Juneteenth’s origin dates back to enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, learning that they had been emancipated, close to two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation had formally been put into place. While Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration of the end of slavery, this holiday has not been recognized nationally until recent. Many may just be learning the significance of this holiday. Several work places and law firms plan on making Juneteenth a paid and permanent holiday, including: Latham & Watkins, Morrison & Foerster, and Debevoise & Plimpton; to name a few.  While this holiday becomes more mainstream it is important to recognize Juneteenth’s place in American history and to reflect on the long struggle for equal rights.

Pro Bono Net is grateful to Treshauxn Dennis-Brown, AmeriCorps Vista working with our Immigration Advocates Network program, for writing this important piece highlighting what Juneteenth means for him.


This upcoming Saturday marks the national observance of Juneteenth. Traditionally celebrated by African-Americans annually on June 19th and originating in Galveston, Texas, Juneteenth commemorates the very first celebration of emancipation, signifying the end of slavery in Texas, following General Order No. 3 by Union Army general Gordon Granger Although at first embraced solely by African American communities, Juneteenth has gained traction among mainstream outlets in recent years, garnering state and local recognition across the country, especially as the country comes to grips with a legacy of racial tension. But who is Juneteenth for? Juneteenth can be said to be a holiday celebrating Black liberation, but it is important to remember that many heritages simultaneously reside under the blanket term “Black.” 

I am a proud first generation American with heritage deeply entrenched in the Caribbean, boasting primarily Jamaican but also Trinidadian lineages. As such, I sometimes feel as though my plight is somewhat divorced from that of Black/African-Americans, as I cannot lay claim to the legacy of American Chattel Slavery in the same way. Instead, I hail from islands that were colonized by the Spanish and British, each nevertheless saturated with their own horrors, commensurate with the reputation of being sugar colonies in the Colonial Era. Is Juneteenth just for the African-American whose lineage could (or more realistically, could not) be traced back to American slaves who picked cotton in the South, or can other non American Black diasporic heritages be included as an act of solidarity with regards to the common tragic threads in their histories?

While this mainly materializes as an internal thought exercise, the reality remains that of course, despite identifying as a first generation Caribbean-American, son, nephew, grandson to family who immigrated here in the 90s, I and my family are easily welcomed to the fold of Juneteenth celebrations. The ease with which this happens is possible due to the shared connection of the pigmentation of our skin. The fact remains that despite ancestral differences, the plight of Black people, regardless of immigration or residency status,  in the United States is almost universally dismal: Black people retain the lowest median income, are currently enjoying the lowest rate of black homeownership since the 1960s, and are disproportionately stopped, arrested, or fatally killed by the police.²³⁴ The statistics prove that diasporic nuances mean nothing in the face of, well, a Black face.

While this might seem the grimmest of ways to endear oneself to a holiday, I am nevertheless excited to have my first day off in my professional career for Juneteenth. The intellectual divide over whom Juneteenth belongs to will hopefully fade over time as Juneteenth continues to attract interest in the mainstream. Soon the question will not be whether Juneteenth is just a “Black holiday,” as Americans as a whole continue to embrace it as a holiday along the stalwarts of Fourth of July, Memorial Day, and the like.


¹Henry Louis Gates Jr., “What Is Juneteenth? African American History Blog,” PBS (Public Broadcasting Service, September 19, 2013), https://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/what-is-juneteenth/.

²Valerie Wilson, “Racial Disparities in Income and Poverty Remain Largely Unchanged amid Strong Income Growth in 2019,” Economic Policy Institute, accessed June 15, 2021, https://www.epi.org/blog/racial-disparities-in-income-and-poverty-remain-largely-unchanged-amid-strong-income-growth-in-2019/.

³Jacob Passy, “Black Homeownership Rate Hits Lowest Level since the 1960s – That’s Unlikely to Change in Pandemic Year 2,” MarketWatch (MarketWatch, March 11, 2021), https://www.marketwatch.com/story/most-black-americans-arent-homeowners-how-can-we-change-that-11615431459.

⁴“Criminal Justice Fact Sheet,” NAACP, May 24, 2021, https://naacp.org/resources/criminal-justice-fact-sheet.

