LAF Hosts 2nd Annual Modern-Day American Worker Conference

IMG_2108LAF’s Immigrants and Workers’ Rights Practice Group hosted its 2nd Annual Modern-Day American Worker Conference: Enforcing Workers’ Rights in Changing Times held at Chicago-Kent College of Law on Friday, March 24.  For the second year, the Conference was generously sponsored by the Polk Bros Foundation and hosted close to 70 participants.  A variety of attorneys and advocates discussed a wide range of topics affecting low-wage workers and immigrants in Illinois, including discrimination in temporary work agencies, the psycho-social impacts of wage theft and sexual assault, and document abuse.  With LAF attorneys as moderators, panelists included legal experts such as Pablo Godoy, Trial Attorney with the US Department of Justice’s Immigrant and Employee Rights Section, and Healing to Action Co-Founder Sheerine Alemzadeh.  Attendees included officials from the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, in addition to immigration and employment law attorneys, law students, and community-based organizations assisting victims of human trafficking and low-wage workers.

Speakers throughout the day touched on some of the key legal issues impacting migrant workers’ rights in Illinois, as well as how they manifest in our modern legal system. The Conference’s opening lecturer was Sheila Maddali, the Co-Director of Restaurant Opportunities Center, who discussed the legal rights of restaurant workers and her agency’s work on their behalf.  Ms. Alemzadeh, along with Professor Jacob Lesniewski of Dominican University and Arturo Carillo of St. Anthony’s Wellness Program discussed recent research on the psycho-social impact of wage theft on workers.  In the afternoon, LAF’s Miguel Keberlein, Director of the Immigration and Workers’ Rights Practice Group, discussed vulnerabilities of low-wage agricultural workers, who have explaining how these workers have always been exempt from overtime pay standards, unlike all other sectors.  Another panel, with attorney Godoy, the Regional Director of the NLRB, attorney Kalman Resnick and Raise the Floor Director Lydia Colunga discussed document abuse discrimination and remedies for workers. As the closing panelists, Miguel and former LAF attorney Jose Alonso, shared googlemapping tools they use to identify and track places where migrant workers live and work in order to create effective outreach to workers in rural Illinois. These tools make it easier to find and keep track of migrant workers, who are often socially and geographically isolated, in order to intervene and advocate on behalf of exploited and vulnerable workers throughout Illinois.

Thanks to everyone who was able to join LAF for these enlightening discussions. Special thanks to our community partners for coming together to share information and resources. These efforts will continue to build collaborative relationships between LAF and other stakeholders in the effort to enforce workers’ rights in our communities.

February eNewsletter

The winds of political change have swept over the country, and word of massive change in programs like Medicaid, Food Stamps, and the Affordable Care Act is in the air.  Immigrant families are terrified of being caught up in mass deportations.  Funding for even the Legal Service Corporation itself is at risk – which would slash LAF’s budget nearly in half.
No one can predict the outcome of the political debate, but it certainly looks as if, in the words of Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan, “a hard rain’s gonna fall” on people who have very little shelter from the storm.

Let’s Do Lunch: “Understanding Human Trafficking”

trafficking-brownbagEarlier this week, LAF hosted its first Brownbag Roundtable of 2017, featuring Staff Attorney Amy Martin and Supervisory Attorney Lisa Palumbo from LAF’s Immigrants and Workers’ Rights Practice Group. With sixty minutes and an attentive crowd, they shed light on the global issue of human trafficking—a form of modern slavery that can include sexual exploitation, forced labor, or both.

Through force, fraud, and coercion, traffickers prey on the socially and economically vulnerable. In the United States, false promises of employment or citizenship lure immigrants on temporary visas—though many trafficking victims are U.S. citizens. “One of the common misconceptions is that they’ve been brought from abroad,” Lisa explains. “But that’s not always the case.”

The number of labor trafficking cases reported in the United States increased last year, likely due to outreach efforts and a rising level of public awareness. Still, human trafficking remains a vastly underreported crime. Those particularly vulnerable often lack a social safety net and familiarity with their legal rights. Moreover, they’re often socially and geographically isolated, living in fear of retaliation from their traffickers.

LAF launched the Trafficking Survivors’ Assistance Program (TSAP) in 2014 to combat human trafficking in Illinois. Through TSAP, LAF provides comprehensive legal services—including assistance with issues like immigration, employment, public benefits, and housing—to about 200 trafficking survivors each year.

