Audra Passinault Stands for…Interaction

audra-picIf it’s Tuesday and you’re looking for LAF’s Audra Passinault, you won’t find her at the office. Audra, Shaffer Fellow and Attorney in LAF’s Immigrants and Workers’ Rights Practice Group, travels 2.5 hours by train every Tuesday to Harvard, IL, a small agricultural town where she works at a local health clinic as part of a medical-legal partnership. The clinic serves all members of the community, including its large population of farm workers.

An estimated 77% of all farm workers are foreign born, the majority of who come to the US during peak seasons and return to their home country in the winter. Since many migrant workers rely on their employer for housing, transportation, and even legal status, they’re often subject to exploitation. “Being relatively isolated, often in a place they’ve never been before, they might not know who to talk to even if they know something wrong is happening. Face-to-face contact with an attorney gives them someone to talk to about what’s going on, even if they don’t decide to move forward with any type of litigation,” Audra says.

Audra’s work in Harvard is part of LAF’s efforts to provide legal services to migrant workers in Illinois through the Illinois Migrant Legal Assistance Project. “It makes what I do in the office so much more real, and makes me even more passionate about my work. Just talking to clients on the phone, it’s easy to feel removed from the people you serve. But when you go somewhere and see where they’re living and what their work conditions are like, and meet their families—it puts everything in perspective, and shows you what your work can do.”

When you donate to LAF, you enable dedicated attorneys like Audra to provide legal services to migrant workers and other vulnerable communities.  Make your tax-deductible contribution for 2016 to LAF at www.lafchicago.org.

Anakin Morris Stands for…Running the Show

anakinpictureToday we celebrate Anakin Morris, Associate Director of External Relations, whose work is in marketing and fundraising for LAF. He explains in his own words what his work at LAF means to him:

“I did a lot of theatre in college, and I’d always tell people that if they saw me on stage something had gone terribly wrong. I was a director, a designer, a stage manager, but never an actor. And here at LAF, I’m still behind the scenes.  I never really see myself as the doer of amazing things, I’m just in the background, making sure things are lined up and in place for everyone else to do amazing things. Even when I do really cool stuff – like, we raised almost $75,000 on #GivingTuesday last week – I see that not as a notch in my belt as a fundraiser, but as enough cash to pay one more attorney’s salary, so that one more person can help hundreds more people in our community get the help they need.

I tell the attorneys and paralegals around here, jokingly, that they can’t do what they do without me.  But it’s really the other way around: what I do is meaningless without them doing the actual work of the mission of LAF.”

You can stand with Anakin and help keep LAF going strong for the next 50 years, by making your tax-deductible donation for 2016 to LAF at www.lafchicago.org.

Ainat Margalit Stands for…Awareness

ainatKeeping people in their homes—that’s the mission of Ainat Margalit, Senior Attorney in LAF’s Consumer Practice Group. Whether it’s through loan modification or bankruptcy, she works with homeowners at risk of foreclosure, using every tool at her disposal to protect their homes and keep their lights on—with payments they can afford.

Though she’s celebrated countless victories during her four years at LAF, the reality of economic insecurity doesn’t escape her. “We all have our failings and some of us have it in different ways, but I think most people aren’t aware of just how similar we all are. I don’t think you can do this work without feeling like—this could be me,” Ainat says.

According to surveys conducted by the Federal Reserve Board, 47% of Americans don’t have $400 to cover an emergency. So in the face of a serious illness, the loss of a loved one, divorce, or other life-altering events, many Americans could suddenly find themselves in poverty—and for homeowners, that often means facing foreclosure.

Hard-working attorneys like Ainat empower individuals to navigate a complex civil justice system, helping people facing hardship get back on their feet. “I have the ability to be a voice, and I want to use it for people that can’t afford to hire someone to be their voice.”

Legal aid is a powerful weapon in the fight against poverty and inequality. Support LAF’s fight by making your tax-deductible donation for 2016 at www.lafchicago.org.

Steve Pick Stands for…Second Chances

steve-pick“Systemic inequalities are not justified. And so, to the extent that I’m able, I need to represent the people affected by those inequalities,” says Steve Pick, Senior Attorney in LAF’s Children and Families Practice Group.