I recently spoke with Astrid Ackerman on her experience with the Newark Asylum Office’s pilot project. She attended an asylum interview where she appeared remotely, while the client went in-person. Read below to see some tips and hear more about this experience.

Q: Could you explain your organization and role within it?

Astrid Ackerman

I am currently a Kramer Levin extern at Brooklyn Legal Services’ (BLS) Immigration Unit. BLS provides a range of immigration services to low-income non-detained immigrants. As an extern, I have a docket of about 25 cases, including asylum, SIJS, removal defense, LPRs, and VAWAs.

Q: How has COVID-19 impacted your specific work?

Immigration court in NY has been closed for non-detained matters since March 2020 and cases have been postponed indefinitely or recalendared. The pandemic has made it more challenging to communicate with clients given the lack of government support for child care and clients having to adjust to working with video technologies or dealing with the lack of wifi accessibility for low-income workers. As to the affirmative asylum process, asylum offices paused performing interviews during the pandemic and now the offices are reopened with limited space capacities and keeping social distancing protocols. This means that clients and lawyers can’t be in the same office during the interview, unless they explicitly ask for it, and that the asylum officer does not conduct the interview face to face with the asylum petitioner, and instead it is done through video conferencing. 

Q: What is the remote pilot project that you participated in? 

I participated in Newark’s asylum office’s remote asylum interview program. The client had to go in person to the Newark office and the asylum officer was in the office too, but in a separate room than my client and the interview was conducted as a video conference through Microsoft Teams.

Q: What was the remote interview process like?

Overall, the process ran smoothly. I previously had to send a short form to the Newark office requesting permission to appear via video and make use of their pilot program. The interview was on a Monday and I received approval to participate in the program around Thursday. The approval only mentioned that I would receive a Microsoft Teams invite for the conference the day/time of the interview. By the time and day the interview was scheduled, I had not received the invite so I had to call the Newark office and let them know of the issue. I was put in touch with the asylum officer in charge of my case and they called me on my phone. The asylum officer asked whether I wanted to just do the interview on the phone, but I requested he send a conference invite because my client and I would prefer to conduct the interview via video. The officer then sent a Microsoft Teams invite to my email, but the audio was through the phone, not the Microsoft Teams app. I didn’t need to download any app to connect. There were no audio issues throughout the interview. I was able to see my client on video, but unable to see the asylum officer. 

Q: How did you prepare and what tips would you give to other attorney’s participating in remote legal services?

For the most part, I prepared just as I would have for an in-person asylum interview. I reviewed our submission, which included affidavits, police letters, and country conditions research. I also prepared a list of key facts that I wanted my client to touch on during the interview to keep track of what wasn’t mentioned in order to guide my closing remarks in the interview. I also did several mock interviews with my client over the phone. This was really useful as it mimicked the actual interview’s setting. Attorney’s preparing to participate in remote services should make sure they explain the interview process to the client. It’s also good to ensure your computer doesn’t get pesky with Microsoft Teams since you’ll likely won’t be able to try out the link in advance of the interview. Conducting mock interviews with your client via a videoconferencing program is crucial to get the client used to the process. I also think it’s best to prepare the client for an impatient asylum officer and advise your client to provide short answers. Even if there are no video or audio issues, video conferencing is not exactly like face to face communication. There are some physical cues that are harder to perceive in video conferencing that in person. These cues are important for clients to gauge whether they should wrap up their answer or keep discussing it. In place of these cues, I think it’s good practice to have shorter answers and then take the asylum officer’s lead on whether more discussion is necessary. 

Q: Would you recommend this pilot project to other pro bonos?

Yes, it was a great experience and it was good for the client too. Especially for clients who have been waiting a long time for asylum interviews, the pilot project offers a way to go forward with the process. 

Pro Bono Net, with funding from the New York Office of Attorney General, is pleased to announce the official launch of TenantHelpNY.org, a new online resource created to help tenants in New York understand their housing rights during the COVID-19 public health crisis. In September 2020, Attorney General Letitia James announced the COVID-19 Tenant Legal Assistance Initiative, an effort to respond to the legal needs faced by tenants at risk of eviction because of the coronavirus pandemic. As of November 2020, the estimated range of current renter households at risk of eviction in New York State were between 640,000 and 1,180,000, and according to the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development, a total of 222,135 New York State tenants already have active cases in court and face eviction in May when the moratorium ends. 

