Access to Justice, A Human Right

January 30, 2019

By Jess Temple

We all know access to justice is a civil justice issue, but did you know it is also a human rights issue?

Independent experts at the United Nations working on issues of racial discrimination, immigration, and violence against women have emphasized the need for access to justice in civil legal aid. In fact, experts agree that access, including the right to counsel in civil legal matters, is essential to meet basic human needs.

Legal aid can be seen as a gateway to the enjoyment of other human rights important to creating a fair justice system. These rights include the right to liberty and security of the person, the right to equality before the law, the right to non-discrimination, the right to a fair trial, and the right to an effective remedy.

Though there is a great potential for the civil legal aid system to protect human rights, there are barriers to accessing justice through this system. Barriers to access to justice disproportionately harm racial minorities, women, and immigrants – thereby undermining the promise of “justice for all,” in the United States.

In the civil legal system, one way to demonstrate barriers to access is to explore outcomes in immigration proceedings. Unlike the criminal justice system, there is no right to counsel in the civil justice system. This is despite the fact that immigration proceedings often risk the same deprivations of liberty you might anticipate in a criminal proceeding, like the loss of life.

The risks associated with being a migrant in the United States have gained visibility as a result of the United States’ recent immigration policies. The International Justice Resource Center (IJRC) published a news post analyzing the international human rights standards implicated by these policies, which include automatic criminal prosecution of adult migrants, family separation, indefinite detention, and restrictions to claims for asylum, among others. IJRC identified ten human rights principles that are implicated by these policies, including, the right to life, noting excessive force used at the border; the right to seek asylum; the prohibition of torture; and rights associated with due process in immigration proceedings.

So what do barriers in immigration proceedings actually look like? Folks at the American Immigration Council analyzed over 1.2 million deportation cases decided between 2007 and 2012 to shed some light on barriers to access to justice in United States immigration courts.

In this 2016 report, we learned that nationwide:

  • A very low percentage of immigrants are able to secure legal representation for their cases (37% if they were not detained, and only 14% if they were detained)
  • Immigrants with hearings in small cities were four times less likely to obtain counsel compared to those with hearings in large cities
  • Represented immigrants were more likely to be released from detention, to seek relief from deportation, and to experience successful immigration outcomes.

These findings provide a daunting, data-driven illustration of unequal access to justice, with devastating consequences for those experiencing barriers.

Thinking about legal aid services more broadly, the Legal Services Corporation recently estimated that about 86% of civil legal problems reported by low-income Americans received inadequate, or no legal help at all. Access to justice issues are often amplified for vulnerable groups, and it takes strategic plans, programs, and delivery to strengthen access to justice.

So…should we be doing better?

I believe the answer is an emphatic yes. In addition to constitutional and legislative guarantees, the United States federal and state governments are internationally obligated to comply with human rights standards, including, those set forth in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The United States must respect and protect the right to liberty and security of the person, the right to equality before the law, the right to non-discrimination, the right to a fair trial, and the right to an effective remedy. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has further elaborated that the right to equality before the law includes meaningful access to justice procedurally, and practically, which may mean ensuring the availability of legal assistance.  The decision by the United States to withdraw from the Human Rights Committee, while undermining the United States’ position as an advocate of human rights, does not negate the obligation to provide meaningful access to justice for all.

So what do we do about barriers to access to justice in the context of our work?

Global perspectives on effective ways to strengthen access to the civil legal aid system include evaluating access, for example, by gathering information about who accesses the civil legal aid system, how they access the system, how easily they access it, and what the outcomes are for them; identifying barriers to access; raising awareness of legal services that can address problems (whether those problems feel “legal” or not); funding legal aid; and ensuring the implementation of equal access to justice.

Here at OneJustice, I eagerly apply this human rights lens to the work that I do with our mobile legal clinics.  I think critically about how we can collect data about barriers folks face accessing OneJustice’s legal aid services in Northern California.  Through OneJustice’s varied programs and layered service provision, we are working to identify where service delivery gaps exist. I work to raise awareness of access to justice issues, and to protect the promise of justice for all.




