Justice Matters – The OneJustice Blog

OneJustice Opposes AG Sessions’ Decision to Restrict Asylum Protections

 

June 15, 2018

[Content Warning: Domestic violence]

On Monday, June 11, Attorney General Jeff Sessions used a rarely utilized power to reverse a Board of Immigration Appeals decision in Matter of A-B- and reject the asylum claim of a woman fleeing 15 years of extreme domestic violence in El Salvador. This decision will have profound negative effects on women seeking protection in the US based on domestic violence in their home countries, as well as minors fleeing persecution from gangs – both of which have been firmly upheld by immigration courts since 2014 as legitimate grounds for asylum.

OneJustice firmly opposes this sweeping move to deny asylum seekers the opportunity to seek safety in the United States.

The woman in Matter of A-B- was brutally beaten (including while pregnant), bashed into walls, and threatened with death at knife and gun point, with no relief from law enforcement. And her abuse did not occur in isolation. Violence against women in El Salvador is extreme – the country sees the highest rates of femicide in the world, with over 500 women murdered (1 in 5,000) in 2016.

Likewise, it is well documented that the majority of those fleeing persecution from gangs in Central America are women and children. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees reports that “gangs routinely threaten and recruit children as young as five or 6.” Many of these children are often offered a horrifying choice: join the gang, or be killed.

Yet these facts and the facts of the case in Matter of A-B- were ignored by the Attorney General, who stated that asylum claims “pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence” should “generally” not be approved. This statement is wide-sweeping and will immediately impact the decisions of asylum adjudicators around the country. It represents an attack not only on refugees seeking protection, but specifically an attack on women and children fleeing violence.

To be clear, seeking asylum from violence is a human right recognized by both international and US domestic law. Moreover, those with valid claims to asylum (in other words, those who are fleeing persecution for one of five reasons) cannot be punished for entering the country illegally. Prior to this decision, immigration courts had long recognized the real threat facing people fleeing their homes in Central America – as well as the threat of violence should they return. The Attorney General’s claim that this decision somehow restores previously “[abandoned] legal discipline and sound legal concepts” is flatly wrong.

Despite the Attorney General’s decision, domestic violence survivors and survivors of gang persecution who meet the legal requirements for asylum must still be provided a fair opportunity to present their individual claims. OneJustice will be tracking the impact of this recent decision and strategically intervening to push back against Sessions’ erroneous and harmful interpretation of the law and support organizations and communities fighting for justice on the ground.

You can stand up for the rights of refugees!

As an attorney, you can represent a woman seeking asylum – including through the following resources:

As an individual, you can ensure that our policymakers understand the basic principles that underpin American laws and take action to protect the basic human rights of all on US soil. You can also lend your financial support to organizations working to ensure the basic rights of immigrants, and to represent men, women and children in deportation proceedings, including:

Interested in providing pro bono help for immigrants and their families across the state?
Sign up for OneJustice’s Immigration Pro Bono Network to receive volunteer opportunities and immigration updates!

Celebrating Five Years of the Rural Justice Collaborative!

May 17, 2018

The Rural Justice Collaborative turns five years old today! In celebration of this major milestone, today we wanted to look back on the history and impact of this important and innovative program.

In 2012, members of the Association of Pro Bono Counsel met with then-Vice President Joe Biden to discuss access to justice issues. During the meeting, the Vice President challenged the private sector to increase its involvement in providing pro bono legal help for people in need. Rising to the challenge, APBCo initiated the IMPACT projects (“Involving More Pro Bono Attorneys in Our Communities Together”), a nationwide group of initiatives which seek to engage pro bono resources to increase access to justice for low income people.

One of these projects was the Rural Justice Collaborative (or RJC), which launched in 2013 with funding and support from Cooley LLP and staffing from OneJustice. The first clinic was held five years ago today in Napa, where volunteer attorneys from Cooley LLP and Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP assisted eleven clients with filing and renewing their DACA applications.

Since that first clinic, RJC has hosted 117 clinics that have helped over 1100 people in a variety of legal areas – including immigration, naturalization, DACA applications, housing, and expungement of criminal records. The nearly 1000 attorneys who have volunteered with RJC have provided thousands of hours of free legal help. RJC volunteers regularly travel to rural areas around Northern California, including Petaluma, Oakley, Gilroy, South Lake Tahoe, and Pittsburg Bay Point, among others.

