New York Law School

Safe Passage Attorney of the Week


Jennie Kim, Esq.

Jennie Kim, Esq.

             Jennie G. Kim is the quintessential public interest attorney, dedicating her legal career to advocating for the “voiceless” in our communities. Ms. Kim is a Staff Attorney in the New York Legal Assistance Group’s (NYLAG) Storm Response Unit. After Hurricane Sandy, there was a dire need for legal assistance and representation in foreclosure and homeowners insurance cases. Ms. Kim was willing to take on this initiative and assist New Yorkers in legal matters pertaining to homeowners insurance, consumer law, and foreclosures. Prior to working with NYLAG, Ms. Kim worked at the Legal Services of Hudson Valley for approximately 5 ½ years, representing clients in the HIV, Domestic Violence, and Disability units in procuring government benefits that they were entitled to. In addition, Ms. Kim was employed at a Civil Rights law firm for about one year, working primarily on police brutality cases. Furthermore, while attending CUNY Law School, she was actively involved in the International Human Rights Clinic, working on cases involving domestic violence.  

             Throughout her professional career, Ms. Kim always found herself working with the immigrant community in New York. In fact, she founded two DACA Clinics (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) in Middletown and Newburg, New York after learning about the underserved immigrant communities in those locations. Having worked on DACA clinics and having constant interaction with immigrants, Ms. Kim was determined to learn about immigration law. Therefore, unsurprisingly, Ms. Kim was immediately interested in volunteering with the Safe Passage Project after attending a Safe Passage coordinated CLE concerning Unaccompanied Minors (UAC). She was especially eager to work on a case involving Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), as she had a lot of experience in family court. 

            Earlier this year, Ms. Kim zealously worked on two cases with the Safe Passage Project: a Special Immigrant Juvenile Status case and an Asylum case. The fact that Ms. Kim “won” a gang-based asylum case was monumental because such cases are challenging. The client in that case requested asylum based on past persecution by and a well-founded fear of future persecution by the MS-13 (Salvadoran gang), as he barely escaped death by members of the gang for refusing to join them. Although he tried to escape the gang by moving to another town in El Salvador, members of the gang eventually found him. He realized that the best way for him to avoid being killed by the gang would be to migrate to the U.S., as the MS-13 is now prevalent in most of Central America. After working arduously to build a persuasive gang-based asylum case for this client, Ms. Kim received a ruling in her client’s favor.

            Furthermore, Ms. Kim’s SIJS case involved an 18-year-old young woman who lived with her father in Honduras, while her mother lived in the U.S. Her father never used the money that her mother sent from the U.S. to pay for her expenses; therefore, she was forced to quit school and work 15 hours a day, 7 days a week at the age of 14. The young woman migrated to the U.S. to escape this lifestyle and to reunite with her mother. With the help of Ms. Kim and Safe Passage, this young woman has obtained Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. She is elated thather client is no longer in removal proceedings and can fulfill her dreams of living in the U.S. and pursuing a medical assistant degree.

             Ms. Kim is very grateful for the tremendous opportunity to work on these cases with the Safe Passage Project. It was truly a humbling experience for her, as she had never worked on an immigration case before this experience.

             She advises any attorney that is interested in taking on a Safe Passage case to do so without hesitation and to enjoy it for what it is. She expressed that this experience truly allows an attorney to help young immigrants to establish a life in the United States. She further stated, “[t]hese are children who have had many things go wrong in their lives, and by taking on this kind of case, attorneys are helping these children to have a more positive outlook on life and giving them the opportunity for a better future.”

***Safe Passage Attorney of the Week Feature written by NYLS Student and Safe Passage volunteer, Natalie Bello.

Safe Passage Featured in the New York Daily News

NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpi



The defendant toddled into the immigration courtroom, clutching his grandma’s hand.

He didn’t cry as his grandma lifted him up and placed him on a chair – his feet in little black sneakers sticking straight out – to face Judge Patricia Rohan on the 12th floor of Manhattan’s 26 Federal Plaza.

