Individual Rights

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TRLA attorneys in the Individual Rights Group work in ten legal areas. These practices and programs, each with a team leader, include: 

Susan Watson, Group Coordinator

Civil Rights

The Civil Rights Team defends the fundamental rights of low-income individuals and communities through litigation and other advocacy. The team's attorneys combat unlawful discrimination, protect against abuses by government officials, ensure voting rights, and address denials of equal protection and due process of law.

Services & Activities

  • Litigate to protect the rights of low-income individuals and communities under the U.S. and Texas constitutions and under other federal and state laws;

  • Provide legal education and assistance with regard to constitutional and other legal rights and the administrative processes for asserting those rights;

  • Collaborate with partners and other TRLA teams to identify and address systemic civil rights issues affecting impoverished communities throughout Texas.

Peter McGraw, Team Manager

DISABILITY RIGHTS

The goal of the Disability Rights Law Team is to protect the individual rights of people with disabilities as well as their access to public services and public accommodations.

Services & Activities

  • Offer legal services to help clients receive the counsel or representation they need to obtain reasonable accommodations for their disabilities and resolve any disability discrimination disputes;

  • Educate individuals and groups on disability rights;

  • Conduct outreach and education activities and in other ways work to strengthen disability rights;

  • Litigate disability discrimination cases.

Michael Urena, Team Manager

EDUCATION & Special EDUCATION

The goal of TRLA's Special Education and Education Team is to improve outcomes for children and young adults in special and general education in Texas public schools by safeguarding their right to a free, appropriate education, protecting them from arbitrary and unfair disciplinary sanctions, and shielding them from bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination. Our program, which serves children and young adults from pre-K through 12th grade and beyond, also seeks to help Texas students through comprehensive litigation and advocacy efforts designed to impact and improve the entire public education system.

Services & Activities

  • File administrative complaints and appeals, as appropriate, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA 2004), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other state and federal laws;

  • Draft and file complaints to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S Department of Education (OCR) on behalf of parents of children in both general and special education;

  • Represent parents of children with disabilities in Admission, Review and Dismissal (ARD) meetings, mediation, and due process hearings;

  • Represent children and advise parents in public school disciplinary hearings and appeals, including Manifestation Determination Review (MDR) hearings for children with disabilities who are subject to removal to a disciplinary alternative education placement (DAEP) or explusion;

  • Help ensure the successful transfer of special education rights to young adults (age 18+) and foster the creation of successful transition plans for older children with disabilities to promote independence and self-determination;

  • Request and advise parents and children in bullying and harassment investigations in public schools, including both pre-K through 12th grade and post-secondary colleges and universities, with a specific emphasis on enforcing Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX);

  • Advocate for children who have been denied enrollment in Texas public schools or denied evaluations for special education and related services.

For legal help with these issues and others, please call 1-888-988-9996 or use our initial screening form: Education/Juvenile Justice Initial Screening for Legal Assistance Education/Juvenile Justice Program

HUMAN TRAFFICKING

TRLA's Human Trafficking Team provides comprehensive legal services to domestic and foreign-national survivors of both labor and sex trafficking. Human trafficking is the exploitation of human beings through force, fraud or coercion for the purposes of commercial sex or forced labor. A person under the age of 18 who is induced into performing a commercial sex act is considered a victim of human trafficking, even if there is no force, fraud, or coercion involved. This team’s services include, but are not limited to:

  • Representation on applications for immigration relief;

  • Seeking monetary damages for civil rights, wage, and tort claims;

  • Assistance with protective orders;

  • Family law representation;

  • Victim-witness representation and advocacy;

  • Connecting survivors with service providers.

Stacie Jonas, Team Manager

IMMIGRATION

The Immigration Team's mission is to secure immigration relief for individuals eligible for lawful status or U.S. citizenship, with the aim of improving their economic stability, physical safety, and overall well-being. The team represents low-income residents of TRLA’s service area, prioritizing survivors of abuse and violent crime, legal permanent residents facing deportation, and individuals born abroad with lawful claims to U.S. citizenship.

Services & Activities

  • Represent individuals in their applications for immigration relief before the U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS);

  • Provide legal representation for eligible clients in removal proceedings before the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR), the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), and federal courts;

  • Provide legal education and outreach to vulnerable communities and TRLA partner agencies;

  • Work with other TRLA practice teams to seek civil legal remedies for non-citizens under state and federal constitutional, tort, and administrative law:

  • Collaborate with other TRLA teams and projects, notably the Domestic Violence & Family Law Team, the Public Defender Program, and Legal Aid for Survivors of Sexual Assault (LASSA), to provide holistic services to non-immigrant TRLA clients.