Volunteer attorneys and a client at a recent RJC clinic in Sonoma County

Volunteer attorneys and a client at a recent RJC clinic in Sonoma County

The attorneys who volunteer their time with RJC are simply remarkable. Many, in fact, are repeat volunteers who are happy to help whenever (and wherever) needed. Lusik Gasparyan, who manages RJC in the San Francisco office, enjoys getting to work with the committed volunteers who volunteer with RJC. “I love meeting the volunteers that come to RJC clinics and learning about their experiences and passions,” she says. “They make genuine connections with the clients and treat the clients with empathy and respect.” She goes on to describe one RJC volunteer in particular who, despite working two jobs, comes to every RJC clinic she can. “She greets folks with a hug and a huge smile. People like her make every legal clinic a success.”

RJC’s clinics have been critical in response to the new challenges facing immigrants in Northern California – including the rescission of DACA and the surge in immigration enforcement. Given this need, all of this year’s RJC clinics have focused on immigration legal issues and DACA applications. It’s no exaggeration to say that the legal help clients receive can often have a dramatic impact on their futures. As a recent 19 year old DACA recipient noted at a clinic:

“I wish we could change the current unfair immigration laws, so no family has to feel fear of deportation as I feel. I know I have a bright future…I like to major in computer science and contribute to this society.”

At the end of the day, none of these clinics are about getting the right papers filled out. It’s about the hope, security, and sense of opportunity our clients feel when they walk out the door. We are privileged to stand alongside these Californians who, like the 19-year-old quoted above, are working to build a better future for themselves and their communities.

So today, we want to say thank you to all of the volunteers and law firms who have supported the Rural Justice Collaborative, and to all of the incredible community organizations we have the privilege of working alongside. We’re looking forward to a bright future where we can continue to work together to bring justice to even more rural Californians. Here’s to another five years!

To learn more about the Rural Justice Collaborative,  contact Ellie Dehghan, Senior Staff Attorney, at [email protected].

Want to support the Rural Justice Collaborative? Make a donation today!

OneJustice Condemns DOJ Move to Separate Children from Parents at the US Border

May 14, 2018

On Monday, May 7, 2018, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” approach to migrants at the US border, including an attempt to prosecute anyone who crosses the Southern border, and systemic separation of children from their parents. OneJustice opposes these policies, which have the potential to destroy the lives of migrant children and families. The Attorney General’s statement represents an un-American deviation from common standards of decency and a violation of domestic and international law.

The right to seek and enjoy asylum is a fundamental human right codified by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and reaffirmed by international, regional and domestic refugee laws around the world. The United States was one of the main authors of both the UDHR and the 1951 Refugee Convention, which reflected the global community’s desire to give human beings a means of escape from atrocities like those seen in World War II.

We seem to have forgotten this past.

In 2014, the UN Refugee Agency conducted a study of 404 unaccompanied or separated children arriving in the US from Central America. This study found that 58% of these children may have asylum claims and thus legally have a right to present themselves to the U.S. Since that time, violence has only escalated in the region, giving women, children and families no option but to face extreme danger to try and reach the Southern border of the United States.

Jessica Therkelsen, Director of the Pro Bono Justice program at OneJustice, condemned the administration’s move: “To greet these migrants with prosecution and family separation is unconscionable, inhumane, and ignores their basic right to ask for asylum.”

Under this new, stricter system, children will be treated as if they were arriving alone at the border and thus processed in a very different system from their parents. This means that any child NOT from Mexico or Canada will be placed with a family member or in a shelter, while their parents wait in detention for prolonged immigration processing. This is despite the fact that, between October and December of 2017, the US government lost track of 1,500 migrant children it had placed with sponsors in that period – with evidence that human trafficking of some of these children had occurred.

At best, the federal government’s new policy violates the basic rights of the child and of asylum seekers, and at worst is complicit in what could become systemic human trafficking.

