Suffolk County Family Court Updates!

There are updates to Family Court procedures in Suffolk County, effective 01/31/2017:

1) Fingerprinting of household members is no longer a prerequisite to getting a first hearing date in Suffolk County Family Court! All cases will get calendared within 90 days of filing. Attorneys should still complete the OCFS household information, so that the court can run the necessary background checks. However, fingerprinting of household members will be at the discretion of the family court judge, on a case-by-case basis.

2) Again, Suffolk County Family Court “strongly recommends that attorneys file the OCFS with the guardianship petition. Failure to include a completed OCFS upon initial filing can cause delays and adjournments to allow for the OCFS results to come back. There is a risk that without the OCFS results, your case will be dismissed.

3) In considering whether to request fingerprinting, each judge will make determinations on a case-by-case basis, at their discretion, by considering the “totality of the circumstances.” Moreover, judges may also request home visits, which are now conducted through the probation department, but this is not a default requirement.

If you have questions, please contact your Safe Passage Project mentor attorney!

Safe Passage Project Dives into an Unprecedented Immigration Law Challenge

We are very proud and inspired by our colleagues Alex Rizio, Claire Thomas and Founder Lenni Benson for the roles they have played in response to the recent executive orders on immigration and refugees.

The following post appeared originally on New York Law School’s website. Click HERE to read it there. Since this posting, a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) has been issued against key components of the executive order and is currently making its way through the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Claire Officers

Claire R. Thomas speaking with officers at JFK January 28th.


It was late Friday, January 27 when their phones lit up with emails and calls. As New York Law School’s nationally recognized immigration law Professor Lenni Benson and Adjunct Professor Claire R. Thomas ’11, who lead the School’s immigration law courses, sifted through urgent notifications, they learned that dozens—possibly hundreds—of international travelers were in detention and facing deportation at JFK International Airport and other airports throughout the country. News of President Donald Trump’s Executive Order halting immigration from seven countries—Libya, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, and Somalia—was rapidly spreading through New York City’s network of immigration lawyers.

Across campus, Professor Deborah N. Archer, who co-directs the School’s Impact Center for Public Interest Law, teaches its Civil Rights Clinic, and leads its Racial Justice Project, began hearing from students who were eager to help. There was barely any time to plan as the names of affected families began to trickle into Professor Archer’s Facebook and email inboxes.

NYLS has long been active in legal advocacy and representation involving the nation’s most pressing immigration law issues, which often affect New York City. This time was no different, except for the glare of international media.

By Saturday, the situation intensified. Travelers from the seven countries whose flights had been in transit when the Executive Order was signed continued to arrive at JFK Airport. Thomas threw her phone charger and a hard copy of the Immigration and Nationality Act into her bag and hopped onto the A train, bound for the airport. The Air Train was eerily devoid of travelers with luggage; instead, Thomas found herself surrounded by sign-carrying protesters. She kept Professor Benson on speed-dial.

Soon after she entered JFK Airport’s Terminal One, Thomas began fielding questions from Yemeni and Iranian families anxiously awaiting news about relatives detained after landing. She connected with representatives from the New York City Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Affairs and shared immigration law knowledge with volunteer attorneys drafting habeas petitions on behalf of those detained. Soon after, Professor Vicki Eastus and Justin Meeks 4L Evening, who are also part of the Impact Center, arrived and set to work answering family members’ questions and connecting them with attorneys. Professor Benson fielded calls all day and throughout the following night, sleeping with her cell phone under her pillow.

Meanwhile, from points throughout the city, Professor Archer and her students were relaying the names and contact information of affected families to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is representing many of the detainees. The group was also working closely with detainees’ relatives, including a man whose wife was refused entry to the U.S. and sent back to Qatar, where she had been visiting family. Throughout, Professor Archer and her students kept in close touch with Thomas and others at JFK Airport, performing research and rapidly proofing habeas petitions remotely.

That night, when a federal judge from the Eastern District of New York issued an order halting some portions of the Executive Order, the NYLS team scanned the first copy they could get—a photograph of the decision posted to Twitter.

Six habeas petitions and countless legal questions later, Thomas left the airport. It was around 2 a.m. on Sunday. Shortly after, she learned that one of the detainees she’d worked with, a green card holder from Iran, had finally been released. After a brief respite, the NYLS team was back at work drafting petitions and making referrals. The pace of work is unlikely to slow: news reports reveal that more than 100,000 visas have been revoked since the Executive Order was issued. ~

Safe Passage Wins 5 Year Legal Battle on Behalf of Teenage Boy

Daniel Pulla Pilco Photo 4Earlier this month, Safe Passage won Legal Permanent Residence for a young client after over 5 years of hard work in three different New York Courts. Safe Passage met Danilo in 2012, when he was just 14 years old.  Danilo’s family could not support him adequately and protect his best interest in his home country. He made the perilous journey on foot to the United States in search of safety, support, educational opportunity, and his mother.