“How old is he?” the judge asked his grandma.

“Three,” she said.

The little boy, named Ian, was one of dozens of young immigration defendants who saw Judge Rohan during a juvenile docket day – a separate court calendar set aside only for kids – at New York Immigration Court this month.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement prosecutor Carol Moore sat silent during most of the proceedings.

Children who are caught trying to cross the border alone are usually shuttled either to foster homes or to stay with relatives here in the U.S., who are often also undocumented. Many end up with family in New York – but must face a judge to fight deportation.

Some manage to stay legally, often gaining asylum or a special green card for abused or abandoned kids.

Three-year-old Ian, who has a sweet, round face and a calm disposition, is in deportation proceedings after being caught crossing the border at Naco, Ariz. – his mom decided to go by foot but sent Ian with two smugglers in a car because she thought it would be safer. Ian told the truth when a border agent asked him if the woman in the car was his mom, according to his grandmother, Cristina, who asked to use their first names only.

His mom made it through undetected and is hoping the government will allow Ian to stay with the rest of the family in Queens, the boy’s grandma said.

“He doesn’t cry, but he’s afraid I’m going to turn him in to the police,” she said.

Lawyers are not appointed to kids or adults in immigration court, but New York judges have coordinated with pro-bono attorneys and advocacy groups to try to ensure that kids here don’t have to go before a judge alone.

On the day that Ian was in court, a New York Law School initiative called Safe Passage set up in the ceremonial courtroom. Volunteer lawyers and law students gave intake interviews to everyone looking for free representation – setting up a craft table in the back with crayons and stickers for the youngest defendants.

Before Ian and his grandma saw the judge, attorney Sandra Nichols, who volunteers every month with Safe Passage, asked Cristina a series of questions to determine whether the little boy might qualify to stay.

Lenni B. Benson, a Professor of Law at the New York Law School and with  the Safe Passage program, in front of the Federal Building in lower Manhattan on Thursday, March 13, 2014. Once a month Safe Passage represents young people at the immigration court in the federal building. (Jefferson Siegel/New York Daily News) Jefferson Siegel/New York Daily News
Benson said more than 12% of the New York Immigration Court’s docket – more than 6,000 cases – involve juveniles. She questions why Immigration and Customs Enforcement prosecutes immigration offenders who are so young.

“We’re going to ask the judge for more time for you,” Nichols told her. The judge later agreed to put off the little boy’s case until September.

Ian stayed calm throughout his day in court, offering to shake hands with lawyers who approached him.

Over 12% of the New York Immigration Court’s docket – more than 6,000 cases – involve juveniles, according to Safe Passage founder Lenni Benson, a professor at New York Law School. Juvenile docket days happen as often as five times a month.

“Why is this the American justice system?” Benson asked – questioning why Immigration and Customs Enforcement prosecutes immigration offenders who are so young.

Ian, who was born in Tlaxcala, Mexico, was the youngest immigration defendant in court that day – but the judge also saw a 9-year-old and scores of teens.

A 10-year-old from Honduras named Mario who is seeking asylum appeared, as did 15-year-old Cindy from El Salvador, sitting before the judge in a purple sweatshirt, blue and white clips in her hair, her uncle by her side. She is hoping to get special immigrant juvenile status, a program for kids who have been abused, abandoned by one or more parent, or neglected.

Most of the courtroom scenes reflected what has become an epidemic of children – largely from Central America – sneaking over the border on their own.

Many say they are fleeing the region’s rising poverty and violence – often escaping to avoid gang recruitment or after gangs killed their family.

The numbers of children crossing the border without adults have spiked so dramatically that the federal department of Health and Human Services estimates about 60,000 will enter the country in 2014, more than an 800% jump from 6,560 in 2011.

Border officials usually repatriate Mexican children who are caught alone, but those from farther away, who cannot be sent home within 72 hours, are turned over to the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

In a February report, advocacy group Kids in Need of Defense and the University of California Hastings College of the Law called on the government to appoint attorneys to minors in immigration court, and ease up asylum rules so that kids’ special needs are met. Most children who appear before immigration judges are not represented by a lawyer, the report found.

