OneJustice Blog

Bring life-changing legal help to Californians in need.

Tag Archives: Central Valley

Bridging the justice gap with technology

Rural Immigrant Connect launches its first pilot case.

Over the past few years, the number of human beings fleeing horrifying violence in parts of Central America and Mexico for the U.S. has escalated dramatically. In 2014, the number of women crossing the U.S. border multiplied by more than three times compared to 2013, while the number of separated or unaccompanied children reached over 66,000 in 2014, up from an average of 6,775 children in the years 2003-2011. This stream of refugees fleeing Central America and Mexico has not ceased, and many arrive in California on a daily basis.

IMAGE: Image explaining to clients how Rural Immigrant Connect works.

Image explaining to clients how Rural Immigrant Connect works.

Unfortunately, arriving in the U.S. is only half the battle — not only do immigrants face constant worries about family left behind, but many are placed into deportation proceedings in immigration court, where even very young children are not guaranteed a lawyer. It’s even worse for immigrants who reside in California’s Central Valley, a region with few legal organizations offering services within its vast geographic expanse.

The need for innovative models to connect pro bono attorneys with immigrant clients in rural California has never been greater. Through a generous Equal Justice Works fellowship sponsored by the law firm Fenwick & West LLP, OneJustice recently launched the project Rural Immigrant Connect, putting technology to creative use by connecting pro bono attorneys in the Bay Area with immigrant clients in need in the Central Valley.

Rural Immigrant Connect addresses the dearth of legal representation for low-income immigrants in the Central Valley by tapping the resources of the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, home to law firms and corporations that can provide an incredible amount of resources to serve Central Valley clients. To bridge the geographic gap, the project uses videoconferencing for the majority of communication between pro bono attorneys and clients, following an initial in-person meeting. In addition, OneJustice places laptops at community organizations in the Central Valley to provide clients with easy access and in-person technology support.

Thanks to the wonderful work of Fenwick & West LLP attorneys Vikram Iyengar and Rajendra Panwar with support from Partner Lynn Pasahow and the mentorship of Director and Immigration Attorney Emily Abraham of Social Justice Collaborative, Rural Immigrant Connect took on its first pilot case this spring — leading the way for the marriage of pro bono and technology to bridge the justice gap for immigrant communities throughout the Central Valley.

UPDATED_Rural Immigrant Connect Pro Bono Attorneys_061316_SMH

Rural Immigrant Connect is more than simply a means through which we can connect more Central American and Mexican refugees in the Central Valley with vital pro bono legal representation. This innovative project also provides us with a means of gathering data regarding the efficacy of videoconferencing to demonstrate a model that can be replicable throughout the U.S. A project like this can bridge the often daunting urban-rural divide separating many rural low-income communities from access to affordable legal services.

Rural Immigrant Connect is at its core a collaborative project that has only been made possible through incredible partnerships with legal services organizations Social Justice Collaborative and Centro Legal de la Raza; community organizations El Concilio and Centro La Familia; the law firm Fenwick & West LLP; and national organization Equal Justice Works. Thanks to the dedication of pro bono volunteers like Vikram and Rajendra, partnerships like those mentioned above, and the collaboration of the OneJustice network, we can work together to bring help, hope, and justice to individuals escaping the violence that continues to plague our neighbors in parts of Mexico and in regions of Central America.

IMAGE: Image explaining to pro bono attorneys how Rural Immigrant Connect works.

Image explaining to pro bono attorneys how Rural Immigrant Connect works.

To view the full infographic presented above, please click here.


Renee_Grid PicRenée Schomp is an Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by Fenwick & West LLP and Staff Attorney at OneJustice. She currently spearheads the Rural Immigrant Connect project in California’s Central Valley.

My heroes are the unsung participants of social justice movements

Join us as we celebrate Chris Schneider at this year’s Opening Doors to Justice event!

We can’t believe it’s already May! This month, we’re excited to introduce you to both of this year’s Opening Doors to Justice event honorees, Chris Schneider and Suk Lee! Each year, the OneJustice network comes together to honor individuals who have brought help, hope, and justice to Californians in need, and who are committed to advancing access to justice.

We asked Chris to tell us more about himself and his work over the past few years. We’re honored to recognize Chris for his efforts to increase legal services in the Central Valley. Please join us in welcoming our first honoree, Chris!


IMAGE: 2016 Opening Doors to Justice Honoree: Chris Schneider, Fresno Attorney & former Executive Director at Central California Legal Services, Inc.

