May eNewsletter and LAF Awards

President Trump’s 2018 proposed budget, published last week, again proposes to defund the Legal Services Corporation, the source of 45% of LAF’s annual funding. While this would have a devastating impact on LAF, we’ve doubled down on proving how important LAF is by working harder than ever at making sure that people living in poverty have a fair shot at justice. And people seem to have noticed! Just this month, our own Dolores Cole and the Community Engagement Unit were surprised with a Program Champion award from the Rush Generations program, for their work educating older adults on their rights. Volunteer John Held received the Federal Bar Association and the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois’ Excellence in Pro Bono and Public Interest Service Award. And Executive Director Diana White was honored by the Rotary Club of Chicago among their outstanding Women of the Year.
You can read about these awards, and much more, in LAF’s May eNewsletter, out now.
On behalf of everyone at LAF, as well as our and clients and communities, thank you for your continued support. Your gifts of time and money are our most steadfast and reliable source of income and they ensure that LAF will remain strong even as political winds blow.

Civil Legal Assistance for Survivors of Sexual Assault

Blog Post photo - SA BBRTIn the latest edition of LAF’s Brownbag Roundtable series, LAF attorneys spoke yesterday about the Comprehensive Legal Assistance for Survivors Project (CLASP), a collaboration between LAF, Pillars, and YWCA Evanston/North Shore that offers comprehensive legal assistance to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.

“50% of sexual violence victims quit or are forced to leave their jobs in the year following their assault,” said Cynthia Sadkin, LAF’s Director of Client and Community Services. “A victim who knows her rights—and gets help to enforce them—has a better chance of keeping her job, her health insurance, and being able to pay the rent and keep utilities on.”

Sexual assault is traditionally addressed within a criminal context, or in the limited civil context of suing for damages—which is only viable if the perpetrator has money and the defendant has access to legal representation. But sexual assault is vastly underreported, undercharged, and rarely results in conviction—and when survivors do come forward, they’re too often left in limbo during a long investigatory process. In Cook County for example, it takes 4-6 months to get initial biological evidence results and a full year for the actual DNA analysis to be completed. In the meantime, survivors may be left with unaddressed safety concerns and trauma that impacts their stability—especially in cases of intimate partner sexual assault. “Given that upwards of 90% of victims know their abuser either intimately or casually, they have a whole other set of barriers when they’re looking for help,” explained Supervisory Attorney Neha Lall. “They’re less likely to report, more likely to blamed and more likely to be scrutinized.”

But through programs like CLASP, LAF is taking a more innovative approach: using civil legal remedies to keep survivors safe and address their needs. “This is a new conversation for civil legal service providers,” Neha said. “This has challenged us as a legal services agency to look beyond our traditional models that focused primarily on family law needs, and step up to address the many other civil legal needs of sexual assault victims.” Such needs range from access to Orders of Protection and safe housing, to time off work to address trauma through counseling.

“Our jobs as advocates is to help them understand that there are other forms of justice available on the civil legal side as well,” said Senior Attorney Nubia Willman. As part of LAF’s Immigrants and Workers’ Rights Practice Group, she works with sexual assault survivors who may be eligible for certain types of immigration relief like a U visa, available to victims of crimes that have cooperated with law enforcement. “These clients come to us in the midst of a crisis, concerned more about their immediate safety than their immigration status,” she noted. “My job is to present the big picture—to let them know they may be eligible for this remedy if they work with law enforcement. Because in the long term, getting stable immigration status will empower them to change the trajectory of their life in a substantial way.” With attorneys working together to help sexual assault survivors with such a wide range of legal matters, it’s clear where CLASP gets its name.

Staff Attorney Myka Held shared the story of former client Sarah, a high-school student who was sexually assaulted on her way home from school by a group of 13 boys, most of whom were classmates. After reporting the assault, she felt unsafe both at school and at home since some of her attackers lived nearby. Since Sarah lived in public housing, attorneys from LAF’s Housing Practice Group advocated for her family to be transferred to another neighborhood, while Myka and the Children & Families Practice Group focused on getting her back to school. They requested a safety transfer through the public school system and helped her get some accommodations in place, such as an escort between classes to make sure she feels safe. Unfortunately, Sarah’s new school failed to take her trauma or safety concerns seriously, so LAF advocated for her to be placed in a therapeutic day school that would better suit her needs. She was able to move into a new apartment and started at her new school earlier this year.

“But that wasn’t the end of our legal advocacy,” said Myka. “We felt the public school system had not handled her complaint with any sensitivity or care,” so LAF filed a Title IX complaint with the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, which is now investigating Sarah’s former school district based on her case.

“One of the great things about CLASP is that we’re able to work closely not just with the attorneys we typically work, but also with attorneys from other practice groups,” said Staff Attorney Karen Doran. “It’s great to be able to collaborate that way.”

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!