About 40% of minors apprehended by immigration officials are identified by the feds as eligible for legal immigration status, according to a 2012 study by Manhattan non-profit Vera Institute of Justice.

“Without a lawyer, these kids could be deported,” said attorney Martin Rothstein, who volunteers with Safe Passage.



Heather H. Volik – Safe Passage Attorney of the Week


Heather Volik - Attorney of the Week

Heather H. Volik received her B.A from the University of Pittsburgh in 1995.  She obtained her J.D. from New York Law School in 2006, and was admitted to practice law in New York in 2007. During law school, Ms. Volik worked as a Research Assistant for Professor Benson at New York Law School. From 2006 to 2007.  Ms. Volik clerked for The Honorable Robert C. Chambers, United States District Court S.D., WV.

Ms. Volik has focused her pro bono work at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP on immigration matters.  For example, Ms. Volik represented THE NATIONAL IMMIGRATION PROJECT OF THE NATIONAL LAWYERS GUILD, in an amicus brief to the Supreme Court seeking the court to accept the Petition for Writ of Certiorari in Serne-Guerra v. Holder.  The case was challenging the Fifth Circuit’s determination that Unauthorized Use of Motor Vehicle was a “crime of violence” under Section 16(b) of Title 18 of the US Code.   Ms. Volik was asked to write the brief based on a Law Review Article she published entitled Driving Down the Wrong Road: The Fifth Circuit’s Definition of Unauthorized Use of A Motor Vehicle as a Crime of Violence in the Immigration Context, 39 ST. MARY’S L. J. 149 (2007).   Professor Benson, from New York Law School assisted Ms. Volik in finding a client who had an interest in the case.  The government ultimately decided not to file a response and ceased classifying UUMV as a “crime of violence.”   

Ms. Volik also represented a Jamaican immigrant, Mr. Lawson, who had been in the United States for over 50 years, served in the US Marines in Vietnam and was under removal order based on a his 1986 conviction of manslaughter in the first degree, twenty years before the government started removal proceedings.  On July 5, 2011,  the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, in a decision issued by Second Circuit Judge Denny Chin (sitting by designation), granted Mr. Lawson’s petition for review of denial of naturalization, and ordered the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to grant Mr. Lawson’s application for naturalization.  As a result, he avoided deportation and became a United States citizen.  Judge Chin wrote a sweeping decision, recognizing that “no man is beyond redemption,” Judge Chin found that Mr. Lawson did indeed possess the requisite good moral character, and in so doing rejected what he described as a “petty,” “mean-spirited,”  and “puzzling” attempt by the government to argue otherwise. 

Ms. Volik is currently an Associate at the law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, which specializes in commercial litigation and white collar defense.  She recently participated in drafting and filing an Amicus Brief before the Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor, Brief of Amici Curiae Family and Child Welfare Law professors Addressing the Merits and In Support of Respondents.  Ms Volik is married and has two children.

Q.  When did you begin volunteering with the Safe Passage Project?

A.    As a student at New York Law School, I took several courses with Professor Benson and was also her Research Assistant after graduation.   After graduating from New York Law School, I kept in touch with her.   Around two years ago, Professor Benson called me and told me that she wanted me to take a case that came into the Safe Passage Project.  Professor Benson stated that  “I needed the case and the case needed me”.  Professor Benson knew my passion for the law and my eagerness to challenge the law and its application.  Professor Benson explained that the case was a complicated one involving a young girl and her mother, both with separate potential claims.  Professor Benson explained that I would be representing the young girl with her petition for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS).  Professor Benson hoped we would find a way to help the girl’s mother as well, who had suffered years of abuse and was afraid to return to her country. After Professor Benson reached out to me I went to my law firm to seek approval to take up the case on a pro-bono basis.  The firm accepted the application and I worked with two other associates on the case, Diana Iskelov and Leila Siddiky, who are also associates of Sullivan & Cromwell.

