efforts of LAF attorney Neha Lall and many others, Mary Ann is safe from homelessness and able to move forward with her life.
A recent Op-Ed in the New York Times shines a spotlight on the epidemic of lead poisoning in American cities. Stories like those out of Flint, Michigan show the dangers of lead in water, but there is another culprit that is just as dangerous, one that disproportionately affects low-income and minority families: public housing.
The article is written by Emily Benfer, LAF’s partner in the Health Justice Project, a medical-legal partnership between LAF, Loyola University Chicago, and the Erie Family Health Center, where we work together to provide legal solutions to health problems, such as unhealthy housing conditions. Emily points out the dangerous discrepancy between the acceptable lead levels in the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s standards and those laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). HUD’s standards don’t require landlords to do anything about lead paint or pipes until they are at nearly four times the maximum level recommended by the CDC. And even then, many landlords do nothing, like in the case of Mahogany and her family:
“Take the case of 4-year-old Mahoghany Walker. When her blood lead levels started to rise, her family applied for a transfer. But the housing authority rejected the application, saying she had yet to reach the HUD threshold.
Like most people at risk of lead poisoning, the Walker family did not have the resources to hire a lawyer. But Mahoghany’s mother, Lanice Walker, contacted our team, and together we compelled the housing authority to grant her request for a safe place to live.”
We are sad to share the news of Sheldon Roodman’s death. Sheldon, who served as LAF’s Executive Director for more than 30 years, passed away on January 25, 2016, after a long battle with cancer. He was a great, humble, wise man, who led LAF very well for many years. More information, including obituary, funeral arrangements, services, and shiva will be available soon. To make a contribution to LAF in memory of Sheldon Roodman, click here.
You can read more about Sheldon’s impact on LAF, as well as much more, in our January eNewsletter, out today.