Safe Passage went to Family Court, Immigration Court, and appeared before USCIS on behalf of Danilo in helping advocate for Danilo and his stable future in the United States. Thanks to the support of Safe Passage, Danilo has also successfully enrolled in school and is loving being a new New Yorker.

At his case closing meeting earlier this week at New York Law School, Danilo thanked his Legal Team of Jordan Harlow, Gui Stampur, Rex Chen, Stephanie Gibbs, Nillie Pajoohi, Carlos Valenzuela, Lenni Benson, Desiree Hernandez and Claire Thomas.

Thank you UNICEF

image2Safe Passage stands with refugee children and will continue to advocate for all of our Safe Passage clients. The Safe Passage team is grateful to UNICEF for sharing these wonderful peace bracelets. Our team will wear them with pride.

Attorney of the Week


Safe Passage is excited to announce that this week’s Attorney of the Week is Sam Koch. And special thank you to Ruthie Abel for her photography of Sam.

It was Sam’s passion for working with children that brought him to Safe Passage—prior to law school Sam taught at an elementary school in Harlem. And in his own words, when it comes to working with kids, “there’s nothing more rewarding”.

When Sam started his pro bono work with us, he had never worked on immigration law before, but now he lists this experience among the most rewarding of his legal career. Entering this process, the recognition of how important his contributions would be to his client’s immigration status made him nervous. However, reflecting on his experience he explained, “the staff at Safe Passage put my fears to rest…Because of their help, [I] felt confident in my ability to advocate for my client, and [I] felt prepared for each court appearance.”

Sam considers this experience a prime example of lawyers’ unique ability to empower others. Looking back, Sam considers that even for him—after having gone to law school, passing the bar, clerking for a judge, and working for a law firm that provides great training—there are rules and procedures underlying our judicial system that he still has difficulty navigating. In his words, he “can’t imagine how scary it would be to try to navigate all that as a non-lawyer or without representation, let alone for a child that just arrived in this country.”

And now, with this experience under his belt, Sam is looking forward to giving back more. He describes his new knowledge of the SIJS process and recognition of his abilities to navigate these legal systems as motivation to keep serving. And after seeing how overloaded Safe Passage’s docket is, how many children out there need help from qualified attorneys, and having such a wonderful experience with his client and her family, he wants to make sure he’s putting his qualifications to good use.

Coming out of this process Sam has something he wants to share with other lawyers thinking of doing pro bono work with Safe Passage: “Don’t worry if, like me, you have no previous experience with immigration law. Safe Passage is there for you! The staff is patient and responsive; they’ll answer all your questions and do whatever it takes to make sure you feel prepared to advocate effectively for your client.”

Thank you Sam, for your hard work and dedication—we look forward to working more with you in the future!

Safe Passage Project hosted by Wilson Elser for NJ Training


Safe Passage Project attorneys Stephanie Gibbs and Rex Chen were honored to give a legal training about protecting immigrant children on Tuesday, October 25, 2016 at the Chubb offices in Whitehouse Station, NJ. Joe Francoeur, a partner at Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP, helped organize handouts and materials along with giving moving introductory comments. They gave a compelling description of the causes for the Central American refugee crisis along with the crisis in immigration court. They then focused on two major ways to protect children — Special Immigrant Juvenile Status and Asylum.

The 16 attorneys who attended asked very thoughtful questions and were surprised by how difficult it can be to obtain legal protections.  Stephanie and Rex enjoyed the training facilities, the food provided, and how interested the audience was.

 Special thanks to Joe Francouer for his help with preparing the presentation and also to all the audience members who then signed up to volunteer in immigration court later that week!

Safe Passage Success Story

Safe Passage succeeded in helping two brave children obtain Legal Permanent Resident status in the United States. Safe Passage helped their aunt become their legal guardian and J and F file for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. One week ago, the kids received their Green Cards.

Safe Passage has helped ensure J and F will now have a safe and stable future. J told Safe Passage that he, “either wants to become a lawyer or a professional soccer player, and his sister wants to become a doctor.” Both kids said that they promise to continue to make Safe Passage proud and offered their legal team an open invitation to attend their respective college graduations, which will take place in 2019 and 2020.

