November eNewsletter

With barely six weeks left in 2015, holiday decorations are popping up all over downtown Chicago, and LAF is gearing up for another exciting #GivingTuesday celebration.  After Thanksgiving (and Black Friday and Cyber Monday), we like to take that day to refocus and reflect on the amazing things LAF has been able to accomplish this year for our clients and kick off the philanthropic holiday season.  We hope that you’ll join us on December 1st on social media to share our stories and support our efforts to raise funds and awareness for LAF’s important mission.
As always, on behalf of LAF and all our clients, thank you for your continued support of our work.  If you are planning on making a financial contribution before the end of the year, I ask you to consider making it on #GivingTuesday and helping us meet our goal.  Your investment in LAF ensures that equal justice prevails for all people, regardless of their income.

Get Ready for #GivingTuesday!

After Black Friday and Cyber Monday, this year December 1st is #GivingTuesday, a national movement to celebrate philanthropy and service, through raising funds and raising awareness. Join us again this year across social media to get the word out about LAF’s important work and kick off the end-of-year giving season with another rousing day of #GTatLAF.  After a truly amazingly successful year last year, we’ve set a goal to raise $50,000 from 150 donors in 2015, and we need your help!

To get ready, be sure to like LAF on Facebook, and follow @ChicagoLAF on Twitter and @LAFChicago on Instagram.  You can keep up with the national campaign by following along at #GivingTuesday, statewide at #ILGive, and LAF’s own campaign at #GTatLAF.

On #GivingTuesday, make a donation at and we’ll send you an email with a sign to share and language you can copy onto facebook, twitter, Instagram, linkedin, and emails.  Then post an #unselfie with your sign to share the impact LAF has on our Chicagoland community and raise awareness about the importance equal justice has is in making a better world.

Donations of all sizes are important, and we’ll have exciting matching gifts throughout the day to double the impact your dollars can have.  We’ll be liking, sharing, thanking, and celebrating our work and our supporters all day, and we encourage you to get in on the fun!

Fighting Back against Human Rights Violations

Last week, after a lengthy investigation that involved a number of LAF’s clients, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a lawsuit against three employment agencies and two suburban restaurants for alleged civil right violations and wage violations.  The suit alleges that the employment agencies paid Mexican immigrants as little as $3.50 an hour to work 12- to 14-hour shifts in Chinese restaurants and live in squalid conditions.  You can read more about this case and the conditions the workers faced in Crain’s Chicago Business Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, and on the Attorney General’s website.

Many of the workers the Attorney General is now fighting for came to LAF for help over the past several years.  Many were fighting deportation and sought the help of LAF’s Immigrants and Workers’ Rights Practice Group.  Lisa Palumbo, IWR’s Immigration Supervisor, talked about the experience of LAF’s clients.  “Our clients are fearful,” she said to the Chicago Tribune.  “The vast majority were undocumented,” giving employment agencies opportunity for exploitation, including placing workers in small towns as far afield as Montana and Idaho as well as other restaurants in Chicago.  Palumbo said some of those she has spoken with have been fired and kicked onto the street “with nothing but the shirts on their backs” and nowhere else to go except to another potentially abusive situation.  And to Crain’s, she explains that some of her clients are the victims of trafficking: “Once an employer controls where you live, like in this particular situation, it can make the person’s isolation and control much more significant than if you go home every day.”

Regardless of their immigration status, however, state and federal laws protect the basic rights of workers, and, as Madigan notes, “my office fights to protect Illinois workers and their most basic rights.  The employment agencies and restaurants in this lawsuit are exploiting workers through discrimination and inhumane conditions, violating both their civil rights and their state’s wage laws.  Their conduct will not be tolerated in this state.”

Read more in Crain’s Chicago Business Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, and on the Attorney General’s website.  We’re proud of Lisa’s work for these immigrants, and we’re encouraged to see that the Illinois Attorney General and her office are fighting for justice and human rights on behalf of many of LAF’s clients.

Lizzie Rosenthal Wins LCBH Award

We are so proud to congratulate LAF Supervisory Attorney Lizzie Rosenthal for being chosen as this year’s Barbara Grau Outstanding Housing Advocate by the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing.  Lizzie is being recognized for her work in removing discriminatory barriers the prevent people from obtaining quality housing; for assisting low-income tenants in defending their rights to affordable housing; displaying exemplary leadership in the preservation of the identity and character of neighborhoods through affordable housing; and addressing the deterioration of affordable housing through community and citywide advocacy.