This new initiative will help address the variety of legal challenges many New York tenants will face over the coming year, and includes the development and management of an online resource center with information related to tenant law and contact information for service providers outside of New York City. The online resource center will also contain an “Advocate Gateway” with specialized resources to support pro bono attorneys providing eviction defense. 

The development of the resource center, or TenantHelpNY.org, was created in partnership with the six (6) grantees under this initiative: Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project, Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York, Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York, Legal Assistance of Western New York, Nassau Suffolk Law Services, and Legal Services of the Hudson Valley. 

Through TenantHelpNY.org, a mobile-friendly website, tenants will have access to: 

  • Plain language guides for tenants and the general public, developed in collaboration with grantees under the OAG initiative; 
  • Know your rights housing information on the COVID-19 crisis, discrimination, disability inclusion, and eviction process;
  • A legal help directory to assist tenants in connecting with volunteer attorney programs in their region, and
  • A list of Frequently Asked Questions about available COVID-19 housing protections.

In addition, TenantHelpNY.org’s Advocate Gateway will give pro bono attorneys and other advocates providing civil legal services to tenants access to the following resources: 

  • A password-protected online community to provide pro bono attorneys with access to specialized training and a membership roster to build their network and support effective tenant advocacy;
  • A library with curated advocacy materials created by volunteer attorney programs; 
  • Focused listservs to ask questions and discuss issues around COVID-19 and housing law in New York State, and; 
  • Pro bono opportunity information that will allow volunteer attorneys to connect directly with legal service provider staff. 

“Pro Bono Net is proud to work with our partners to build a platform that will serve New Yorkers at a time when they are most vulnerable. We are grateful to Attorney General Leticia James for concretely demonstrating her support for solutions to aid impacted communities by funding TenantHelpNY.org,” said Veronica N. Dunlap, Director of New York Programs at Pro Bono Net

Learn more about the organizations behind this initiative: 

For more information, comments, or questions about this initiative, please contact Veronica Dunlap, New York Program Director at Pro Bono Net, at vdunlap@probono.net


1. Stout Risius Ross, LLC, Estimation of Households Experiencing Rental Shortfall and Potentially Facing Eviction (New York Figures) https://app.powerbi.com/view?r=eyJrIjoiNzRhYjg2NzAtMGE1MC00NmNjLTllOTMtYjM2NjFmOTA4ZjMyIiwidCI6Ijc5MGJmNjk2LTE3NDYtNGE4OS1hZjI0LTc4ZGE5Y2RhZGE2MSIsImMiOjN9 (2020)

2.  Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development, 220,000 Tenants on the Brink and Counting, https://anhd.org/blog/220000-tenants-brink-and-counting#_ftn1 (2021).

Early in 2021 Lagniappe Law Lab launched their redesigned Pro Bono Net site, ProBonoNet/LA (probono.net/la). For over a decade the ProBonoNet/LA site has served as an online hub connecting public interest lawyers, pro bono volunteers, and the entire Louisiana Civil Justice Community. 

With nearly 150 site members and a rich collection of legal materials, the ProBonoNet/LA site is a well-used resource for attorneys and advocates across Louisiana. This meant that any site redesign effort had to make both the users’ needs and the visibility of the resources first and foremost. “Getting the most out of a site redesign meant understanding the ‘most valuable features’ of the existing site, and thinking strategically about enabling new features that foster a sense of community and purpose” said Amanda Brown, director of the Lagniappe Law Lab. “In our design working group we found that featuring the most-used site tools prominently in the design was key to our users getting the most out of the site. We also used this opportunity to highlight important features that were not used as commonly, but are critical to building up a culture of pro bono in Louisiana.” 

Lagniappe Law Lab engaged Pro Bono Net’s longtime design collaborator, Kristen Argenio of Ideal Design Co, to develop several different options, with different looks and color palettes. “In the end we chose a site design that is a bit of a clean take on traditional colors, and incorporates some Louisiana-specific design elements,” said Brown. “Our users are definitely excited about engaging with the new site. Since we’ve launched, recurring site traffic has grown, unique visitors are up, and people are staying longer on the site. We’re thrilled to have this refreshed resource for the Louisiana Civil Justice Community.” 

