STUDENT PROFILE Liz Rodriguez
An advocate for change
Woven deeply into the fabric of Loyola University Chicago School of Law is its mission to educate students to be persons for others. Each year, law students are engaged in a meaningful and robust clinical experience to help impoverished clients with complex health-related legal issues through the school’s Health Justice Project (HJP), a medical-legal partnership in the school’s nationally ranked Beazley Institute for Health Law and Policy.
Under the direction of Kate Mitchell, clinical professor of law and HJP director, student clinicians identify and resolve social and legal issues affecting the health and well-being of vulnerable populations.
A passion for public interest law
Liz Rodriguez, who is now in her third and final year of law school, found her niche at HJP. With a passion for public-interest work, Rodriguez spent four years after college as a case manager and as a community organizer for Heartland Alliance and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrants and Refugee Rights.
“As a case manager with Heartland Alliance, I supported unaccompanied minors who were detained by ICE,” said Rodriguez, a South Side native whose parents are Mexican immigrants. “That was difficult for me because I saw the children cry with frustration. At their young age, they were extremely confused by our legal system, but they recognized the importance of the volunteer lawyers who met with them weekly. I decided law school was the best way for me to be an advocate and work to affect change on a larger scale.”
“Liz is an amazing student who is fully committed to the social justice mission of the law school” — Kate Mitchell, HJP Director
According to Mitchell, HJP will take as many as 20 new clients this year who have been referred to them from the more than 600 cases processed annually by LAF (formerly the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago). HJP’s clients are seen first by physicians at Erie Family Health Centers who have been trained by Mitchell and LAF to spot possible legal issues. These cases are referred to LAF, which partners with Loyola to provide legal aid.
“Our students help clients navigate all aspects of their case, including housing inequities, income disparities, and access to government benefits,” said Mitchell.
Examples of HJP cases include children who are sick from lead poisoning and need housing assistance or families who are appealing Medicaid, SNAP, or Social Security denials. Others may have guardianship issues or need help with family law related legal issues.
“Our clinic truly provides a holistic approach to providing clients with a full range of services,” said Mitchell.
Rodriguez concurs. “The legal clinic has an upstream advocacy approach. While doing direct service work with clients, we also look at the bigger picture of how policies and infrastructure negatively affect people on the ground level.”
Working to create change
To that point, Rodriguez is leading an initiative with LAF to prepare a formal public comment against the Department of Homeland Security’s new proposed rule related to public-charge exceptions to immigration.
“Our group’s position is that this proposed rule will have--and already is having--a detrimental effect on vulnerable communities. We have heard that patients are dropping out of Medicaid, SNAP, and other benefits that they are legally entitled to for fear it will count against their citizenship status,” Rodriguez said. “By submitting a comment, we will be expressing our opposition.”
Rodriguez came to Loyola because she was looking for a public-interest school. “I loved the vibe I received from the alumni, faculty, and students I met. I thought, ‘Yes. These are my people: they are brilliant, they are humble, and they are hard working. I just wanted to be a part of that culture.”