Q.   What made the case so challenging?

A.    This case involved two challenges.  One involved the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS)petition for the daughter based on the father’s abandonment.  The second and biggest battle however, was the trying to determine what relief the mother would be eligible for.  We eventually decided to file an asylum petition for the mother.   We knew that petitioning for asylum for the mother was a long shot because she has been in the United States for around 10 years and had never filed an application for asylum.  There is a one year application deadline for asylum.  In the end, we were able to successfully make the claim for asylum for the mother based on the abusive relationship she was in since she was 14 years old, and the fact that her ex-boyfriend who has subjected her to these years of abuse was sent back to El Salvador.  We argued that if the mother was deported back to El Salvador, she would face the constant threat of fear and harm because the government would be unwilling or unable to protect her from her abusive ex-boyfriend.  We also successfully argued that there was a change in country conditions when her ex-boyfriend was deported to her country of origin.

Q.   What was one of the highlights about working on this case?

A.      One of the most remarkable and impressive things about this case was the mother’s attitude.  Most undocumented people that live in the shadows for as long as the mother has are usually afraid and unwilling to come out of the shadows because of fear of deportation.  However, although we explained to the mother that applying for asylum would be a long shot and there were no guarantees that we would succeed, the mother was very excited and glowing at the possibility of coming out of the shadows and a having a better future for her and her daughters.   I am still so impressed with the fact that it was the mother who really advocated for herself in the interview and felt she was an active member of the team.  When the daughter obtained the Special Findings Order, it was obvious that the daughter, did not really realize the implication of what it meant to avoid deportation.  However,  her mother knew what it meant for her future and her daughter’s future to be able to remain in the United States. 

The best overall feeling however is the fact that our representation had a such significant impact on the lives of two people.   The mother was granted asylum and will be able to remain in the United States and the daughter was granted a special findings order which now puts her on the pathway to becoming a United States Permanent Resident. 

Q.     What do you like most about working with the Safe Passage Project?

A.      I enjoy working with children because I know that my work is making a difference in these children’s lives.   It is a very rewarding experience to help children gain legal status so that they can have a better future in the United States.

Q.     What do you think about Services the Safe Passage Project offers?

A.      Safe Passage provides an invaluable service to children who need representation.   When I think about all that goes into representing each child and the various laws and statutory interpretations that goes into each representation, I am amazed that although the United States has a legislation in place such as SIJS that is a pathway for permanent residence for children who are able to escape the atrocities of their home country, this legislation does not have a provision which provides representation for these children. This makes me ask the questions “what would these children do if organizations like Safe Passage Project did not exist which step in and handle representation for these children?  How are children expected to know the laws and statutes are applicable to each case and advocate for themselves?“   I am disappointed that children are not provided representation because it is inconceivable to me that our court system and our ideas of justice stand on any principle that expect children to represent themselves.

Overall, I am truly impressed with the transformative nature of the Safe Passage Project’s representation in a child’s life because the Safe Passage team understand the importance of protecting a child that has been abused, neglected or abandoned and made the insanely difficult journey to this country.    I truly believe that the Safe Passage Project changes lives and changes this country, one immigrant at a time.  Safe Passage is there to support and offer representation to those children who desperately need legal representation but cannot afford it. 

Q.     How has this experience with Safe Passage impacted on your as a lawyer?

A.      The Safe Passage Project allowed me to gain invaluable litigation experience because as a pro-bono attorney with the Safe Passage Project, I was able to take the lead on my case and make decisions regarding the direction and strategies for the representations.

Q.     Do you plan on continuing on as a pro-bono Attorney for the Safe Passage Project?

A.      Definitely.  I am now on my second case with a 15 year old boy from Guatemala.

Q.     How do balance your work with Sullivan and Cromwell, you pro-bono initiatives and your family? 

A.      Sometimes I have to work late in order to make deadlines.   However, my children are my greatest source of motivation especially when I am working on a Safe Passage case.  When I see how fortunate my children are, and then I think about the conditions that these children had to live in and the fear they must have faced and still face, it puts things into perspective for me.  I realize that sometimes you have to miss out on your life to help others.  I am lucky to have the ability to help others.