Thank you for joining us today, Chris! Tell us, what does “justice” mean to you?

Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of justice as love in action. I view the social justice movements that I have been privileged to work with, both inside and outside of legal services, to be just that.

We couldn’t agree more, and that’s also one of our favorite quotes! Why have you committed your time increasing access to civil legal services?

On my parents’ 19th wedding anniversary, they lost their home to the bank. At age ten, I learned how the law too often works against hard working, low-income families, especially if they don’t have access to an attorney to help them. My eight brothers and sisters and I were taken in by friends and relatives while my parents struggled mightily over the next few months to find a new home and eventually reunite the family. By pure coincidence, 20 years to the day after our family became homeless, I was sworn in as an attorney. In my comments at the swearing in ceremony, I told my parents that obviously I could not do anything about what happened to them twenty years earlier, but I promised to them, and all my colleagues there from the United Farm Workers, that I would fight like hell when I saw injustices heaped upon my clients.

Before coming to work in a legal services program, I was generally aware of the insufficiency of resources for legal aid programs. My work at California Rural Legal Assistance and Central California Legal Services (CCLS) made me woefully cognizant of how great that insufficiency is, especially in rural areas.  As a result, injustice runs rampant as employers, slumlords, and others take advantage of people knowing that the likelihood of them being able to find an attorney is minimal. Undocumented individuals are especially vulnerable in areas where the only legal aid programs have federal funding restrictions which prevent them from assisting.

Access to civil legal services is an important, and often, essential tool for disenfranchised individuals and communities. But due to the lack of resources, increasingly more and more families facing homelessness, women and children seeking to escape family violence, elders enduring abuse, people wrongfully denied health coverage by their insurers, children improperly expelled from school and at risk of being swallowed up into the prison pipeline, communities seeking basic services like safe drinking water, workers who have been robbed of their wages, in short, the most vulnerable in our society, are denied their day in court or go to court unrepresented, because legal services programs are overwhelmed.

Your journey is truly inspiring! Can you tell us about one particularly rewarding experience you’ve encountered over the years?

Choosing just one is extremely difficult. Over the decades, I have had the good fortune to witness numerous important victories for our client communities. In March of 2000, CCLS issued a study entitled “Suffering in the Pastures of Plenty: Experiences of H-2A Sheepherders in California’s Central Valley.” The report exposed how sheepherders were exempt from federal and state protective labor laws, thereby making this treatment legal.

Worse, the U.S. Department of Labor (DoL), through improperly implemented regulations, sanctioned many of the deplorable conditions and set the wages. Media reporting on the study caught the attention of many. Within a year, even with tremendous opposition from powerful agribusiness organizations, California passed the first protective labor law legislation for sheepherders anywhere in the United States and significantly increased their wages. Other legal aid organizations across the country began to take on the issue. Late last year, the improperly implemented DoL regulations were finally replaced and sheepherders nationwide gained wage increases and some minimal protections. There is still far to go, however.

IMAGE: Chris with fellow Executive Fellows at one of their sessions in 2012.

Chris with fellow Executive Fellows at one of their sessions in 2012.

Wow, sounds like a significant win! Can you now tell us how you became involved with OneJustice?

Shortly after I began at CCLS, I had the opportunity to serve on the Board of Directors of the Legal Aid Association of California (LAAC). At that time, LAAC was staffed by the then Executive Director of the Public Interest Clearinghouse (PIC), Nancy Strohl. PIC was the predecessor organization to OneJustice. I worked with PIC and OneJustice on numerous projects over the years and was lucky enough to be selected to participate in the Executive Fellowship Program in 2012.

And finally, who is your favorite social justice hero, and why?

While I am inspired by the strategies, tactics, commitment, and vision of well-known leaders such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Cesar Chavez, my favorite social justice heroes are those who, for the most part, are not named in the history books or not known much beyond their own families and friends. My heroes are the unsung participants of social justice movements who overcame fear and took great personal risks: the Indian Salt March participants beaten by the police; the men and women of Montgomery who walked to and from work, no matter how tired they were; students hosed down when they marched; farm workers who left their jobs and traveled across the country to urge consumers to boycott grapes and lettuce. Without tens of thousands of people who have been willing to take such risks, Gandhi, King and Chavez and so many others hailed for their leadership would be unknown.

Thank you so much for your time, Chris! We can’t wait to celebrate you on June 23rd!

Folks, if you haven’t already done so, mark your calendars today:

2016 Opening Doors to Justice Newsletter Image2

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