We call on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to put child welfare and basic human rights at the center of US migration policy, to reverse the policy of total prosecution of migrants at the border, and to reverse the policy of removing migrant children from their parents. We stand in solidarity with our partner organizations across the state who are standing at the frontlines to help immigrants and refugees assert their human rights.

Interested in providing pro bono help for immigrants and their families across the state? Sign up for OneJustice’s Immigration Pro Bono Network to receive volunteer opportunities and immigration updates!

OneJustice Statement on DOJ Decision to Restore Immigrant Legal Information Programs

April 25, 2018

San Francisco, CA — Speaking today before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Department of Justice will not be moving to suspend the Legal Orientation Program (LOP) and the Immigration Court Helpdesk (ICH) program. This announcement reverses an April 10th announcement from the DOJ’s Executive Office for Immigration Review that indicated both programs would be suspended while the department conducts a review.

OneJustice applauds this reversal and celebrates that these programs will be able to once again serve thousands of immigrants and their families across the country.

At their core, both programs are designed to ensure greater fairness in the immigration court system. As the Vera Institute of Justice describes, “LOP empowers program participants to represent themselves if they have a valid claim under existing law or to determine that their best course is to accept deportation.” OneJustice previously published a statement condemning the DOJ’s move to end the programs, noting that the move would have a devastating impact on immigrants trying to understand their rights in immigration court.

We would like to thank members of Congress and everyone who voiced their support for these vital programs. Today’s announcement, however, does not guarantee the continued existence of either LOP or ICH; rather, it allows the programs to continue during a review by the Department of Justice. Nevertheless, we are optimistic. Julia Wilson, OneJustice CEO, stated, “We are confident that the upcoming review will reflect what past reviews have shown: that LOP and ICH protect due process for immigrants facing deportation, and annually save the federal government millions of dollars.”

OneJustice will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates on actions affecting the programs.

Interested in providing pro bono help for immigrants and their families across the state?

Sign up for OneJustice’s Immigration Pro Bono Network to receive volunteer opportunities and immigration updates!

Wear Jeans with a Purpose – Join Us for Denim Day 2018.

April 24, 2018

Content Warning: Sexual Assault

We want to take a moment to talk about an uncomfortable issue: sexual assault. In the last year we’ve witnessed unprecedented bravery as more and more survivors of sexual assault and harassment come forward to say #MeToo and confront their abusers. The recent groundswell of survivors who have been empowered to share their stories is both historic and encouraging, but unfortunately it is still not nearly enough.

That’s why we want to encourage you to take part in Denim Day 2018.

Those of us who work with survivors every day know that, despite our current cultural moment, the vast majority of people victimized by sexual assault never come forward. By the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics’ most recent estimate, over 77% of all sexual assaults go unreported. This low rate of reporting is rooted in the harsh reality that, for many survivors of sexual assault, reporting an incident can be as traumatic as the incident itself. There are countless stories of survivors who have been stigmatized, discredited, and blamed for what happened to them after bringing their stories to light. One of them is the story that inspired the global Denim Day movement.

Pledge to End Sexual Violence: Wear Jeans with a Purpose on April 25. Visit denimdayinfo.org

Image Credit: Peace Over Violence

In 1992, an 18-year-old driving student in Southern Italy was raped by her instructor on a secluded mountain road. The physical evidence was clear, and Italian police initially won a quick conviction against the instructor. However, after years of appeals, the student was re-victimized by the Italian Supreme Court when they let her rapist go free. In overturning the conviction, the court found that the victim must have consented to the sexual conduct because she was wearing tight jeans. Ignoring mounds of physical evidence and testimony otherwise, the court absurdly found that no attacker could have wrestled a pair of tight jeans off his victim without the victim’s help and consent. In that moment, Italy’s Supreme Court made the mere act of wearing denim a legal invitation to get assaulted – but Italy’s female lawmakers immediately struck back in protest by wearing jeans to Parliament.

Since the 1999 “Denim Defense” ruling and protests, Denim Day has been an annual protest against the ridiculous and harmful – but all too common – perception that a victim’s clothes, demeanor, or history can invite sexual assault. Here in California, Peace Over Violence (one of OneJustice’s partner organizations) has spearheaded the Denim Day movement by encouraging people to wear jeans with a purpose on the last Wednesday of April. The simple act of wearing denim on Denim Day has become a powerful reminder that there is never an excuse or invitation to rape.