Q.     What do you do with those rare moments that  you do get some spare time?

A.      I am a slow distance runner.  It helps a lot with the stress of the long hours I have to put in with my work and my other pro-bono initiatives.   I also try to spend a much time as I can with my children who are now three years old and 10 months old.

***Safe Passage Attorney of the Week Feature written by NYLS Student and Safe Passage volunteer, Nicola Chambers.

Safe Passage Featured in Today’s NY Daily News


The Safe Passage Project and its work on behalf of children in removal proceedings is featured in Today’s NY DAILY NEWS. To read the full story, click on the link below:

Safe Passage Raises $11K During February/ March Matching Period


Safe Passage would like to THANK its many generous donors who, along with 2 anonymous matching donors, have helped Safe Passage raise over $11, 000. 

If you missed the matching period, but would like to make a 2014 gift, you can still do so by mailing a check payable to Safe Passage Project to:

Safe Passage Project
185 West Broadway, New York, NY, 10013

OR, you can donate online via paypal at:

We are very grateful to all of our donors who particpated in this matching period. THANK YOU.

Pro Bono Attorney of the Week Lyndsey K. Yoshino Obtains First Unaccompanied Alien Child (UAC) Asylum Grant for Safe Passage!


Safe Passage Project Attorney of the Week Lyndsey K. Yoshino, Esq.

Safe Passage Project Attorney of the Week Lyndsey K. Yoshino, Esq.

Lyndsey K. Yoshino is an Immigration Law Associate at Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen and Loewy, LLP. When she is not practicing law, Ms. Yoshino enjoys running marathons or watching football games, particularly those involving the Green Bay Packers, or the Wisconsin Dodgville Dodgers.

Ms. Yoshino has always had a passion for migration studies and American immigration law. After graduating from the University of California, Berkley with a Bachelor Degree in French and History in 2002, she went on to pursue a Master Degree in Modern Migration Patterns into France at New York University 2005. Thereafter, she decided to combine her interest in immigration and law by pursuing a legal education at Georgetown Law and graduating in 2009.

While she was in law school she participated in the school’s asylum clinic, and she also worked as an intern assisting with gender-based violence claims in the Refugee Rights department at the World Organization for Human Rights–USA.  Ms. Yoshino’s work in the field of immigration law persisted after she graduated from law school, when she served as a Judicial Law Clerk at the New York Immigration Court as part of the Department of Justice’s Honors Program from 2009 to 2011.

Since she began working at Fragomen, Ms. Yoshino has been actively involved in volunteer and pro bono work, some of which include volunteering at various city-wide DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) clinics, and serving as a pro bono attorney with the City Bar and the Safe Passage Project.

Ms. Yoshino decided to take on her first Safe Passage case as a pro bono attorney, because during her judicial clerkship the immigration judges emphasized the importance of making pro bono work a priority. During her clerkship, Ms. Yoshino witnessed hundreds of individuals who had gone through immigration proceedings without representation, and she wanted to be proactive in changing this trend. In addition, Ms. Yoshino was fully aware of the positive reputation that the Safe Passage Project had already established in the immigration law community and was eager to become a part of it.    

Ms. Yoshino’s experience working on a Safe Passage case and with the Safe Passage team was an incredibly positive one. She worked on an asylum case for an 18-year-old young woman who had crossed the U.S.-Mexican border while pregnant and was afraid to return to her home country in Central America because of prior gang-affiliated threats to her life. Ms. Yoshino worked wholeheartedly on this young woman’s asylum case, and ultimately was successful in helping this admirable young woman obtain asylum.  This case was the first Unaccompanied Alien Child (UAC) asylum approval for the Safe Passage Project.  

Working on this case and actually changing her client’s life for the better has motivated Ms. Yoshino to take on another Safe Passage case in the future. She encourages fellow immigration attorneys who are not yet involved with the Safe Passage Project to take the plunge. She stresses that balancing both paid cases and a Safe Passage pro bono case is manageable, especially since the Safe Passage team makes the entire process so much smoother.

