Gui Stampur, Director of Legal Services, featured in the Atlantic

In an article published on August 20, 2016, “Across the Border and Into School,” the Atlantic recent coverage continues a recent trend of media attention on the lives of unaccompanied minors. In particular, the Atlantic focuses on unaccompanied Central American minors present in the United States and their challenges in getting in enrolled consistently in school.

 

Gui Stampur, Director of Legal Services at Safe Passage Project, was interviewed as part of the article. “These are challenges that, unchecked, obviously impact how kids do in school—and whether they go to school at all. “I think our goal at Safe Passage is to enable kids to be kids and to focus on school, to focus on their education,” Stampur said. While most schools in the city, he said, have been good about accepting students, occasionally he has to lean on schools upstate and on Long Island to enroll the undocumented children who live there.”

 

Read the article in its entirety on The Atlantic, or here.

Claire presents at National Association of Counsel for Children’s annual conference

On Sunday, August 14th, Claire Thomas, Safe Passage Project’s Director of Training, presented in Philadelphia to participants of the National Association of Counsel for Children’s 39th National Child Welfare, Juvenile & Family Law Conference on Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, a form of immigration protection for children who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected.

Pictured from left to right are Claire; Daniel Trujillo, one of the conference’s organizers; and Derrick Hensley, an attorney for children in North Carolina who co-presented with Claire.

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New PD Fingerprinting Procedure at NY Immigration Court

SPP LogoOn Friday, August 12, 2016, ICE Deputy Chief Counsel Susan Beschta was present at the juvenile docket before Assistant Chief Immigration Judge Mary Cheng, and clarified the new fingerprinting procedure for respondents requesting prosecutorial discretion (“PD”).

In short, the Office of Chief Counsel will be liasing regularly with USCIS to submit bulk requests for fingerprinting appointments, for those respondents requesting PD that are 14 or older and have not be printed by USCIS for other relief (e.g. following the submission of an asylum application).

Safe Passage Project has summarized the new policy in the following memo: Safe Passage Project_Memo re New PD Policy 7.27.2016.

If you have any questions, or need help identifying the ICE Assistant Chief Counsel counterpart, please contact your Safe Passage Project mentor attorney. Special thanks to our Staff Attorney Stephanie Gibbs for her work on this update.

Lenni on NPR’s All Things Considered

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Safe Passage Project’s Lenni Benson appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered on Thursday, July 28, 2016. Professor Benson spoke with NPR’s Richard Gonzalez back in May 2016 about the Central American crisis and the EB4 backlog; the news organization aired the segment, and published a lengthy accompanying article, yesterday.

Entitled “Halt On Juvenile Immigrant Visa Leaves Thousands In Limbo,” NPR’s segment is one of the few examples of national press coverage on this critical issue. Seeking protection through Special Immigrant Juvenile status is a complex process thatunaccompanied children have to navigate, with or without counsel. The visa backlog has only made the process even more unpredictable, for children and advocates alike.

Since the announcement of the EB4 backlog in April 2016, Professor Benson has been a forceful advocate, tirelessly pushing on the local level for a sensible approach to adjudicating these young people’s claims, and on the national level for interim relief, protections, and deferred action.

LenniBenson“They don’t come to the border and say, ‘I want to apply for an I-360 based on the Fourth Preference Employment-based Special Immigrant Juvenile 101A-27J,’ ” Benson says. “They say, ‘I can’t go home!’ “

Ever articulate and thoughtful, Professor Benson seized the opportunity to shine light on the reality that so many refugee children face. Safe Passage Project is proud.

 

Queens Family Court Updates their System for Summonses

Queens Family Court has a new Electronic Summons Retrieval (ESR) system for obtaining summonses. Attorneys appearing in Queens Family Court should review the new instructions. This system should be accessible by attorneys after filing their initial submission in Queens Family Court, including to obtain their first appearance date.

As noted by the instructions: If you are unable to retrieve the Docket Number and Future Appearance Date after 5 days from the date of submission of your filing, please email: [email protected]

You can find the complete instructions here:

Queens_Obtaining Summons via Online System July 2016

USCIS Policy Update – I-693 Medical Exams

Great news from our district office. In short, attorneys can help their clients obtain their medical and not worry the results will expire. Safe Passage Project is also seeking confirmation from DHS Headquarters in D.C.

Recently Safe Passage Project learned that the USCIS is sending Request for Evidence (RFE) letters to attorneys and youth who filed for adjustment of status without submitting the medical exam, Form I-693. The medical exam is required of all people seeking adjust of status to lawful permanent resident. The exam must be conducted by a physician authorized by the federal government to certify that the applicant meets all of the medical standards required of new immigrants. [There is  typically a $150 fee or greater for this exam and this is fee is paid to the physician not the USCIS. There is no waiver for this fee.]