Pro Bono Net will be represented at the 2021 Equal Justice Conference (EJC) this week. This virtual conference takes place May 3rd-7th and is hosted by the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service and the National Legal Aid & Defender Association. 

“The emphasis of this Conference is on strengthening partnerships among the key players in the civil justice system. Through plenary sessions, workshops, networking opportunities and special programming, the Conference provides a wide range of learning and sharing experiences for all attendees.”

Pro Bono Net is a national nonprofit leader in increasing access to justice through innovative uses of technology and collaboration. Our staff is made up of a cross-disciplinary team from legal, technology and community engagement backgrounds who are committed to creating innovative, sustainable solutions for expanding access to justice. The Equal Justice Conference brings together all sectors of the legal community to discuss equal justice issues as they relate to the delivery of legal services to low income and vulnerable communities. 

We are also looking forward to celebrating Pro Bono Net’s Board member Betty Balli Torres, Executive Director of the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, who is being recognized with the Innovations in Equal Justice Award on Thursday from noon 12:00 – 12:30pm ET. The awards ceremony will be live streamed via the ABA and NLADA’s Facebook pages. We hope you will join! 

Monday, May 3rd

1:00pm-2:30pm: Minding the Gap: Addressing Inequity & Disparity in Disaster Legal Services

Disaster recovery can be challenging to many underrepresented survivors, who often have more barriers than others to overcome. Presenters will discuss the disparities in impact and services provided in specific disaster areas, practices that programs can implement for successful legal service delivery, and the key elements of equitable rapid response models.

  • Moderator: Cheryl Naja, Alston & Bird
  • Tiela Chalmers, Alameda County Bar Association and Legal Access Alameda
  • Iris Peoples Green, Disability Rights North Carolina
  • Katherine Asaro, North Carolina Legal Education Assistance Foundation and North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center
  • Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz, Pro Bono Net

1:00 – 2:30pm: From Participation to Power: Co-Design and Tech Strategies to Support Legal Empowerment

This session will highlight participatory design and technology strategies from the US and beyond to help communities know and shape laws that impact them. Panelists will discuss projects that draw on equity design principles and strategic uses of technology and data to help connect individual casework with systemic advocacy.

  • David Rodriguez Andino, Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico
  • Ariadna Godreau Aubert, Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico 
  • Matthew Burnett, Open Society Justice Initiative
  • Liz Keith, Pro Bono Net

Tuesday, May 4th

12:00pm-1:30 pm: Innovations in Remote Delivery Models

This session will focus on innovative programs in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, aimed at remote and rural service delivery. The ripple effects of the pandemic have disproportionately impacted racial minorities, who have been hit the hardest concerning housing, health, family, and employment issues. This session will offer examples of solutions and outreach strategies that advance a just and equitable recovery for rural communities and other communities affected by the crisis. 

The workshop will feature 1) www.GeorgiaLegalConnect.org, a technology-inspired program that connects low-income Georgians to attorneys for legal advice, 2) the Rural Economic Improvement Project in Alabama, which aims at better serving rural counties by coordinating with non-lawyers and using technology to reach clients, and 3 ) a comprehensive system of pro bono clinics in Mississippi, including the challenges of transitioning these clinics in the time of COVID-19. 

  • Cari H. King, Atlanta Legal Aid 
  • Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz, Pro Bono Net 
  • Farah Majid, Legal Services Alabama
  • Nicole McLaughlin, Mississippi Access to Justice Commission and The Mississippi Bar’s Access to Justice Initiative

Wednesday, May 5th

12pm-1:30pm: A Hands-On Training for Creating Online Interactive Interviews

Interactive online interviews help with self-screening, connecting to the right legal information, filling out legal or intake forms, and more. Learn how to write an interview script for diverse client situations, and how to build an app for your script. 

  • Alison Corn, Pro Bono Net
  • Sam Harden, Pro Bono Net
  • Pat Malone, Pro Bono Net

5pm – 6:30pm: 50 Tech Tips 2021

This fast-paced, engaging session will provide tips about free and low-cost technology, including mobile apps, remote work tools, web platforms, and solutions for Windows and macOS. Technology leaders will share new tips relevant to the access to justice community at what is always one of the most popular sessions at the EJC.