The Safe Passage Project is incredibly grateful for all of the work Ms. Yoshino put into this case.  Because of Ms. Yoshino’s amazing volunteer efforts, a young girl’s life was positively changed, and that girl now has security and options for the future that were previously unimaginable.

***Safe Passage Advocate of the Week Feature written by NYLS Student and Safe Passage volunteer, Natalie Bello.

Claire R. Thomas Testifies Before New York City Council








February 25, 2014 at 1PM EST


 Thank you to the Committee and to Chairman Menchaca for the opportunity to provide testimony today. My name is Claire R. Thomas. I am a staff attorney with the Safe Passage Project and I submit this testimony on behalf of the Safe Passage Project today. I am going to speak to you today about a population of immigrants in removal/deportation proceedings whom we have not heard much about today – children.

Safe Passage believes that no child should stand along in immigration court and that all children, regardless of their countries of birth, should be entitled to free, competent legal representation. Under current law, immigrants- including those who are under 21 and are unaccompanied- are not entitled to any government-provided legal representation in immigration proceedings.

The Safe Passage Project tries to fill this gap. Professor Lenni Benson at New York Law School created the Safe Passage Project in 2006 to address the unmet legal needs of indigent immigrant youth living in New York State by creating an innovative pro bono model in which children in deportation proceedings are screened for immigration relief and then placed with pro bono attorneys and law student advocates who are actively mentored by Safe Passage staff attorneys, including me.

To better explain our model, let me please begin with a story of a child in immigration court.

Miguel is seven years old. The Customs and Border Patrol apprehended him at the Southern border of the United States. Miguel is taken to a juvenile detention center and the federal government interviews him and learns that his father is living in New York City. They contact Miguel’s father, José. After several weeks, they release Miguel to his father and hand them a packet of papers explaining that Miguel is in removal proceedings and will receive a letter that tells him when he must appear at Immigration Court in Manhattan. These papers explain that if Miguel does not attend, the Department of Homeland Security can order him deported.

The day of Miguel’s hearing arrives. He and his father travel to downtown Manhattan at 8:30 AM. Miguel is in the courtroom. He wears his best shirt and his jeans are clean and pressed. He tightly grips the arms of the courtroom chair. He is so small that his feet do not touch the floor. The Immigration Judge is speaking to him slowly and kindly but Miguel turns his small face up to look only at the court’s Spanish-speaking interpreter. The judge is asking, “Are you here alone today?” Miguel responds, “No, I am here with my father.” “Where is your father?” the Judge asks. Miguel pauses. He looks at the judge. He turns his head to the left and looks at the government prosecutor from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He turns to the interpreter. Slowly he says, “I don’t know. He is outside?” Miguel’s father has no papers. He is afraid – like so many immigrants- to come inside the courtroom.

This scene is repeated with small variations every day at the New York Immigration Court. The Immigration Judges see many unrepresented people in the courts and now, a growing percentage of people facing deportation are children.

The Department of Homeland Security apprehended more than 24,000 children in the fiscal year 2012. This number is triple the prior year’s apprehensions and the DHS is publically predicting that more than 60,000 children will be apprehended this year. Some of these children will be detained and most will be released to family members or friends. Despite the vulnerability of these children, federal law does not provide them with free counsel. Over 12% of the New York Immigration Court’s docket – more than 6,000 cases- involve juveniles.

The Safe Passage Project finds that nearly 80% to 90% of the children we meet qualify for some type of immigration relief if the children have adults who are willing to assist them to secure such status. When Safe Passage staffs the juvenile removal docket at the New York Immigration Court each month, we bring approximately 10 law students, 10 volunteer interpreters, and 10-15 volunteer attorneys to interview the children. Based on these and follow-up interviews, the Safe Passage Project then recruits and mentors pro bono counsel who try to secure immigration status for each child. Safe Passage was incredibly successful in its first year, during which time it screened 215 children and placed over 60% with pro bono counsel.