Joining the Denim Day movement is not just a way to bring the conversation around sexual assault to your friends and colleagues: it is a strong symbol of solidarity. By wearing jeans with a purpose on April 25th, you are signaling to the silenced survivors around you that they can come forward with your support. Though it might seem like a small gesture, that kind of positive reinforcement can make all the difference.

OneJustice believes that the support and advocacy for these survivors does not begin or end on Denim Day; nor should we only be discussing the impacts of sexual assault during the month of April, which is also Sexual Assault Awareness Month. We must always hold survivors in our hearts. In collaboration with our community partners in Los Angeles, we are honored to help survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault navigate the complexities of our civil justice system and find legal solutions to some of the problems they encounter every day. We look to you – our colleagues, friends, and supporters – to consider the ways in which you can support survivors. That includes providing them with the resources and legal services they need to find their voice and move forward in their lives with safety and security.

With that in mind, we hope you will join us for Denim Day 2018, learn more about the event here, and register your participation with Peace Over Violence. And if you’re interested in getting involved with IMPACT LA, our collaborative legal services program for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, contact OneJustice Staff Attorney Michael Palzes at [email protected].

Together, we can dispel the disgusting myth that any survivor of sexual assault was ever “asking for it.” And together, we can support survivors today, and every day.

– The OneJustice Team

OneJustice Condemns DOJ Move to Shut Down Immigrant Legal Information Programs

April 20, 2018

San Francisco, CA — On April 10, 2018, the federal Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), which manages the national immigration court system, announced plans to end the Legal Orientation Program (LOP) at the end of April and the Immigration Court Helpdesk (ICH) Program at the end of July 2018. OneJustice vehemently opposes this action, which will have a devastating impact on immigrants and their families across the country trying to understand their rights and access basic fairness in immigration court.

Since its inception in 2003, the LOP has provided critical information and resources to immigrants (both detained and non-detained), including about how the immigration court process works and what recourse they may have to fight deportation. The LOP, managed by the Vera Institute of Justice, operates in 38 detention centers across the United States to reach over 50,000 immigrants – including in Los Angeles and San Diego. The ICH Program similarly provides legal advice to non-detained immigrants in courts in Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, New York City, and San Antonio.

At their core, both programs are designed to ensure greater fairness in the immigration court system. For someone in detention and/or facing deportation, the legal process is often confusing and frightening – even if they may very well have a valid reason to halt their deportation, such as by seeking asylum. Family members seeking justice or answers regarding their loved ones find themselves equally at a loss. Since four out of five immigrants are unable to access legal representation, both programs provide a vital life line for people in detention and deportation proceedings. As the Vera Institute describes, “LOP empowers program participants to represent themselves if they have a valid claim under existing law or to determine that their best course is to accept deportation.”

Julia R. Wilson, OneJustice CEO, condemned the move by the DOJ. She stated: “In seeking to shutdown the LOP and ICH, the Department of Justice has demonstrated its cruel and callous commitment to bolstering the country’s deportation machine at the cost of immigrants’ due process rights.”

Beyond its purpose of ensuring fairness, the LOP has had a track record of increasing efficiency in the country’s overwhelmed immigration courts. It decreases the time people spend in detention, facilitates family unity, and saves the federal government millions of dollars. A 2012 study from the DOJ showed that the LOP created an annual net savings of $17.8 million dollars.

OneJustice stands in solidarity with Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project- Los Angeles and the American Bar Association Immigration Justice Project in condemning this cruel decision. Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project serves thousands of indigent individuals every year at Adelanto Detention Facility and at the help desk at the Los Angeles Immigration Court through both of these programs. The ABA Immigration Justice Project likewise serves clients seeking legal help in San Diego at the Otay Mesa Detention Center and in the Immigration Court in San Diego. (For a full list of LOP facilities in the United States, click here).

The DOJ’s action comes on the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision that detained immigrants have no right to a bond hearing, and the Department of Justice’s newly-mandated quotas for immigration judges to speed up deportations. OneJustice calls on members of Congress to reject the DOJ’s proposed action and support constitutional rights for all people –  regardless of immigration status.