Jess Temple, Staff Attorney – Jess works on the Northern California Justice Bus project, an innovative mobile legal clinic designed to reach California’s most underserved communities.

Exciting new learning program!

OneJustice is excited to launch a new learning program, Research & Evaluation in Legal Aid, starting in January 2019!

We have created this program to meet the growing interest among legal aid organizations in using data to improve services and communicate impact.  As a participant in the program, you will receive an accessible and practical introduction to research & evaluation and benefit from one-to-one coaching on a priority project.

To learn more about this course from the instructor, Peter James, take a minute to watch this video.

The deadline for applications is December 14, 2018. To find our more and apply, visit

If you have any questions, please reach out to Peter,

Thank you, and we hope you can join us on this exciting new venture!

We’re thankful for you!

November 21, 2018

This season of giving thanks offers a lovely moment for reflection.  As the OneJustice staff, board and network looks back over the past year – one thing is crystal clear: we are so grateful for you. You raised your voice to protect justice for all.  You traveled for hours to reach Californians in need.  Your generosity with your time, talents, and financial support truly made all the difference.

You made sure that:


From all of us at OneJustice, thank you so much!  We wish you all the best in this holiday season and in the coming New Year.

Welcome to the 116th Congress; now please get to work!

November 15th, 2018

[Update on 11/19/18: the final results are in, and there are six new members of the California delegation. They are all Democrats, and two of them are attorneys. OneJustice looks forward to working with these new members and their staff in early 2019 to introduce them to the California civil justice system and the importance services it provides to their constituents.]

Like many of you, the OneJustice team has been anxiously watching the 2018 midterm election results roll in – particularly the California races for the House of Representatives. We are laser focused on gauging the impact of the election on our work to protect justice for all.

More specifically, we’re working to assess the impact of the elections on two core components that make up the bright promise of justice for all:

  1. Federal funding for legal help for Californians in need, and

  2. The impact of federal immigration policy on Californians.

At OneJustice, we believe deeply that these issues are entirely bi-partisan.  Everyone – including our elected officials – can agree on the fact that our justice system doesn’t work unless we treat everyone equally, regardless of what you look like or where you come from.

So what do we know in terms of California as of today, November 15th?

While two of the 53 congressional races in California are still too close to call, we know that at least five of the representatives for our state will be brand-new to Congress.  The OneJustice network will hit the ground running in January to educate these new members and their staff in both DC and the district about the importance of civil legal aid assistance to their constituents and how reasonable immigration policies and comprehensive immigration reform will benefit the communities that elected them and our entire state.

Let’s face it – the 2018 mid-terms were a brutal experience. And now OneJustice is calling on the 116th Congress to set aside knee-jerk partisanship and scapegoating and to find common ground. Congress must get to work on the policy issues for which they were elected. In terms of civil justice and immigration, we expect every member of the California delegation, regardless of party affiliation, to do what is best for all Californians.

Will you join us in calling on Congress to do its job and protect justice for all? Here’s how you can get involved in 2019:

Congress should get to work and increase federal funding for civil justice.

Ensuring fairness in the justice system is a fundamental American value. Americans believe in justice for all, not just for those who can afford it.  Federal funding for legal aid through the Legal Services Corporation assures fairness for all in the justice system, regardless of how much money you have. It provides access to legal help for people to protect their livelihoods, their health, and their families.

But the administration’s budget continues to call for the complete elimination of the program.  Congress passed a continuing resolution that only continues funding for legal aid services through December 7, 2018.

When we say the Pledge of Allegiance we close with “justice for all.”  So the OneJustice network calls on Congress to protect funding for civil legal aid in the federal budget cycle to ensure that the very principle our country’s founders envisioned remains alive: justice for all, not the few who can afford it.

Congress should get to work and create fair immigration policies that reflect America’s values

America is a compassionate country that has a commitment to honoring our humanitarian responsibilities – including an orderly system for considering asylum claims that has served us well.  We understand that the right to due process under the law is a cornerstone of our commitment to freedom and fairness. Every person in the United States, regardless of their immigration status, is guaranteed equal treatment and due process under law.  Our immigration policies should reflect our core values: equality, fairness, accountability, and opportunity.