Amy described one such former client named James, a talented athlete who was recruited in Nigeria at the age of 14 to play basketball in the United States. Upon James’ arrival, his trafficker forced him to sleep on the floor of this garage, withheld food and water as a means to control him, and refused to let him tell his family about what was really going on. Unbeknownst to James, his trafficker was meanwhile accepting thousands of dollars in gifts from athletic recruiters on his behalf. When James found LAF, they were able to help him obtain a T visa—a type of visa reserved for victims of trafficking—empowering him to reclaim his autonomy and get his life back on track.

Thanks to all who were able to join us for this illuminating discussion. For those who weren’t, feel free send any questions or requests for more information to tsap@lafchicago.org.

Get Ready for #GivingTuesday!

After Black Friday and Cyber Monday, this year November 29th is #GivingTuesday, a national day of giving to celebrate the impact of philanthropy through raising funds and raising awareness. Join us again this year across social media to celebrate 50 amazing years of LAF’s important work and kick off the end-of-year giving season with another rousing day of #GTatLAF.  We’ve set a goal to raise $50,000 to celebrate LAF’s 50th Anniversary, 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 and #LAF50for50.  Keep an eye out for brand new stories and never-before-seen videos across LAF’s social media!

On Giving Tuesday, make a donation at www.lafchicago.org/Giving-Tuesday-at-LAF and we’ll send you an email with a sign to share and language you can copy onto facebook, twitter, Instagram, linkedin, and personal emails.  Then post your selfie or a video with your sign to share the impact LAF has had over the last half century and raise awareness about the importance of standing up for people who live in poverty.

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!

 

Let’s Do Lunch: Part Three

The Final Installment of LAF’s 2016 Brownbag Roundtable Series Spotlights the Veterans’ Rights Project

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Last year, LAF provided free legal services to more than 1,200 veterans, service members, and their families. In addition to taking legal cases in a variety of areas, the Veterans’ Rights Project also remains involved in a medical-legal partnership through Rush University Medical Center’s Road Home Program, and runs a free legal clinic for veterans at the Community Resource and Referral Center. Veterans with attorney representation receive 2.4 times more compensation than those without representation, thanks in large part to attorneys’ ability to help their clients navigate an increasingly convoluted legal process. But with 1.5 million veterans living in poverty, access to legal representation is a significant barrier in itself. The latest edition of LAF’s 2016 Brownbag Roundtable Series featured some of LAF’s dedicated attorneys from the Veterans’ Rights Project: Equal Justice Works/AmeriCorps Veterans Legal Corps Fellow Ellen Rheaume, VISTA Attorney Catherine Shur, Supervisory Attorney Kathryn Socha and Equal Justice Works Fellow/Attorney Erin . They shared their experiences working with veterans and their families to ensure they receive advocacy, legal representation, and educational services regarding the rights and benefits they are due for their service to our country.

The most common issues LAF’s veteran clients face relate to military service-connected compensation, including monetary, healthcare, and education benefits. One of the stories they shared during the presentation was of a client who served during the Vietnam War. During his service, he developed schizophrenia and PTSD, the latter arising in part due to racism and harassment he experienced during service. Because his conditions weren’t diagnosed for a number of years after completion of his service, he faced incredible challenges obtaining VA compensation.  LAF stepped in to confront the VA, demanding compensation and treatment for his PTSD and schizophrenia.  The case is ongoing, but because of LAF’s intervention, the VA has already acknowledged the direct impact his time in the service had on his schizophrenia and provide treatment for it.

Thank you to all who joined us this Veterans Day to honor our veterans for their invaluable service, and thank the dedicated attorneys of the Veterans’ Rights Project for their commitment to serving those who serve.

October eNewsletter

Last week, we celebrated Pro Bono Week, honoring all of the volunteers who stretch LAF’s capacity to serve even more of the most vulnerable people in our community.
From our in-house AmeriCorps VISTAs and pro bono counsel, like Peter Monahan, whose story you can read in this month’s eNewsletter, to the Pro Bono Panel of attorneys and experts who take cases whenever we ask, to the teams from firms and corporations who staff our monthly clinics in the community, volunteers make our world go round.  The attorneys at DLA Piper and Discover Financial Services recently received a windfall of praise and media attention for their dedication to the Woodlawn Clinic.
As always, on behalf of the staff and volunteers, the Board and YPB, and all the clients and communities we serve here at LAF, thank you for your continued support of our work.  Read more about it in this month’s eNewsletter. When you invest your time or money in LAF, you are investing in making lasting change in the lives of people living in poverty across Chicagoland.  Thank you.