LizzieLCBHawardWe are proud of Lizzie’s forceful advocacy for tenants in our client community, especially her recent accomplishments on the litigation to stop the Chicago Housing Authority from decreasing housing opportunities for tenants previously displaced from the Cabrini-Green Public Housing Development. After a very long-fought battle, the settlement in that case will vastly increase the number of tenants who will be able to live affordably in the high-opportunity Near North neighborhood—with access to good schools, public transportation, and employment opportunities.

Pictured above, (L-R) LAF Director of Advocacy Rich Wheelock, LAF Housing Practice Group Director Larry Wood, Lizzie, and LAF Supervisory Attorney Miriam Hallbauer celebrated Lizzie’s success at the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing’s Annual Benefit earlier this week.  Congratulations, Lizzie!

Meet José Alonso, and October eNewsletter

Eight years ago, straight out of law school, José Alonso joined LAF and never looked back.  Now a Senior Attorney in LAF’s Immigrants and Workers’ Rights Practice Group, José has made himself irreplaceable at LAF.  José works with immigrants, migrants, and seasonal agricultural workers across the state in cases as diverse as wage theft, domestic violence, housing, human trafficking, discrimination, working conditions, immigration, and public benefits.  He locates these workers, educates them about their legal rights, and empowers them through legal representation.  This work requires him to be a highly skilled attorney with expertise across a wide range of poverty law issues.  It also requires José to be willing to travel long hours across the state, build trust with clients, and understand the nuances of doing outreach.  José talks about how important that basic trust is, and about how LAF is often the only thing standing between the workers and poverty, abuse, and discrimination:  “Many times, we’re it.  We have the trust in these communities, that if they have legal issues or immigration issues, we will help them.  We’re it.  We have to help them.”
Recently, that trust brought eight migrant workers to José to tell him their stories of backbreaking work in dangerous and illegal conditions, including working long hours in extreme heat, not being paid the minimum wage, not having access to bathrooms and potable drinking water in the field, and having to sleep on a hardwood floor.  José helped the workers raise claims against their employer for violations of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, Illinois Minimum Wage Law, and the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act.  With LAF’s help, these workers obtained a settlement of more than $20,000, with an additional $7,500 in attorney’s fees and costs to LAF.  This is the sort of work that keeps Jose at LAF, he explains:  “To be able to have a job that allows me to do this, it’s really a dream.  I’ve never charged anybody ever for my legal services, and that makes me feel good.  Plus, working together, finding justice for the immigrant worker population, to analyze a case, to find an immigration remedy, an employment remedy, to achieve justice in a holistic way… it’s exciting.  It keeps me here.”
In honor of his incredible work, he was awarded one of the Chicago Bar Foundation’s Sun-Times Public Interest Fellowships for 2015.  They are proud to help him financially meet his law school loan obligations while he works tirelessly “to serve those who yearn for justice, respect, dignified treatment, equality, opportunity, and access to resources.” Congratulations, José!
Read more about José’s accomplishments, and much more, in LAF’s October eNewsletter, out today!

New White House Initiative Focuses on Legal Aid

On September 24, the White House announced the establishment of the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable. President Barack Obama released a statement including a six-part plan to make the justice system more accessible by people living in poverty in the United States.

The president believes that by making legal aid a part of existing federal programs, we can help more people more effectively and more efficiently. “By encouraging Federal departments and agencies to collaborate, share best practices, and consider the impact of legal services on the success of their programs,” he explains, “the Federal Government can enhance access to justice in our communities.”

The White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable, which will be referred to as LAIR, will be led by the U.S. Attorney General the Director of the Domestic Policy Council, and others they designate with the responsibility. It will include members from at least 17 different federal departments, offices, and agencies, including the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Department of Homeland Security, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission, Legal Services Corporation, and Social Security Administration. The Department of Justice will be responsible for supplying the resources needed for this initiative to be successful.

LAIR will work with existing federal programs that are serving impoverished communities so they can properly implement legal aid into these programs. Their involvement and research within these programs will “increase the availability of meaningful access to justice for individuals and families, regardless of wealth or status.” They will meet at least three times a year and work with individuals nationwide on multiple levels of government.

In a world where legal aid is often ignored in the social services conversation, the efforts of President Obama and LAIR can only open doors to bring national awareness to this issue. At LAF, we see the importance of working together to bring change, through our medical-legal partnerships and our ongoing pro bono projects. Helping people achieve the justice they deserve will help us lift Americans out of poverty, and ensure them a permanent solution to a better life.