Partisan fighting in Congress and fear-mongering as a campaign tactic has polarized candidates and created barriers to working together to pass reasonable legislation. That hurts all of us, regardless of political affiliation. Human migration itself is not the problem, but rather flawed immigration policies – and non-strategic enforcement – are the problem. We, as a democracy, have the power and responsibility to change those to make sure they are reasonable and fair. We can build bridges and demonstrate that our differing identities are assets in making our communities and nation stronger. Congress – as our elected representatives – should create immigration policies that make it possible for those seeking opportunity to join our workforce and society.

OneJustice calls on the 116th Congress to set aside polarized fighting. We demand that our elected officials get to work to reject the administration’s cruel and callous shifts in immigration policies and to pass comprehensive immigration reform that reflects American values of honoring our humanitarian responsibilities and ensuring that every person is treated equally under the law. Congress must pass laws that promote public safety and uphold due process and equal justice and that integrate new Americans into our economic engine and social fabric.

We refuse to be distracted.

November 2, 2018

We refuse to be distracted.

With everything that has been coming out of the White House this past week, OneJustice refuses to amplify the vitriolic and xenophobic rhetoric coming from this administration. OneJustice’s position can be summed up in 3 simple statements:

Regardless of your political affiliation, we implore you to vote. The most important thing that you can do right now is to fully participate in the democratic process, and that starts with voting.

Creepin’ it Real

October 31, 2018

At OneJustice, there’s no holiday we get more serious about than Halloween!  In light of the past few weeks — and years — we really wanted to take time out of our chaotic days and come together as a family.  We cooked up a storm, ate the food closest to our hearts, and shared many laughs. In hard times it’s all too easy to forget to notice and appreciate the little things.  We want to dedicate this Halloween to the OneJustice network and all the little things you do to make our world a better place!

And of course, would it really be Halloween without a OneJustice Halloween costume contest?! The OneJustice team really outdid themselves this year.  From Mister Rodgers to a fortune teller it was the hardest year yet to pick winners from each office!

  • First place San Francisco:  Asana, left and Trello, right (aka Semhal Gessesse, Pro Bono Justice Program Coordinator and Lauren Hipolito, Corporate Relations Manager)
  • First Place Los Angeles: Wednesday Addams (right) (aka Mai Nguyen, Staff Attorney)
  • Second Place Overall: Fortune Teller (aka Lea Volk)

OneJustice Opposes Trump Administration Anti-Immigrant Proposed Changes to Public Charge Regulations

October 25, 2018  [Content Warning: Immigration]

The Trump administration has put forth another anti-immigrant proposal that serves as an attack on the health and well-being of families and communities across the country.  Building on the restrictions on immigration inherent to the Muslim ban and the punitive approach in the efforts to end the DACA program, the Administration now proposes to prevent immigrant families from seeking a permanent, secure future in the United States and to scare them away from seeking access to essential safety net programs that provide access to health care, nutrition, and housing.

OneJustice vehemently opposes the Trump administration and Department of Homeland Security’s unconscionable proposed rule change to “public charge.”  We also call on everyone in the OneJustice network to take action. It’s easy to get involved through the three simple options listed below.

On September 22, 2018, the Trump administration announced a proposed rule to make changes to “public charge” policies that govern how the use of public benefits may affect individuals’ ability to enter the U.S. or adjust to legal permanent resident (LPR) status (i.e., obtain a “green card”).  These proposed changes are a blatant attack on immigrant families, and function as an attempt to shutter family reunification through legal immigration. Under the proposed changes to “public charge”, many U.S. citizens would no longer be able to welcome their own parents, or spouse, into the U.S. because the rule arbitrarily considers age and income – which strongly disfavor elderly and low-income adults. This reunification and strengthening of families and our communities greatly contributes to our national economy.

Furthermore, these changes would also make the use of many public benefits, from health care to nutrition support to housing, a disqualifier for green-card eligibility.  Such lose-lose choices betray one of our nation’s core values of welcoming immigrants and fostering strong, and thriving, families.

These United States were founded on principles of liberty and justice for all, and these proposed changes make it abundantly clear that under Trump’s administration, these principles only hold true for the wealthy, educated and white. It is unconscionable to make a person choose between reuniting with their parents, their children, their families or them receiving essential public services.