One way Steve represents those people is through juvenile expungement. A juvenile criminal record can follow an individual through adulthood, often presenting significant barriers to employment, housing, and education.  “It’s important for people with juvenile records to realize that they don’t have to be forever marked by what they may have done as a child or an adolescent. These expungement laws are a message that society wants to give them a fresh start,” he says.

Sadly, only 3 out of every 1000 juvenile arrests in Illinois are expunged. And according to the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, this may be in part due to law enforcement agencies’ neglect to inform individuals of their right to seek expungement. Fortunately, LAF partnered with Cabrini Green Legal Aid to establish the Juvenile Expungement Help Desk, where attorneys like Steve help individuals file for expungement, and even provide representation in court.

“You can’t say that there’s equal justice under the law unless people have access to the courts, and access to professional counsel. Legal aid makes the system better—more just,” Steve says. Support equal justice by making a tax-deductible donation to LAF at www.lafchicago.org.

Dolores Cole Stands for…Engagement

dolores-march-2016

To best serve a community, you need to understand its needs. No one knows this better than Dolores Cole, LAF’s enthusiastic Outreach Coordinator. “I’m bringing the knowledge I receive outside of LAF back to LAF, to help us better serve our community,” she says.

Dolores’ primary focus is on the growing population of seniors in underserved communities across Cook County. “Many seniors don’t want to talk about their issues, so we get out in the community to figure out what’s going on. I started asking people—what are you thinking about in the future?” Through these conversations, seniors share information about their needs and concerns, and LAF is able to help them.

Dolores grew up on the West side of Chicago, and as a senior herself and the primary caretaker for her mother, she can personally relate to many of the challenges seniors face. “When I’d go with my mom to appointments, I would talk to seniors and found that they had a common issue—and it’s that they want to be empowered.”

Year-end donations to LAF enable Dolores and her dedicated colleagues to bring workshops to the community designed to empower seniors and other underserved populations. Show your support for their invaluable work by making your tax deductible contribution for 2016 at www.lafchicago.org.

Amy Martin Stands for…Stability

This year, we’re celebrating LAF’s 50th anniversary! To wrap up our big year, we’re celebrating our outstanding staff and volunteers. Keep up with our blog throughout the month of December to get a look at some of the dedicated people who make up LAF and all that it stands for.

“Without a safety net to rely on if something goes wrong, your life can become very chaotic and start to unravel,” says Amy Martin, a Staff Attorney in LAF’s Immigrants and Workers’ Rights Practice Group. “LAF helps maintain a safety net for individuals and families in difficult situations – whether it’s representing a domestic violence survivor seeking protection, defending low wage workers experiencing wage theft or other workplace abuse, preventing an eviction that would result in homelessness, or preventing the loss of public benefits or utility services that keep families afloat.  These are just a few examples.”

She recalls a married couple she worked with who came to the US with temporary visas. They accepted jobs at a local restaurant under their employer’s false promise to help them obtain permanent citizenship. For several months, they worked long hours for almost nothing, experienced constant threats and verbal abuse, and were forced to live in a crowded, dirty apartment with other workers from the restaurant. They felt trapped because their employer had taken their passport and other immigrant documents. As the expiration of their temporary visas drew closer, their anxiety levels intensified. When the husband ultimately confronted their employer, he was badly assaulted. With LAF on their side, they were able to obtain visas allowing them to remain in the U.S. legally and eventually pursue a green card. LAF also helped them report the trafficking crime to law enforcement and connect them with a pro bono attorney to pursue a case for civil damages.

“It was a very traumatic situation for them, but because we were able to get them legal status, they’ve become a lot more stable. They’ve been able to access health insurance, find work and permanent housing, and now have the means to better care for their young daughter, Amy says. Their legal status also empowered them to work with law enforcement in its investigation of their trafficker, thereby supporting nationwide efforts to combat human trafficking. Even with dedicated attorneys like Amy on the case, Cook County remains a national hub for human trafficking, including both U.S. citizen and foreign national victims. With the added uncertainty surrounding immigration policy in the years to come, LAF’s immigrant clients may face even greater  challenges. “There’s a lot of fear out there right now and a lot of uncertainty about what’s going to happen… We’re moving forward with our cases and telling clients that we just have to wait and see what happens. But it’s hard—it’s not an easy thing to do.”

Individual contributions enable LAF attorneys to fight for exploited immigrants and migrant workers, providing some stability to those who need it most. Make your tax-deductible donation for 2016 to LAF at www.lafchicago.org.