The Form I-693 advises that the results of the medical exam are valid for one year. Safe Passage Project was concerned that some of the young people who only recently filed for special immigrant juvenile status on Form I-360 (the visa petition form) would find that their medical expired before they could complete the adjustment of status process. When you file the I-360 petition, the USCIS issues a receipt and the date of the receipt becomes the young person’s “priority date” or place in line for a visa number.

The State Department has predicted a shortage of visas for children born in El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras because each country has a visa cap of 672 children per year. Safe Passage Project will know more about the future backlogs in early September when the State Department sets the new cutoff dates for Special Immigrant Juveniles for the opening of the new fiscal year on October 1. It is Safe Passage Project’s best guess that children who filed the I-360 in 2016 will not complete their adjustment of status process within the next few months and the wait may be much longer.  Therefore, staff worried the medical exams would expire and children would have to return to the doctor for a second exam and pay the fee twice.

Safe Passage Project reached out to the USCIS District Office and a senior officer said it is current USCIS policy to request the medical and to complete all of the necessary evaluation of the young person’s application even though no visa numbers are currently available. In other words, USCIS will “work the cases” as if there are able to grant permanent resident status now and if a case is fully approvable they will issue a letter informing the young person that he or she does qualify for permanent residence and as soon as visa numbers are available for the young person’s priority date, they will grant permanent residence and send the “green card.”

USCIS will not require a second medical even if more than one year has passed since the original exam.

If you have more questions about the process or how to help your client schedule a medical exam or have other questions about responding to the RFE letters, please contact your mentor attorney at Safe Passage Project or write to us at [email protected].

Las Cheetas Chulas wrap up a successful inaugural season

Since March of this year, Alexandra Rizio, Senior Staff Attorney, and Samantha Norris, resident Social Worker, have coached a team of Safe Passage Project and non-Safe Passage Project clients in the in an all-female soccer league for high school girls in the South Bronx. The league is organized by a community-based organization, South Bronx United. In their first year as a team, Las Cheetas Chulas (The Cool Cheetahs) finished second in the league overall.

Las Cheetas Chulas 6.18.2016

While the coaches know many of the players through their cases at Safe Passage Project, Alex said they “purposefully don’t talk about anything related to the office during the practices or games.” Instead, she said that Las Cheetas Chulas provides the girls with an opportunity to “learn to play as a team and have a place to deal with some of the difficult issues that they are facing.”

As the girls met every Saturday, rain or shine, during the season, Sam also said that participating in the league enabled the participants to “learn that you have responsibilities to yourself and to your team no matter how you’re feeling or what the weathers like. No matter how you’re feeling, you have to go.”

Furthermore, the all-girls team was forced to assert itself against the male teams, which, according to Alex, would “encroach on field time for the girls” and even start “heckling the girls.” As Sam said, “It’s a powerful thing to give kids a safe space to play, especially young women who have traditionally been marginalized and oppressed.” Alex and Sam hope to continue their work with Las Cheetas Chulas in 2017.

Las Cheetas Chulas 6.18.2016 2

Riverdale welcomes Amigos for a 4th Field Day

On Saturday, June 25th, forty members of the Safe Passage Project community gathered at Riverdale Country School for their fourth Field Day event.

According to Gui Stampur, Safe Passage Project’s Director of Legal Services, “Field Day is an opportunity for our clients to temporarily put aside the complications of their immigration case and run around a beautiful high school campus, participate in soccer games, dance class, and arts and crafts, and to make new friends over pizza and ice cream.”

Field Day 6.25.2016 One highlight of the day was celebrating the fourth birthday of one of the attendees, whose family also participated in the event. Another came in the highly competitive soccer game, in which parents and kids were able to play together. The game ended with a score of 5-4.

Although Juan Carlos, a Justice AmeriCorps Legal Fellow at Safe Passage Project, expressed some regret at his team’s loss in the soccer game, he noted that the day was a “resounding success because it let the kids enjoy being kids.”

Field Day 6.25.2016 2

Safe Passage Project responds to the U.S. v. Texas opinion

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:

Professor Lenni Benson

[email protected]

(212) 431-2336 (Office)

(917) 596-3523 (Cell)

New York (Thursday, June 23, 2016)

(New York, NY) This morning, in a 4-4 split decision on U.S. v. Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court left in place the injunction blocking the deferred actions programs known as “DAPA” and “expanded DACA,” announced by President Obama in November of 2014.

These programs were announced as part of a complex set of policy initiatives that would provide work authorization and respite from deportation. Even if operational, these programs still fall far short of legal status in the United States, and fail to provide a path to legal permanent residency or U.S. citizenship.

Today’s one-sentence per curiam opinion, in real terms, means that millions of families across the United States will have to wait for the next action by the U.S. Federal District Court in Brownsville, Texas. The case may now continue to trial, which itself could take months to conclude.

Following the decision’s release, President Obama commented on the impact. “Today, the Supreme Court was unable to reach a decision… It means that the expanded set of Deferred Action policies, the ones that I announced two years ago, can’t go forward at this stage, until there is a ninth justice on the court to break the tie.” President Obama reiterated that this would not affect standing policies including the 2012 DACA program or the enforcement priorities in the context of removal.