Team Managers, Claire Antonelli, Jane Lee, Catherine Norris

JUVENILE JUSTICE

The mission of the Juvenile Justice Team is to promote the welfare and rights of youth through education on navigating the juvenile justice system; through zealous advocacy and direct representation; by challenging policies and practices that create systemic injustices; and by providing access to resources that will improve their well being. TRLA assists individual families with a range of services from advice and counsel to full representation on the following issues:

  • Juvenile delinquency cases;

  • Juvenile record sealing/expunction of youth criminal records;

  • Emancipation;

  • Truancy court and parental contribution to lack of school attendance;

  • Homelessness;

  • Justice of the Peace and Municipal Court cases, including class C assault, theft, and disorderly conduct:

  • Sex offender de-registration;

  • Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS);

  • Conditions and treatment of youth in pre- and post-adjudication;

  • Juvenile detention facilities in Texas.

Courtney Schusheim, Team Manager

LGBTQ Rights

The LGBTQ Team seeks to support the LGBTQ community in its efforts to obtain equal rights and end homophobia, transphobia, and other discrimination. The team focuses not only on litigation but also on training, outreach, and increased awareness of LGBTQ issues.

Services and Activities

  • File anti-discrimination lawsuits under state and federal law to combat discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression;

  • Assist clients in updating and correcting federal and state identification documents;

  • Conduct outreach and know-your-rights presentations on LGBTQ issues for the broader community;

  • Provide training on LGBTQ issues for non-profits, community organizations, and local government.

Kelsey Snapp, Team Manager

Mental Health Programs

The mission of Mental Health Programs is to provide self-determination-based holistic advocacy to enable people with serious mental illnesses to live in the way they choose, integrated into the community. Through the knowledge obtained through individual client advocacy, Mental Health Programs staff identify systemic barriers to meaningful integration and advocates for systemic change.


Services & Activities:

  • Address civil rights violations in psychiatric and criminal justice institutions;

  • Advocate for community-based mental health service compliance with state and federal law;

  • Advocate for truly self-determination-based, person-centered community-based mental health services;

  • Create mechanisms for mental health service provider accountability;

  • Develop client relationships of trust and understanding, enabling effective, comprehensive communication;

  • Work collaboratively with clients to identify the supports and services they want and need to live in the way they choose, integrated into the community;

  • Based on the information obtained from this collaboration, provide self-determination legal documents such as psychiatric advance directives, which form the foundation for multi-faceted advocacy;

  • Advocate for clients to receive their identified supports and services.

  • Advocate for supports and services to be provided in the way clients want and need;

  • As appropriate and possible, link clients with the TRLA legal teams best able to provide representation to ameliorate the circumstances contributing to the absence of meaningful community integration;

  • Community outreach and education for mental health topics including rights, self-determination, accommodation, access to services, communication techniques, and identifying and addressing conscious and unconscious individual, societal and structural discrimination and bias;

  • In collaboration with disability rights advocates and the Guardianship Team, conduct legal clinics for people with mental illness to access psychiatric advance directives and other self-determination documents.

Laurie Hallmark, Team Manager

NATIVE AMERICAN RIGHTS

The mission of the Native American Rights Team is to provide legal services to Native American tribal members, foster tribal sovereignty, maintain the integrity of Indian families, and strengthen tribal court systems.

Services & Activities

  • Represent tribal members in Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) cases in state and tribal courts;

  • Represent tribal members in matters arising out of the Kickapoo Traditional Tribal District Court;

  • Represent tribal members in consumer, employment, tax, and other matters in state and federal courts and before the Social Security Administration;

  • Assist the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas in establishing tribal codes and court procedures.

David Riojas, Team Manager

Texas FOSTER YOUTH Justice Project

The Texas Foster Youth Justice Project provides free legal aid to current and former foster youth throughout Texas. The team may be able to help you with:

  • Obtaining copies of your CPS records;

  • Attending your CPS court hearings:

  • Letting the court know how you feel about where you live and go to school, and about the services you receive in foster care:

  • Obtaining a Texas identification card, original birth certificate, and Social Security card:

  • Accessing benefits that former foster youth can receive, including college tuition and other funds to assist you in getting education, training, and housing assistance,

  • Immigration and citizenship issues;

  • Accessing programs and training to help you move from foster care to living on your own;

  • Staying in contact with siblings;

  • Changing your name;

  • Erasing criminal and juvenile records;

  • Legal issues that may prevent you from transitioning to independence.

If you need legal help or have questions about legal issues, call toll free (877) 313-3688, email us at info@texasfosteryouth.org or go to Texas Foster Youth Justice Project.

Mary Christine Reed, Team Manager