We also urge you to call your Member of Congress to ask them to oppose the DOJ’s decision to suspend the LOP and ICH Programs (you can click here to find contact information for your members of Congress).

Immigrants in our community depend on these vital lifelines to information about their due process rights! Call your member of Congress today!

Interested in providing pro bono help for immigrants and their families across the state?

Sign up for OneJustice’s Immigration Pro Bono Network to receive volunteer opportunities and immigration updates!

Introducing Our Newest Board Member – Ellen LaPointe

April 3, 2018

You might know that OneJustice has welcomed plenty of new staff members in the last year. But those aren’t all the new faces around here. In addition to all our awesome new teammates, we recently added a new member of the Board of Directors: Ellen LaPointe, President and CEO of Northern California Grantmakers! Ellen joined the Board last fall, and we finally had time to sit down with her to ask a few questions. We hope you’ll enjoy getting to know her as much as we have!

Ellen LaPointe

Ellen LaPointe

What made you interested in becoming a OneJustice Board member?

Like many people, I am alarmed by the threats we are confronting in the current political environment. In the wake of the 2016 elections I was urgently motivated to become involved in an organization that is focused on those who are most at-risk. OneJustice fit the bill perfectly.

I am so inspired by the dedication, passion, skill, and creativity of the leadership and team at OneJustice. The organization is providing vital, life-changing services to people and nonprofit organizations in communities that are overlooked and excluded throughout California. I believe that without OneJustice, thousands of people would suffer needless, avoidable harm. Board service is one way I can contribute to the success of the organization, and I am proud to be a part of it.

 

What is your role at Northern California Grantmakers (NCG), and how do you hope to use your perspective as a Board member?

NCG helps funders do their work better, collaborate more effectively to amplify philanthropic impact, and wield their collective influence to inform and shape policies that affect the communities and people we all care about.

As the President and CEO, my job is to ensure we have a compelling vision, actionable goals, and effective strategies for our work. I create the conditions within the organization to enable the staff to deliver great results and thrive, and engage members, partners, and stakeholders along the way to amplify our visibility and leverage our efforts. I am also an attorney. I look forward to contributing my perspective, knowledge, and skills in any way that will be helpful to OneJustice.

 

What are your hopes for your time as a Board member?

This is a critical moment in our country.  So many of the gains we have painstakingly achieved over decades to support and strengthen our communities and create opportunities for people to prosper and thrive are in peril. How we respond now will have an impact on these communities and the people who live in them for years, if not generations. Moreover, there are still many unmet needs, and we have aspirations and hopes regarding how to make things better. We must continue to stand for our values and push for more progress, even as we resist efforts to undermine us. I can’t imagine a better time to be involved with OneJustice.

 

What’s something you really love?

I love my family. I love laughter. I love kindness. I love to sing. I love creating community. I love the ocean. I love this question, because answering it made me happy!

Welcome to the OneJustice family, Ellen!

Thank CA Representatives For Supporting Legal Aid

March 29, 2018

What a wild ride this has been. Last week, Congress and the President approved a spending bill that, miraculously, included a $25 million increase in funding for legal aid. We’re thrilled that members of Congress have recognized the value of legal services for families in need across the country (especially after President Trump proposed eliminating funding for the Legal Services Corporation entirely).

But now we need your help to keep the momentum going!

In March, twenty-eight members of the California House delegation signed onto a letter to voice their support for legal aid. Now it’s important that they hear from you, their constituents, to remind them how important this issue is.

Please take two minutes to call your representative to thank them for signing onto the Dear Colleague letter both this year and last year. We’ve provided the following script for you to use:

“Hi, my name is [your name], and I live at [your address]. I wanted to thank Representative _____ for signing the Dear Colleague letter in support of funding for the Legal Services Corporation. It is vital that the government continue to fund legal services for those who need it most.”

Below you can find a list of all the California representatives who signed the letters. (Not sure who your representative is? Click here to see!)