We, at Safe Passage Project, continue to advocate and assist unaccompanied minors who are facing deportation. This decision has no effect on the ability of people to seek protection and asylum in the United States. Today’s decision, in large part, is due to lack of congressional leadership in this area. Now more than ever, we need thoughtful and well-designed immigration reform.

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Safe Passage Project, a registered 501(c)(3) not-for-profit housed at New York Law School, was created to address the unmet legal needs of indigent immigrant youth living in New York by providing them with basic legal advice and immigration assistance. Safe Passage Project works with volunteer attorneys to provide free representation to children in immigration court. Safe Passage Project provides training, resources, and mentoring to volunteer attorneys on immigration law and procedure. To learn more, visit www.safepassageproject.org.

Safe Passage Project_Press Release 6.23.2016

 

 

World Refugee Day Panels and Press Conference

WRD2016 LogoIn celebration of World Refugee Day on June 20th, 2016, Safe Passage Project organized three panels of speakers addressing access to justice and children seeking protection.

Professor Lenni Benson opened the program noting the importance of the international and U.S. protections for refugees. While the world’s refugee coverage is focused on Europe, the United States is grappling with its own refugee crisis at our Southern border, including over 140,000 unaccompanied minors that have arrived the past three years from the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. With over 64,000 active cases, the New York Immigration Court is our country’s largest, and approximately 19% of New York’s docket is juveniles.

Panel

Pictured above are our panelists, and Professor Benson holding Governor Cuomo’s proclamation declaring June 2016 Immigrant Heritage Month for the state of New York.

The first panel of speakers consisted of John Carter[1], a partner at Fragomen law firm, Danny Alicea, the Fragomen Fellow at the City Bar Justice Center, and one of Mr. Alicea’s clients “L”[2], a young woman from Honduras and recently granted asylum.

Panel 1

With Fragomen, one of the largest international immigration law firms, John Carter emphasized their commitment and increase in pro bono services, particularly for unrepresented children. Mr. Carter discussed the necessity of proper legal representation to realize access to justice.

As one of New York City’s leading asylum lawyers, Danny Alicea shined light on the legal obstacles for those seeking asylum, particularly the U.S. government’s prioritization of all recent arrivals for deportation. Additionally, lack of capacity at other organizations, lengthy forms, complex court procedures, and language barriers prove virtually insurmountable without proper legal representation for those seeking humanitarian protection.

L, remarks interpreted by Safe Passage Project Justice AmeriCorp fellow Juan Carlos Chiquillo, outlined her journey of travelling from her native Honduras to the United States at the age of 20 with her four month old son. Poignantly, L described her fear at traveling to the United States and her relief to finally see the American flag: she knew she could be safe here.

The second panel consisted of Jorge Montalvo, Deputy Secretary of State for New York, and Kavita Pawria-Sanchez, Assistant Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.

Panel 2.1

Jorge Montalvo discussed the New York state government’s role to protect and promote immigration. Particularly, Mr. Montalvo emphasized the regrowth of several upstate cities such as Buffalo and Syracuse due to refugee resettlement. Further, under Mr. Montalvo’s direction, the Secretary of State’s office has been able to open 27 Office for New Americans that help people with naturalization, DACA applications, and building businesses.

Assistant Commissioner Kavita Pawria-Sanchez reported on the expanded efforts of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs to integrate refugees and asylum seekers through city run programs that increase access to education, healthcare, and other city services. She explained that New York City serves as a model for other cities especially with the expanded outreach of ActionNYC and the municipal ID program.

The third panel consisted of Claire Thomas, the Director of Training at Safe Passage Project and an adjunct professor at New York Law School, and her client Guy[3], who was recently granted asylum.

Panel 3

Claire Thomas discussed her experience helping clients through the asylum process and some of the procedural hardships faced during the process. She illustrated that without the help of an attorney to secure basic rights, the promise of protection would be empty for her clients.

Guy, who grew up surrounded by extreme violence, movingly spoke of the difficult decisions to leave his country after repeated threats due to his work as a journalist and political dissident. Even as a journalist and a person with a university education, Guy found applying for asylum alone extremely challenging and any computer research he might have done before leaving his country of origin could have put him at further risk of persecution from his government.  Guy expressed gratitude to Ms. Thomas for helping him successfully secure asylum which, in the end, took nearly 3 years.

Professor Benson ended the program with an announcement of the release of a report, U.S. Protection of Immigrant Children: A system in Need of Improvement. Read more here.

To view the Panels, go here.

For more information please contact:

Lenni Benson

Professor of Law at New York Law School

Executive Director of Safe Passage Project

[email protected]

(917) 596-3523

(212) 431-2336 (office)

[1] Mr. Carter was named the Outstanding Pro Bono Partner by his colleagues for his continued work at the New York immigration court with the Safe Passage Project.

[2] Client biographical information has been withheld or changed for their protection.

[3] Client biographical information has been withheld or changed for their protection.

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