By RICHARD SPRINGER, India-West Staff Reporter
Two Indian American attorneys working to improve living conditions for immigrants have been named 2006 Open Society Institute Soros Justice Fellows.
Alina Das, a lawyer with the New York State Defenders Association’s Immigrant Defense Project in New York, has been given an award to develop reentry programs for immigrants facing criminal charges and convictions, and to work with community organizations and the courts to provide support to immigrants involved in the criminal justice system.
Sunita Patel, an attorney with the New York-based Legal Aid Society, has been given a grant to develop a model for greater transparency and public accountability for detention operations in New Jersey jails.
A total of $1,040,000 in awards for 2006 will support 17 fellows in 10 states and the District of Columbia. Soros Justice Fellows conduct one-and two-year projects and receive stipends that range between $45,000 and $76,000.
"The fellowship program not only complements and deepens OSI’s justice reform work, but also contributes to the development and recognition of leaders in this field," said Antonio Maciel, director of OSI’s U.S. Justice Fund.
This is the ninth consecutive year OSI has made grants to individuals committed to criminal justice reform in the U.S. Since 1997, OSI has awarded over $11 million to 216 Soros Justice Fellows. The Open Society Institute, a private foundation, is part of a network of foundations created and supported by investor George Soros.
Das’ project will work with reentry providers, attorneys, courts and community groups to design approaches to alternative sentencing to prevent the harsh consequences of deportation for immigrants and their families.
A graduate of the New York University School of Law, where she was a Root-Tilden-Kern Public Interest Scholar, Das was an advocate at the Immigrant Rights Clinic, primarily on issues affecting immigrants threatened with deportation due to criminal convictions.
She has also worked as a legal intern at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, South Brooklyn Legal Services, Legal Aid Society and the American Civil Liberties Union.
A former director of Research, Education, and Advocacy to Combat Homelessness, Das served on the boards of the South Asian Law Students Association and the Coalition for Legal Recruiting. She also was managing editor of the New York University Review of Law and Social Change.
Das has an M.P.A. from New York University’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and an A.B. in government from Harvard University. She is currently completing a clerkship for Judge Kermit V. Lipez of the U.S. Court of Appeals of the First Circuit.
Patel aims to catalogue detention abuses through the Community Accountability Project, a volunteer network doing human-rights documentation and individual advocacy.
She will build on past efforts in New York and New Jersey to develop a replicable model for greater transparency for detention operations in New Jersey jails.
A law clerk for Judge Ivan L. R. Lemelle in the Eastern District of Louisiana, she has an M.A. from Tulane University and a J.D. from American University Washington College of Law, where she founded the Immigrant Rights Coalition.
While a law student, she was an attorney in the Human Rights Law Clinic and interned with Senator Ted Kennedy’s office attached to the House Judiciary Committee. She also worked with the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Legal Aid Society of Manhattan and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Patel recently published an article, "Performative Aspects of Race: ‘Arab, Muslim, and South Asian’ Racial Formation After September 11," in the UCLA Asian Pacific American Law Journal.
Before law school, she worked at the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights investigating conditions in Alabama and Georgia juvenile detention centers and jails.
She also volunteered as a community organizer with multiracial youths in New Orleans and for human rights groups in India and South Africa.