However, Safe Passage has found that there is a gap in New York’s representation of children in family court. While the family court is able to appoint counsel once a guardianship proceeding or custody proceeding has commenced, there is not a straight-forward path for the appointment of counsel for the child or his or her indigent guardian until a proper filing is made. Safe Passage helps to fill this gap and addresses the disconnect in New York’s appointment of counsel for indigent children in family court by guiding pro bono counsel and trying to assist pro se adults who are willing to seek guardianship or custody over these children.

City Council support matters. Financial support would allow non-profit organizations to engage in the mentoring of pro bono attorneys and to deepen the skills of the 18-B appointed panel attorneys or lawyers for children in the Family Courts, whose assistance is crucial. Strengthening Safe Passage would make a huge difference in providing competent representation for immigrant youth in New York.

This area of law—where children may need attorneys who are experts in family law, immigration law, and international questions of custody and guardianship— means that it is unlikely that any of our existing programs is adequately funded to help these children and their families navigate jurisdictional and procedural barriers. As such, programs like the Safe Passage Project are essential to bridge these gaps.

We believe our model of recruiting and training pro bono attorneys, partnering these attorneys with law students, and working closely with a law school is cost effective and successful in expanding resources for these vulnerable children. We are happy to provide more information or more detailed testimony about these issues.

We urge the City Council to remember the children. Thank you for your time, your attention, and your consideration.

Respectfully submitted,

Claire R. Thomas
Staff Attorney, Safe Passage Project

Claire - City Council

Claire R. Thomas. Safe Passage Staff Attorney, Testifies Before City Council


Martin Rothstein – Safe Passage Attorney of the Week



Martin Rothstein (who sometimes like to be called Don Martin), has over 40 years of experience as an Immigration attorney.  He received his B.A. from the City College of New York in 1965.  After obtaining his J.D. from the New York University School of Law in 1968, he was admitted to practice in New York.  A member of the New York, American, and Federal Bar Associations, Mr. Rothstein has contributed considerable service to the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).  Mr. Rothstein has served on AILA’s National Board of Governors, as Chairman of the New York Chapter, Co-Chair of the Eastern Region Liaison Committee, Co-Chair of the Consular Affairs/Visa Office Liaison Committee, Chair of the National Visa Office Liaison Committee, and Chair of the National Naturalization Liaison Committee.  Mr. Rothstein was a faculty member of the AILA Annual Conference and a lecturer on AILA’s Immigration Law and Practice seminar for 27 years.  He has lectured at numerous continuing legal education institutes and law schools.

Mr. Rothstein has earned substantial recognition for his work, including being featured in the International Who’s Who of Business Lawyers, Best Lawyers in America, New York Super Lawyers, and “New York Area Best Lawyers” in New York Magazine.  Mr. Rothstein is the co-author of “US Immigration Laws: Working, Living and Studying in America” which has been translated into Japanese and Chinese, and enjoys wide circulation both in the United States and throughout the world.

Mr. Rothstein was a Senior Partner at Barst Mukamal & Klenier (BKM) LLP which is one of the oldest and largest Immigration and Nationality Law firms in the United States.  He retired from BMK LLP in August 2012.  Prior to joining BMK LLP, Mr. Rothstein was a general attorney for the Federal Communications Commission and a trial attorney for the Civil Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.  He is fluent in Spanish.  Mr. Rothstein is now an Adjunct Professor at New York Law School and an Attorney Mentor for the law school students in the Safe Passage Project.

Q.  How did you learn about the Safe Passage Project?

A. I had a working relationship with Professor Lennie Benson who referred many law students to my firm. When I told Professor Benson that I would be retiring from my law firm, she invited me to become an adjunct professor for the Basic and Advanced Immigration Law Courses at New York Law School, as well and a faculty mentor for the law students in the Safe Passage Project.  I retired in Fall 2012, and assumed the adjunct and faculty mentoring positions then.