Luckily, we are not silenced in this fight; there is something that we can do. Under federal law, the Trump administration is required to read and respond to every unique comment before it can finalize its harmful proposed regulations. Together, we can stop this.

Raise your voice and fight back on the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant proposal.

Here are three easy ways to get involved:

#1: Submit comments opposing the proposed rule changes during the 60-day comment period. It’s easy to do so at, by the national Protecting Immigrant Families (PIF) Campaign. You can use their prepared statement or write your own personal statement.

#2. Share this post on your  social media and to your networks to get more people to also submit comments.

#3. Share personal stories with OneJustice’s Communications Associate, Fredrick Ghai ( about the detrimental impact this proposal would have for your family or how public assistance programs help your community thrive and excel. Only with your consent, OneJustice will use these stories for media and other advocacy efforts.

For more information about public charge and resources from the PIF Campaign that is mobilizing against the proposed rule, visit  To read the Kaiser Family Foundation’s overview of the proposed rule changes and their likely impact on health, visit

If you have questions about how these changes might impact your family, or are having any other immigration issues, please seek advice from an accredited immigration legal service provider. Here is a group of nonprofit organizations funded by the California Department of Social Services to provide immigration assistance throughout the state.

Welcome Lydia! Our New Equal Justice Works Legal Fellow

October 24, 2018

With everything that has happened this summer, we haven’t had a chance to introduce a new member of the OneJustice team – Lydia Sinkus, a new Equal Justice Works Fellow working on a two-year project jointly sponsored by PayPal and Orrick!  As we do with all new team members, we asked her to answer these four questions:

  •  What drew you to OneJustice’s vision, mission, and strategies?
  •  Tell us a bit about your position at OneJustice and what you hope to achieve?
  •  What was your path in coming to OneJustice?
  •  And please tell us something about yourself that not everyone might know.

With that, please welcome Lydia Sinkus!

Lydia Sinkus, Equal Justice Works Fellow:

I was drawn to OneJustice’s vision of access to justice for all and of a legal system where lawyers help break down barriers to justice and inclusion. I appreciate the organization’s willingness to tackle hard problems with a focus on innovation, human centered design, and community network building. As a team member at OneJustice I am excited to help expand access to legal resources and to provide lawyers and non-lawyers the opportunity to engage in meaningful pro bono work.

I am an Equal Justice Works Legal Fellow with the Pro Bono Justice Clinics team. My position is generously sponsored by our partners PayPal and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP. In this role, I hope to expand access to life-changing legal services for non-citizen immigrants with criminal records. Post-conviction relief services tailored to non-citizens can open up pathways to naturalization, legal status, jobs, housing, and education, and keep families in our communities together. I am working to design a mobile “clinic plus” model that will engage pro bono attorneys and volunteers in the Bay Area to help provide these services in in isolated and resource-scarce areas of Northern California. I also aim to help local community organizations build capacity to provide these services themselves.

I am passionate about increasing access to justice, information, and resources for under-served communities. As a student at Berkeley Law, I focused on international human rights, and I bring this lens to my current domestic work at the cross-section of immigration and criminal justice. I have interned at the Center for Justice and Accountability and the RFK Center for Human Rights, which litigate domestic and international human rights cases. During law school, I also engaged in immigration work with the East Bay Community Law Center’s Immigration Practice and the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, primarily assisting clients with domestic violence-based asylum claims.

Prior to taking the plunge into law school, I worked as a paralegal for the Department of Justice, where I enjoyed engaging in diverse types of pro bono work, and as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala, where I worked on development and delivery of health education and sanitation infrastructure in schools and community network building.

I received by JD from the UC Berkeley School of Law and clerked for the District Court for the Western District of Washington in Seattle.

I grew up in North Central Florida, so in California I miss thunderstorms and hot nights. I’m a twin. I like to sail other people’s boats, and I have a life goal of learning to balance a bike on my chin.