Adam B. Schiff (D-28th): (202) 225-4176

Alan Lowenthal (D-47th): (202) 225-7924

Ami Bera (D-7th): (202) 225-5716

Anna G. Eshoo (D-18th): (202) 225-8104

Barbara Lee (D-13th): (202) 225-2661

Doris Matsui (D-6th): (202) 225-7163

Jackie Speier (D-14th): (202) 225-3531

Jerry McNerney (D-9th): (202) 225-1947

Jim Costa (D-16th): (202) 225-3341

Jimmy Gomez (D-34th): (202) 225-6235

Jimmy Panetta (D-20th): (202) 225-2861

Juan Vargas (D-51st): (202) 225-8045

Judy Chu (D-27th): (202) 225-5464

Julia Brownley (D-26th): (202) 225-5811

Karen Bass (D-37th): (202) 225-7084

Linda T. Sánchez (D-38th): (202) 225-6676

Mark DeSaulnier (D-11th): (202) 225-2095

Mark Takano (D-41st): (202) 225-2305

Maxine Waters (D-43rd): (202) 225-2201

Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-44th): (202) 225-8220

Norma J. Torres (D-35th): (202) 225-6161

Ro Khanna (D-17th): (202) 225-2631

Salud Carbajal (D-24th): (202) 225-3601

Steve Knight (R-25th): (202) 225-1956

Susan A. Davis (D-53rd): (202) 225-1956

Ted W. Lieu (D-33rd): (202) 225-3976

Tony Cardenas (D-29th): (202) 225-6131

Zoe Lofgren (D-19th): (202) 225-3072

As you know, LSC funding ensures that low-income members of our community can overcome systemic legal barriers to necessities such as housing, food, healthcare, and safety from violence. Furthermore, it helps fulfill our society’s commitment to providing justice to all.

OneJustice staff will be on the ground in Washington D.C. on April 11th and 12th to lobby members of Congress to keep up support for legal services. We need Congress to know that this is an important issue, and that next year’s budget should increase funding for LSC to $528 million – so that every low-income home in our country that needs legal help can get it.

Please call today to make sure our representatives know how important it is that they keep supporting legal aid!

Stay informed and stand up to protect civil legal aid in California. Click here to sign up for Californians for Legal Aid to receive advocacy alerts and policy updates about legal aid!

Omnibus Spending Bill Increases Federal Funding for Legal Services Corporation

UPDATE on Omnibus Budget Bill, Friday March 23, 2018, 9:45 a.m.

The Senate approved their motion to concur with the House bill H.R. 1625 on Thursday night, voting 65 to 32. Roll call vote is here. Senators Feinstein and Harris both voted Nay, in part because of the bill’s failure to address immigration relief for Dreamers. Senator Harris shared her thoughts on the bill on Twitter yesterday in this tweet thread. Senator Feinstein tweeted yesterday that she opposed the bill because of its failure to do anything about DACA.

President Trump tweeted at 5 a.m. PST on Friday morning that he is considering vetoing the bill – that message is here. Without a budget bill, the federal government will shutdown at midnight on Friday night.

OneJustice will continue to monitor the situation and keep you posted.

Our original blog post, and more details on the bill and its impact on legal aid funding, follow below.

———————————————

March 22, 2018

After months of Congressional jockeying, the House of Representatives today passed a $1.3 trillion compromise spending bill for Fiscal Year 2018. In an encouraging sign for the legal aid community, the bill approves a $25 million funding increase for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), the federally-controlled nonprofit which provides funding for legal aid organizations across the country.

Additionally, the bill does not weaken or dismantle the Johnson Amendment, as some had feared. This ensures that nonprofit organizations can continue to fulfill their missions to provide social good without being subject to political pressure.

Today’s bill is a far cry from recent budget proposals. President Trump called for the complete elimination of funding for the Legal Services Corporation in the White House budget proposal, released in February. Similarly, the House itself proposed to cut field grants for LSC nearly 25% last fall.

In a change of course, the House bill increases overall funding for the Legal Services Corporation by $25 million (from $385 million to $410 million). Specifically, the bill would increase basic field grants by $24 million, to $376 million – meaning that 96% of the increase would go directly to legal services.

Julia R. Wilson, OneJustice CEO, stated: “We are encouraged by the House’s spending bill. Any cuts to the Legal Services Corporation would have a devastating impact on millions of Americans, including the nearly 200,000 Californians who rely on legal services. The increase in the bill, instead, recognizes the incredibly positive impact that legal aid organizations have on communities all around the country.”