  • David Bonebrake, Legal Services Corporation
  • Liz Keith, Pro Bono Net
  • LaDierdre D. McKinney, Michigan Legal Help Program
  • Glenn Rawdon, Legal Services Corporation
  • Jane Ribadeneyra, Legal Services Corporation

Friday, May 7th 

3pm-4:30pm: Online Forms Are Cornerstones for Access: In Good Times and In Bad Times

In 2020, the world was shut down due to Covid 19. The problems created by poverty and lack of legal representation did not stop, in fact for many, new problems developed, including DV, hunger, housing insecurity as it tends to happen in economic crisis. In this workshop will provide two examples from two very different states of how well developed and managed online forms projects play a vital role during emergencies and disasters, as well to meet pent up demand by those who can’t afford attorneys and representation. We will look at how forms are placed in a context of reducing barriers for those in need and share approaches that are helping 10,000s of people in need across multiple areas of civil law–including housing, family law, protection from abuse, benefits, etc. Laurie Garber and LaDeidre Mckinney, who manage two of the most successful online projects in the US, will share on partnership, and incrementally growing a collection that automates how they place their forms in the online universe to make it helpful and relevant to all, starting from simple to complex.

  • Laurie Garber, Northwest Justice Project
  • Claudia Johnson, Pro Bono Net  
  • LaDierdre McKinney, Michigan Poverty Law Program

Pro Bono Net, a national, nonprofit leader in innovative programs that increase access to justice, is pleased to announce that Tiffany Graves, Pro Bono Counsel at Bradley and Charley Moore, Founder and CEO of Rocket Lawyer, have joined the Pro Bono Net Board of Directors. 

Tiffany Graves serves as Bradley’s Pro Bono Counsel, where she oversees the development and administration of the firm’s pro bono programs. Tiffany says, “I have long admired the work of Pro Bono Net. As Pro Bono Counsel, my full-time work is focused on finding ways to connect our attorneys with those most in need. Like other law firms, we benefit from the crucial services provided by Pro Bono Net that increase access to attorneys and equalize the legal system. I am excited to serve on the Board and look forward to supporting Pro Bono Net’s important work in this way.” Prior to joining Bradley, Tiffany was the executive director of the Mississippi Access to Justice Commission, where she led a 21-member commission created by the Mississippi Supreme Court and promoted its initiatives to improve and expand access to civil justice to the nearly 700,000 Mississippians living in poverty. Tiffany also currently serves as Co-President of the Association of Pro Bono Counsel (APBCo). 

Charley Moore, is the Founder and CEO of Rocket Lawyer. Rocket Lawyer is one of the most widely used legal services in the world, with operations in the US, the UK and Europe. Millions of people and organizations use Rocket Lawyer to access affordable and complete digital legal services. Charley says, “I look forward to serving on the board and helping to facilitate much needed assistance to people and organizations who otherwise may find justice out of reach.”

Pro Bono Net is fortunate to have Tiffany’s experience as a leader in racial justice issues and Charley’s hands on knowledge serving consumer needs to lend perspective to our public facing programs.

Please help us welcome Tiffany and Charley and visit our website to see their full bio’s and the complete board of directors’ listing. 

Legal Aid of Nebraska, in partnership with Pro Bono Net, is pleased to announce the launch of Legal Aid Connect (https://www.legalaidconnect.org/LAN). Legal Aid Connect is an on-line platform that enables Legal Aid of Nebraska to enroll, manage, and connect staff and pro bono attorneys with remotely located clients for advice, counsel and form preparation. Legal Aid of Nebraska offers free legal services to low-income people across the State of Nebraska. 

Through Legal Aid Connect, Legal Aid of Nebraska can connect clients and pro bono attorneys, no matter where the client lives in the State. The attorneys meet virtually with their clients and simultaneously share, store, and complete documents during a consultation. This resource is particularly valuable during the ongoing pandemic. “The acquisition of Legal Aid Connect has helped us bridge the communication gap, caused by the pandemic, between attorneys and clients,” said Muirne Heaney, Managing Attorney of the Access to Justice Program at Legal Aid of Nebraska. “We already have used the platform for two name change clinics. The platform ran seamlessly. We were able to help many people with the name change process because of the platform. The platform has become an essential tool for communicating with clients.” 