OneJustice Opposes Trump Administration Effort to Increase Child Detention

September 25, 2018

OneJustice Opposes Trump Administration Effort to Increase Child Detention

September 25, 2018

[Content Warning: Child Abuse; Immigration]

On September 7, 2018, the administration revealed proposed rules that would dismantle existing protections for children in immigration jails, opening the door for the indefinite incarceration of children. The proposal would specifically alter the terms of the 1997 Flores Settlement, which requires migrant children to be released “without unnecessary delay” to licensed facilities for a maximum of 20 days during an emergency or influx. Children that are subjected to detention suffer measurable physical and psychological damage — damage that can be nearly impossible to recover from. Child welfare laws, such as the 1997 Flores Settlement, have been specifically designed to provide basic protections for immigrant children in detention and reduce and mitigate harm.

OneJustice firmly opposes any attempt to circumvent child welfare laws like the Flores Settlement.

What would this rule change mean in practice?

  • Children would be held indefinitely in immigration jails with their parents for weeks or years if the family is detained during asylum proceedings;
  • Children would be jailed in facilities unlicensed by state or local governments;
  • Unaccompanied children would be more vulnerable to having their legal protections removed;
  • Facilities would have broadened emergency loopholes for not meeting standards of care;
  • Family jails would be expanded to hold 5 times more people;
  • As a reminder, all of this would take place in the harsh reality that unlike in the criminal context, none of these children or families would have a right to counsel.

Even with the current protections mandated by the Flores settlement, immigration detention centers have been cited for horrendous human rights abuses, “including physical abuse, sexual abuse, blatant medical neglect, the forcible injection of antipsychotic medications, the unlawful restraint of children in distress and harsh rules that prohibit even siblings from hugging one another” according to the New York Times. The elimination of existing protections will certainly make things worse.

In addition to perpetuating and worsening the atrocious detention of children and their families, these changes to the Flores Agreement pave the way for over a 5x increase in families jailed at the US border with Mexico, reports the New York Times. Replacing the existing requirements that family detention centers be licensed by state and federal regulations with internal DHS regulations will result in an untenable situation where these jails will not be required to meet rudimentary humanitarian standards. Oversight of these facilities will be dramatically weakened. The proposed rules to override the Flores Settlement are a violation of the fundamental human rights of children and will increase the inhumane conditions that immigrant children and families are forced to experience while incarcerated.

You can take meaningful action

  1. Make your voice heard. The proposed rule is open for public comment until November 6, 2018 – use this formal comment period to ensure the administration hears the legal community’s opposition to the proposal, and support for child rights, child welfare, due process and access to justice.
  2. Volunteer to serve an immigrant family. See our opportunities listed on the Immigration Pro Bono Network website and sign up for frequent emails with direct ways to get involved.
  3. Donate to organizations on the front lines. See our list of nonprofits providing legal services to immigrants in need in California and around the country.
  4. Contact ICE directly. You can contact ICE directly at Make sure to include DHS Docket No. ICEB-2018-0002.

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

Meet Our New Teammates!

August 28, 2018

With everything that has happened this summer, we haven’t had a chance to introduce four new members to the OneJustice team! Each of our four new teammates comes to OneJustice with diverse backgrounds and skill-sets and will all be vital to shaping a legal system that brings justice to all. As we do with all new folks, we asked them to answer these four questions:

  •  What drew you to OneJustice’s vision, mission, and strategies?
  •  Tell us a bit about your position at OneJustice and what you hope to achieve?
  •  What was your path in coming to OneJustice?
  •  And please tell us something about yourself that not everyone might know.

With that, please welcome Gracia Berrios, Deisy Amezcua, Ana Urgiles and Fredrick Ghai!

Gracia Berrios:

I love being part of a team where our number one goal is bridging the gap between underserved communities with providing free legal aid. Whether it is acknowledging the importance and necessity of Pro Bono work to our volunteers or being on the Justice Bus and seeing first-hand how critical our work is. I’m excited to be part of the Pro Bono Justice Clinics team!

Prior to joining the OneJustice team, I had the opportunity to work in D.C. for 6 months. I interned on Capitol Hill for Congresswoman Nanette Barragan (CA 44th) and I was part of the legislative team. During the fall, I was the communications intern for Millennial Action Project; they emphasize the importance of civic engagement to millennials.

