Two students are newest Michigan Law Equal Justice Works Fellows


By Amy Spooner
Michigan Law

Chris Rogers and Shawntel Williams, both members of Michigan Law’s Class of 2023, have been named 2023 Equal Justice Works Fellows. They are among 76 recipients, from law schools nationwide, of one of the country’s preeminent public interest post-graduate fellowships.

Both fellowship projects are highly personal. Williams, who is Filipino-American, will be providing legal services for Filipino victims of labor trafficking at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) through a fellowship sponsored by Kirkland & Ellis LLP. Rogers, who served with the US Navy in Iraq, will work with immigrants and veterans at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid in El Paso through a fellowship sponsored by Greenberg Traurig LLP and the Texas Access to Justice Foundation.

“Immigration and veterans advocacy are two areas of the law that don't normally meet,” Rogers said. “I came to law school initially because I had an interest in immigration stemming from my military service, where people who assisted the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan as interpreters are now trying to come to the US and need help. In law school, I began to see the problems that there are with the immigration system—and how hard it is to immigrate, especially if you're not wealthy. I understood that it is an area of the law that really needs some work and that people going through the system need advocates.”

Growing up, Williams said she heard stories of Filipino workers in other countries experiencing abusive and exploitative working conditions with little to no pay. “I was sad to learn that the problem was just as prevalent here in the US, though it may be more inconspicuous. Labor traffickers use many tactics to maintain control over their victims, including debt bondage, isolation, deportation threats, and deceitful recruitment,” she explained. “It is my hope that through the work the clinic does, we can counter the injustice faced by Filipino migrants who've been subject to these abuses.” 

Rogers interned with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid before his third year of law school, and everything clicked when he met representatives from Repatriate Our Patriots, who were seeking legal assistance for a couple of veterans.

Tens of thousands of military veterans are not US citizens; some go into the military to get citizenship but later encounter roadblocks. Others may not want to become citizens but are still entitled to veterans’ benefits and need help navigating a complex bureaucracy. Many legal aid groups in Texas don’t do immigration work since it can be difficult within the constraints of various grants and federal funding requirements. 

“There is a blind spot where it comes to veterans who are immigrants,” Rogers said. “So that's where my two interests came together.” 

Although he doesn’t speak Spanish, a barrier to many legal aid jobs in Texas, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid was attracted to his military service. For example, “I am on [Veterans Administration] disability. I've been out of the military for four years and it still hasn't all been sorted out. So I have a sense of what my clients are going through,” Rogers said.

Through her work, Williams will help LAFLA broaden access to quality legal services for low-income Asian-Pacific Islander communities. She also will partner with community-based organizations in LA County that provide social services to Filipino victims of labor trafficking in order to create a legal clinic dedicated to these victims. 

The fellowship aligns well with her long-term interest in providing direct legal services especially in support of the Asian-Pacific Islander community and related to issues of trafficking—and perhaps one day being a clinical professor of law. 

“While I didn't think I'd be going into direct legal services when I came into law school, my summer internships helped set me on that path, and I've really enjoyed it since,” she said. “My work as an Equal Justice Works fellow will help me continue to build expertise and substantive skills in pertinent areas of law, like immigration. I also will learn valuable skills in community-centered project development and implementation.”.

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