Because the platform operates through the internet, clients do not have to download or install any software, application or plug-ins, making it easier for the client to connect to the attorney. Legal Aid Connect also is mobile-friendly, giving clients a way to connect from their phones or portable devices. When an attorney and client finish their meeting, which may include document preparation and review, the client can get to the completed documents at any time, download or print, and file with the court. Both clients and attorneys can also access content created, updated and uploaded to Legal Aid Connect by Legal Aid of Nebraska. 


To learn more about Remote Legal Connect’s uses in other regions, please visit https://www.probono.net/programs/rlc/. The Remote Legal Connect platform was originally created in partnership with Legal Information for Families Today (LIFT) to stand up Family Legal Connection, a remote pro bono service for self represented family court litigants in New York. The platform was enhanced for use in other states with support from an American Bar Endowment Opportunity Grant, among other funders.

 

After witnessing the recent attacks and harmful rhetoric against our community, I was reminded of what it meant to be an Asian-American in today’s society: invisible, dismissed, and unnoticed. Like other members of the Asian-American community, I was taught that our experiences did not matter – that we were side characters who were expected to keep our head down. 

However, it is long overdue for our stories, our struggles, and our pains to be recognized and heard.

After Donald Trump’s “Chinese Virus” tweet at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an alarming spike of violence and anti-Asian sentiment. The Atlanta spa shootings, destruction of Asian-American owned businesses, vicious assaults, and racial slurs across the country are few examples of this sudden escalation. Yet history has proven that these attitudes and attacks are not unfamiliar: we have always been the outsiders. The Yellow Peril, Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese internment camps, model minority myth, and more demonstrate the longstanding legacy of pervasive racism and violence that has existed within our society for decades. 

Pro Bono Net continues to stand beside all of the individuals that have been greatly affected and hurt during this time. We mourn the lives of the eight victims who died during the Atlanta spa shoots, we send out condolences to the loved ones who survive them, and we stand together with all those who are targeted by racist rhetoric and violent attacks in our country.


Pro Bono Net is grateful to Jillian Jin, AmeriCorps Vista working with our Immigration Advocates Network program, for writing this important piece addressing the recent hate crimes committed against the Asian American community. You can read Jillian’s bio on our website, here.

In recognition of Farmworker Awareness Week (March 25th – 31st) and Cesar Chavez Day (March 31st), we invited Iris Figueroa, Director of Economic and Environmental Justice at Farmworker Justice, to guest author today’s blog post reminding us of some of the unique challenges of farmworker’s today. A workforce that truly embodies the definition of essential worker – farmworkers continue to be excluded from labor protections and immigration benefits and the threat of COVID-19 has made the occupation that more difficult and dangerous. 


More than 2.4 million farmworkers labor in fields across the country to ensure the stability of our food supply. Despite their designation as essential workers, farmworkers continue to be subjected to discriminatory exclusions from basic labor rights. Additionally, due to the many barriers farmworkers face, those labor protections that do exist are often not enforced. This must change.

Agricultural work is a dangerous—and sometimes deadly—occupation. Violations of basic health and safety protections are all too common.  But because many farmworkers are undocumented, they fear retaliation when speaking up about mistreatment or seeking help. And those who do complain often discover that our labor laws lack the basic but critical protections guaranteed to other workers. The people who risk their lives to put food on our tables deserve better.

Farmworkers continue to be excluded from many of the most fundamental wage and hour protections guaranteed to workers in almost every other sector of the American economy. These unequal labor laws are the result of compromises from the 1930s in which southern legislators agreed to only vote for vital labor protections if farmworkers and domestic workers, who were predominantly Black, were excluded from the law’s coverage. It is past time that Congress addresses this by striking the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (FLSA) exclusion of farmworkers from overtime, remaining exemptions to the minimum wage, and exclusions from unionizing and collective bargaining rights.