Moreover, this change in the House appropriation demonstrates that Congressional education efforts, a bipartisan “Dear Colleague” letter signed by over 180 members of Congress, and the negotiations to increase overall domestic spending have been successful in demonstrating the value of legal services.

While the signs from the House are encouraging, the process is not over. The bill passed the House 256-167, according to CNN, and now proceeds to the Senate. If passed there, the legislation would then need to be signed by President Trump by midnight on Friday, March 23, in order to avoid another government shutdown.

And while the increases seen in this bill are certainly necessary, more is needed to secure access to civil justice for people in need. The Legal Services Corporation’s own FY 2018 budget request provides a roadmap to achieving this – and, at the end of the day, this is the goal we must aim for.

The full text of the bill is available here. News outlets began publishing their analyses of the bill last night. OneJustice will continue to monitor the legislative process and provide update and alerts.

Stay informed and stand up to protect civil legal aid in California. Click here to sign up for Californians for Legal Aid to receive advocacy alerts and policy updates about legal aid!

The Big Picture (and All The Little Details)

March 15, 2018

By Peter James, Senior Manager of Impact Evaluation

I’ve got to admit, “impact evaluation” probably isn’t the most tangible job in the world. What is someone like me doing all day, beyond squinting at spreadsheets (although, yes, there’s a bit of that)? The answer is surprisingly simple: my job is to figure out what impact our programs are trying to achieve, and to then gather evidence to evaluate whether or not we’re meeting those goals.

Let me give an example.

OneJustice runs pro bono legal clinics to help people with criminal record clearance. So let’s say we run 10 clinics and serve 180 clients. Ok, that’s great! But is it enough to know that those clients have simply met with a lawyer – or could we learn more by delving deeper? We might start asking: do clients typically leave the clinic with a completed petition, and how many successfully file the petition in court? What happens to clients that we refer to other organizations for more in-depth assistance? What is this whole experience like for our clients, and does it meet their needs and goals?

As you can imagine, these discussions about a program’s goals quickly become complex – and that’s before you start devising methods to assess whether these goals are being achieved.

So why go to all this effort? Again, my answer is fairly simple: because our clients’ legal problems matter deeply and often have high stakes. We owe it to them to critically assess what we are doing and make adjustments where necessary. In the example above, studying our criminal record clearance clinics may help us to identify ways that we can improve our service – for example, by changing the kind of information provided to clients before they attend the clinic, or by adjusting the training offered to pro bono attorneys who volunteer their time.

It’s an exciting time to be doing this work. Scholars in universities and law schools are pushing forward a reinvigorated research agenda on civil justice that seeks to answer difficult questions. How often do people experience civil justice problems? Do factors such as race and class influence how people respond in these situations? What is the nature of our civil justice infrastructure? How do we measure the effectiveness of legal interventions and services? Part of the job of us data folks is ensuring that the learning from these academic studies actually contributes to thinking within legal services organizations.

In addition to this type of academic research, some recent major investments in legal aid programs have included funding to evaluate impacts, such as the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project. Other organizations in the civil justice area, notably the Self-Represented Litigation Network, are using GIS mapping to provide a spatial lens to planning and analysis.

Impact evaluation is just one of many ways in which programs can assess (and reassess) their strategies. While managers and program staff are always observing what’s going on and making improvements to their work, the advantage of impact evaluation is being able to step back and take a more systematic perspective. This can bring into focus patterns that are difficult to spot on a day-to-day basis and incorporate feedback from a wider range of voices, including clients and partner organizations.

Peter James

Peter James

OneJustice is at the very beginning of our work in this area. We will be learning from the academics and other legal services organizations who have been pushing this research forward. As we move ahead with our own research and impact evaluation initiatives, we plan on sharing our learning widely with the legal services community. I’m excited to have recently launched the OneJustice Research Newsletter, for example, and we’re looking forward to creating more spaces for others to share their experiences and ideas. So look out for news from us, and we can’t wait to hear from you!

Questions? Want to sign up for the Research Newsletter? You can reach out to Peter with questions and ideas at [email protected].