Scott Foletta ‘14 was recently named a recipient of the Immigrant Justice Corps Fellowship, awarded by the Immigrant Justice Center (IJC). The highly competitive fellowship debuted this year with the goal of providing critical legal counsel and support for poor immigrants and their families.
Chief Judge Robert Katzmann of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit inspired the project, having spearheaded research that revealed 60 percent of detained immigrants have no counsel, yet are five times more likely to obtain relief when they are represented.
The two-year fellowship matches exceptional recent law graduates and law clerks with those in need of legal services. Although focused on New York City, the organization hopes to provide a scalable model nationwide for reducing poverty and improving access to justice for millions.
The 25 fellows were selected from a national pool of 400 applicants. Salaries and benefits will be covered by the IJC, along with loan repayment assistance for law school loans. Based on performance, select fellows will have the option to complete a third year at an increased salary, beyond the initial $50,000.
Fellows will also participate in a comprehensive immigration law training program and numerous professional development activities. The end result will be professionals who are extraordinarily well trained, deeply networked in the legal and immigrant rights community, and profoundly committed to developing creative strategies to fight poverty and ensure access to justice.
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Foletta’s dedication to immigrants’ rights began in college at the University of California Santa Cruz, where he helped organize immigrant campus service workers (food service, janitors, groundskeepers) for California’s first statewide strike seeking better wages and benefits and a revision to the University’s internal promotion policy system. The workers won on all counts.
“There were a lot of immigrants who were blocked from moving up to lower management, and that was a big win for us statewide,” he said. “It was an empowering experience to be a part of.”
While at UC Santa Cruz, Foletta also founded three student organizations dedicated to immigrants’ rights, labor rights, and Hurricane Katrina relief. He continued his work on behalf of immigrant communities through a field study in post-Katrina New Orleans at the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, where he performed outreach to day laborers and H-2B visa guest workers in the service and manufacturing industries, providing translation support, policy research, and know-your-rights materials.
Closer to home, Foletta’s wife faced difficulties in finding competent and affordable immigration counsel, inspiring him to attend law school. “I remember when [she] was applying for citizenship, how many times I thought, ‘If I were a lawyer, I would do this so differently,’” he said. “I realized that competent immigration counsel was simply unaffordable for so many New Yorkers and how dire the need is.”
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Foletta continued his involvement in immigrants’ rights work while in law school. At the Center for Popular Democracy and the Restaurant Opportunities Center, he conducted policy research on minimum wage legislation, and at the Center for Constitutional Rights, he researched and drafted a federal complaint regarding an unprecedented statutory immigrant detention quota.
He was also a member of the Safe Harbor Project, where he successfully represented an asylum-seeker. “Professors [Stacy] Caplow and [Dan] Smulian were such a big help to me,” Foletta said. “It was the most meaningful and direct experience I have ever had representing clients. It was incredibly helpful to be able to go into the interview saying, ‘I represented a client and this is what I learned from the experience.’ I am very grateful.”