Q.    What is your role in the Safe Passage Project?

I am one of the faculty mentors to the law students working with Safe Passage Project.  I take my job as a faculty mentor very seriously.   While I don’t work on any of the cases personally, my years of experience in immigration law have taught me how to read a client’s body language and more than just what they say.   Therefore, I try to impart some of these skills and insight to law students.  During docket intake interviews, I usually direct students on when and how to pursue a sensitive topic and whenit may not be worth pursuing.

Q    Why did you accept the position as a Faculty Mentor for the Safe Passage Project after retirement?

A.    Based on my 40 years of legal practice in immigration law, I thought that I could bring valuable insight to law school students who might go on to practice in the area of immigration law.    Additionally, the Safe Passage Project offered me the unique opportunity to work with clients and mentor law school students simultaneously.  While working with clients is not new to me, I thought it would be interesting to mentor students in the law school environment.

The structure of the Safe Passage Program is also more conducive to rational teaching and proper mentoring.  Now I get to have one and one time with students to give them meaningful guidance absent all the distraction that comes with mentoring in a law firm.  I mentored law students at my previous law firm.   However, this mentoring was done under the pressures of meeting the challenges of a private practice such as setting up client meetings, constant phone calls, fee collection issues, etc.

Q. What makes the Safe Passage Project such an effective vehicle in helping immigrant children?

A. Safe Passage is great from a humanitarian perspective because it connects children with a Humanitarian law that Congress created.    Safe Passage helps some immigrant children avoid the horrors of children who are placed in group homes and educated until they are 18 and then deported to their home countries.  It gives children who are eligible for relief a chance to make a meaningful contribution to the American Way.

The Safe Passage Program also  plays a very pivotal role in the immigration system because it helps take away from the perception that our country is one that would deport young children back to their home countries where they suffered horrible atrocities.    The Safe Passage Program further help affirms the cornerstone principles of both Family and Juvenile law of our country – that the best interest of the children is paramount.

Q. What is most rewarding about working with the Safe Passage Project?

A.  In addition to assisting children and providing representation to children and families who would otherwise have no hope, working with the Safe Passage Project makes me feel good to see the transition of the students; watching the progress of students as they change and turn into attorneys, soon to be colleagues.    Also, although I have been involved in many pro-bono initiatives, I enjoy Safe Passage because of its focus on the children.

Q.   In addition to the work you do with NYLS,  how else do you spend your time now that you are retired?

A.  One of the perks of being retired is that now I get to have a full night’s sleep, except on the days that I have the Safe Passage dockets.  I also do a day at my old firm and take advanced Spanish literature courses at the instituto Cervantes.    I attend various Bar Association, American Immigration Law Association (AILA) events, and social and educational receptions at various foreign consulates.  More importantly, I have more time to spend with my family.  However, learning how to enjoy retirement is a work in progress.

***Safe Passage Attorney of the Week Feature written by NYLS Student and Safe Passage volunteer, Nicola Chambers.

Safe Passage MATCH Donation Opportunity


We are thrilled to report that two dear friends of Safe Passage, who would like to help us grow, are offering  to match all donations received before March 15th, 2014 up to $20,000.

As of  Today, Safe Passage has recieved matching gifts totaling $3,000. We have just over 3 weeks left to meet our Match goal.  

For those of you who have not made a 2014 gift, now would be a great time. If you want to solicit a gift, you can certainly mention the matching to a friend, family member, or colleague. 

You can make a donation by mailing a check payable to Safe Passage Project to:

Safe Passage Project

185 West Broadway, New York, NY, 10013

OR, you can donate online via paypal at:

We are very grateful for all of your support and will post weekly updates detailing your generosity and our progress.


-The Safe Passage Team

PS: For donations of $10,000 or more, please contact Gui Stampur at:  or, 212-431-2100 (Ext. 4141)

Asylum CLE, TONIGHT – February 20, 2014 at 6:30PM

Location: New York Law School Auditorium(185 West Broadway), located on the corner of Leonard and West Broadway in Manhattan.

We look forward to seeing you this evening.


The Safe Passage Team