At the same time, more than half of the country’s farmworkers are undocumented immigrants. Without legal status, these workers are unable to challenge dangerous and unfair working conditions without fear of retaliation and deportation; conditions for all workers suffer as a consequence. Legislation creating a pathway to immigration status and citizenship for farmworkers and their families is urgently needed to ensure a more just, stable, and secure agricultural system.

Additionally, a growing number of the nation’s farmworkers are guestworkers on H-2A temporary agricultural visas. The H-2A program allows growers to apply for guestworker visas, so long as they are able to show (1) that there are not enough available, willing and qualified U.S. workers, and (2) that the recruitment of guestworkers will not adversely affect wage and work conditions in the U.S. The number of visas approved each year has exploded, with more than 275,000 visas granted in FY 2020. These H-2A visa holders are denied a true immigration status and often arrive indebted due to the costs of obtaining the job. For these and other reasons, H-2A guestworkers are vulnerable and often experience abuse and exploitation.

Farmworkers have also been hit especially hard by the COVID pandemic. Because many farmworkers survive on very low wages, they often experience overcrowding in housing and transportation, increasing their exposure to the virus. Conditions are rarely better on the job, where many report that their employers fail to provide them with adequate information, masks, handwashing facilities, or other protective gear. And because of the migratory nature of the work, farmworkers rarely have consistent or reliable access to health care, including vaccines.

Yet even before the COVID pandemic, agricultural work was one of the most dangerous occupations in the country, despite the fact that many of the injuries, illnesses, and deaths suffered by farmworkers are preventable. The frequent use of pesticides and the resulting toxic drift across rural communities endangers the health of farmworkers and their families. Climate change also has a disparate impact on this community due to the dangerous temperatures that increase the already high risk of heat stress.

Lack of immigration status, exclusions from basic labor rights, economic insecurity and occupational health and safety risks are all factors that affect the daily lives of farmworkers and their families. This reality is the result of decades of unequal policies that continue to this day. It is long past the time for this shameful legacy to be addressed.

For more information on these issues and how you can support farmworkers, please visit www.farmworkerjustice.org

You can also access a state-by-state summary of farmworker rights, including links to farmworker legal services organizations, here.

Below is a Q&A with Pro Bono Net’s LawHelpNY Program Associate. This Q&A was originally published in the NY Crime Victims Legal Network’s newsletter

What do you do at LawHelpNY/ Pro Bono Net?

I look to deliver on our program goals, particularly with the NY Crime Victims Legal Help and the LawHelpNY platforms. I focus on adding reliable content to our sites and engage with legal aid organizations and our partners in ensuring their information is up-to-date. I also look ahead at technical and visual ways to practically make our online community more engaging and useful to the advocates who are doing the important work on the ground assisting those in search of legal help.

What motivates you to be active in this work?

I know firsthand that getting legal help is incredibly daunting when you don’t know where or who to go to for assistance, or even that you have the right to do so. I’m motivated to make getting Know Your Rights information and access to a pro bono lawyer as easy as I possibly can for those visiting our sites.

How can technology help crime victims, advocates & legal professionals?

Technology is helping us break barriers in getting crime victims the help they need, whether it’s legal information now accessible from a smartphone to e-filing platforms to virtual hearings. There is still much to be done; we have to address the lack of access to wi-fi for many, especially in rural areas, and the loss of social supports amidst the current pandemic. That said, strides are being made across the country in using technology to make legal help as accessible as possible, no matter what your financial situation or background may be.

What has been your favorite project to work on thus far?

This isn’t so much a project as an ongoing favorite, but I love working with the Advocate Gateway on NY Crime Victims Legal Help. I’m always excited to ask myself what could be more intuitive about the area for advocates using it and then go through the process of brainstorming with our team on what we can do to make it more logical and visually clean so that the key content, things like our library resources, can stand out.

What is your favorite thing about your job/career?

I love being able to connect with such a diverse community from advocates and attorneys, to law students to program managers; I’m in a position where I can teach others about our work and sites, but also learn so much from them about the direct service work that they do. It is a rich experience, and it’s in these conversations that I am informed to make our online community that much better.

Tell us something most people don’t know about you?

I’ll try a lot of things once, just to take a chance and then I’m kind of reserved the rest of the time! I’ve tried out for a reality show once, ran one marathon, spoken at one conference, published one poem… what to try next?!