I really love Krung Thai (restaurant in San Jose) – they have the best yellow curry and Pollo a la Brasa. Sonoma County and all the beautiful nature it has to offer. Moscow Mules, goldendoodles, and guinea pigs.

Deisy Amezcua

I was placed at OneJustice through my DreamSF Fellowship with the City of San Francisco’s Office of Civic Engagement & Immigrant Affairs (OCEIA). OneJustice’s Justice Bus Program intrigued me from the start because I wanted to continue working with immigrant communities in rural areas of California. As an immigrant myself, now a permanent resident, I grew up in a primarily Latinx and agricultural town where I could see that a majority of the population would benefit from the free legal help that organizations like OneJustice provide. Not only does OneJustice provide essential legal aid to underrepresented communities, the staff itself incorporate passion and inclusion into their work.

As the DreamSF Fellow, I am in charge of some of the same tasks assigned to the Program Associates in the Pro Bono Justice team. Through outreach, client scheduling, and preparing client folders, I am part of a team that prepares for the Justice Bus and RJC legal clinics. Through my position at OneJustice, I want to gain more knowledge about both criminal and immigration law, and about the different paths I could take with a law degree.

I am currently a junior at UC Berkeley double majoring in Political Science and Chicanx/Latinx Studies. At Cal, I was the Director of External Affairs for the Latinx Pre-Law Society where I organized a trip to visit the Ivy League Law schools. Previously, I worked for an immigration and employment attorney as a Legal Assistant in both high school and college. I have recently volunteered at East Bay Sanctuary Covenant where I assisted attorneys and paralegals with the preparation of many adjustment of status cases, DACA renewals, and other immigration applications.

I love journaling, reading romance novels (hopeless romantic here), and going on adventures constantly. In terms of food, I can eat Thai food, shrimp, and french fries any day. I love singing to myself, just in case you hear me humming and singing to myself. I also love babies, they are super cute and make my day 10X better!

Ana Urgiles:

I work at OneJustice because of my belief that access to legal aid can be life changing, as it was in my family’s experience as first-generation immigrants. I am proud to be part of a team that empowers individuals and communities by promoting justice for all.

Before joining OneJustice, I was a research assistant at the Freeman Spogli Institute where I focused on researching immigration policies and other issues concerning politics and democracies. During this time, my interest in public interest law also developed through my involvement at Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto where I helped document the experiences of survivors of violent crimes seeking asylum. Afterwards, I was a litigation paralegal in a Washington D.C. law firm representing sovereign states in human rights, commercial arbitration, and dispute resolution cases.

At OneJustice, I am a Data Program Associate for the Pro Bono Justice Clinics. I received my B.A. in Political Science from Stanford University.

I love dancing to Latin American music, exploring restaurants in Chicago, listening to rap, learning French, and backpacking in California.

Fredrick Ghai:

I was drawn to OneJustice’s commitment to equity and justice for all people as a human right, irrespective of their background or socio-economic status. As the child of two immigrants and growing up in the Bay Area, this is not just something I am passionate about, it’s personal. In the words of our founding fathers, “all men are created equally” and should be treated as thus under the eye of the law – something we have lost sight of in recent years. OneJustice is working to reverse this trend, and I am excited to be a part of this change.

In my role as Communications Associate, I will be creating and sharing OneJustice’s story and collective voice through both traditional and digital media. In addition to this, I am looking forward to effectively and concisely articulating all of the wonderful work that my colleagues at OneJustice are doing in order to both maximize their impact, and expand OneJustice’s presence within the civil legal aid community!

Prior to joining the OneJustice team, I served on the communications team of the national anti-poverty policy and advocacy organization RESULTS. At RESULTS, I worked closely with both their global and domestic policy teams helping place media throughout the country, designing graphics and reports, and managing coast-to-coast advocacy/media tours. It was here that my passion for communications was fostered, and I found the power of both effective communications and advocacy. I have also volunteered running an after-school youth program for at risk kids in the East Bay for the past 2 years. I graduated from UC Davis with a B.A. in Economics.

I really love creating things – everything from music, to furniture, to even a car.