Equal Justice Works Fellows use personal experiences to impact legal aid work

D. Donoso
Anne PIervil

Equal Justice Works Fellow Anne Piervil, right, with staff from Hope CommUnity Center, at a Know Your Rights event centered on updates on immigration reform

As a Haitian Creole speaking lawyer, Anne Piervil hoped her representation would allow her to make inroads in Central Florida’s Haitian community as she built a Medical Legal Partnership (MLP) as part of her Equal Justice Works fellowship.

“The Haitian community in Central Florida is vibrant and thriving in culture, but there is a growing need for legal services that target this community,” Piervil says.

Piervil, whose fellowship project is funded by The Florida Bar Foundation, set out to implement an MLP with Orange Blossom Family Health Clinic in Orlando to serve Haitian farmworkers. MLPs integrate a legal aid lawyer into the healthcare process because legal issues surrounding health insurance, employment, immigration status and family stability have been linked to health outcomes.

The Florida Bar Foundation funds fellowships through Washington, D.C.-based Equal Justice Works (EJW). Fellows are hosted by Foundation grantees for two-year civil legal aid projects that provide impoverished groups with the representation and implementation needed to make progress in their communities. Piervil is hosted by Florida Legal Services.

Almost two years into her fellowship, Piervil now takes appointments and walk-ins at the clinic. She has represented more than 60 clients. Her first clients were a couple who fled gang threats in Haiti. She helped them apply for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and obtain driver’s licenses.

“I am so honored that I am able to return to my community and provide assistance to people that need it the most,” Piervil says.

Anne Piervil with members of the Haitian consulate

Anne Piervil, second from left, with members of the Consulate of Haiti at a community forum that engaged with local Haitian leaders and pastors

In addition to direct legal services, Piervil collaborates with organizations like The Farmworker Association of Florida and Local 362, an affiliate of UNITE HERE, which represent and serve the Haitian community. Through her relationships with these groups, Piervil has assisted individuals applying for U.S. citizenship. At a quarterly citizenship clinic held by Local 362, Piervil was the first Haitian Creole speaking lawyer to volunteer, which she says increased the participation of Haitian applicants.

The city of Orlando also invited Piervil to participate in their TPS clinic last fall. The event informed the Haitian community about the new designation of TPS, provided free legal consultations, and informed the community about scams to avoid when applying. To prepare for the clinic, Piervil hand delivered letters to 50 Haitian churches in the Orlando area inviting their congregations. She was also interviewed by two local radio stations. At the clinic, 14 participants were served and five received scholarships that paid for their TPS filing fees. Piervil is still partnering with the city and will attend another clinic in April.

Piervil also provides free legal consultations at The Farmworker Association of Florida’s Apopka office once a week and at their University of Central Florida clinic, where she serves as the legal advocate for their patients.

Like Piervil, EJW Fellow Daniela Donoso has strong ties to immigration issues. Donoso, now a lawful permanent resident and a former Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipient, arrived in the U.S. from Ecuador at six months old and grew up undocumented.

Equal Justice Works Fellow Daniela Donoso, left, with Legal Services of North Florida staff at a community event

Equal Justice Works Fellow Daniela Donoso, left, with Legal Services of North Florida staff at a community event

Donoso’s project, hosted by Legal Services of North Florida (LSNF), is focused on creating a comprehensive immigration advocacy program to serve immigrants who are victims of crime and/or are low-income. Since 2020, she has worked to establish protocols, procedures and resources for LSNF’s staff and community partners.

Donoso also provides direct legal services. One of her first clients as a Fellow was a survivor of labor trafficking. Donoso determined that the client, who was waiting for a T-Visa, was eligible for conditional presence. Though it took six months, Donoso secured an interview for the client with the Department of Homeland Security. Ultimately, the client’s T-visa was approved, and Donoso helped them then apply for early adjustment of status.

In the first six months of her Fellowship, Donoso presented to the United Partners for Human Services on supporting the needs of immigrants in North Florida. She presented with the Florida Counsel Against Sexual Violence.

The following year, in collaboration with the Medical Legal Partnership attorney at LSNF, Donoso led LSNF’s first formal immigration clinic. This clinic also allowed partnerships with Neighborhood Medical Center, which helped immigrant communities receive their COVID-19 vaccines.

As part of her project, Donoso has created and developed a shared resource bank of cover letters, sample statements, template birth certificates, opening and closing letters, and attorney checklists for common immigration petitions for all five LSNF offices.

Daniela Donoso, right, with Legal Services of North Florida staff at a community event

Daniela Donoso, right, with Legal Services of North Florida staff at a community event

She also leads the Undocumented Youth and Adult Task Force for the 2nd Judicial Circuit, connecting service providers and community members to help them better understand and serve their undocumented immigrant communities.

“This project has given me the platform to live out a dream of helping the undocumented community in ways I wish I was helped growing up,” says Donoso. “Sometimes it still feels unreal that I get to do it.”

The Foundation has been one of the largest funders of the EJW Fellowship program, having invested more than $4 million in more than 80 Fellowships since 1999.

In December 2023, The Florida Bar Foundation changed its name to FFLA. Posts prior to this date contain our former name.