J an F’s legal team consisted of Safe Passage Pro Bono attorney, Kevin Page, Director of Legal Sevices, Gui Stampur, IJC Fellow, Carlos Valenzuela, and Equal Justive Works Fellow, Lauren Blodgett.


Lenni Benson wins RCS Jolli Humanitarian Award in Recognition of Work with Safe Passage


This year Professor Lenni Benson has been chosen for the Jolli Humanitarian Award at Riverdale Country School. Each year students at Riverdale Country School write essays to nominate someone the students believe deserve to be recognized for outstanding humanitarian work. Past winners have included: Frank Mugisha an activist whose work focuses on Uganda, Pernille Ironside, a child advocate for UNICEF who has worked in war zones around the world; Rachel Lloyd, an anti-human trafficking advocate; Geoffrey Canada, the former leader of the Harlem Children’s Zone; and Leymah Gbowee, the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner and leader of a women’s peace movement.

Professor Benson was nominated, and won, for her work recruiting, training and mentor attorneys to represent unaccompanied children in removal proceedings. She began the Safe Passage Project as a pro bono project which is currently housed at New York Law School. She was nominated by current Riverdale student, Erin Cooper. Lenni’s passion for helping people is not only obvious but it is also contagious. Lenni’s energy is contagious. From the minute she walks into the room, things move forward. You can tell in Erin’s moving nomination essay that she was also affected by Professor Benson’s ability to motivate people.  Today the Safe Passage Project has grown to have full time staff attorneys, legal fellows, social workers and a large group of law students working together to assist the over 400 actively involved pro bono attorneys.

Professor Benson is pleased that at the Jolli Award assembly on November 1, she will be joined by Gui Stampur, the Safe Passage Director of Legal Services, who is also an alumnus of Riverdale Class of 2000,  several other Riverdale graduates, who have interned at Safe Passage, and a former Safe Passage client.

In addition, on October 30, Riverdale’s Middle School will also host its 4th field day at RCS, where the clients of Safe Passage Project can enjoy a day playing soccer on the Riverdale Campus alongside RCS students.

***Website Post Written by Holly Hickman, NYLS Class of 2019 and Former Safe Passage Summer Intern


Attorney of the Week


The Safe Passage Project is proud to announce that Harry Shulman is this week’s Attorney of the Week. Harry has been volunteering with Safe Passage for over six years and has assisted us in many different ways. From representing clients in asylum and SIJS cases to conducting client intakes at immigration court, Harry has contributed greatly to Safe Passage’s mission of providing quality representation to children facing deportation.

Harry is an active member of the immigration law network here in New York City, demonstrated in particular through his involvement with the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). In addition to volunteering with AILA and attending many of their events, Harry was the co-chair of AILA’s pro bono committee in 2013 with Kristy Dalling. Harry has had a fascinating career path with many interesting experiences that have led him to continue pursuing volunteer work in this field. After graduating from Tulane University in New Orleans, Harry worked in New York City trading commodities for a decade before attending law school. He received his J.D. from Cardozo Law School in 1993.

Harry’s interest in immigration law was sparked during law school when he took a course on immigration taught by the distinguished immigration lawyer Leon Wildes, who represented John Lennon and Yoko Ono in their deportation proceedings in the 1970s. During law school, Harry participated in an immigration clinic at Catholic Charities, where he learned firsthand about asylum law and was and continues to be inspired by immigration attorney Mark Von Sternberg and all the other dedicated and self-sacrificing attorneys and staff who work in this area of the law.

Over the past 15 years, Harry has dedicated much of his time to advocating for the rights of immigrants. Harry has represented immigrants on a pro bono basis in partnership with AILA, KIND (Kids in Need of Defense), and Safe Passage. From representing a Chinese man who was persecuted due to his involvement in the Falun Gong community, to assisting with intakes of detained immigrants at the Varick Street Detention Center, Harry has a wide range of experience in this field. For Harry, one of the biggest rewards he receives from this work is the connection he makes with the clients. In particular, Harry remembers one of his clients calling him non-stop on September 11th to make sure that he was safe after the World Trade Center was attacked. This touching, close human connection is what inspires Harry continue to volunteer his time and assist these clients.

Harry also really enjoys staying in touch with clients and seeing what their lives are like after their cases have been resolved. For Harry, it is such a great feeling to see his clients living successful, happy, lives. Even for clients who continue to have difficult lives, Harry appreciates that he could contribute to taking at least one burden – having to worry about their immigration status – off of their shoulders.

In reflecting on his relationship with Safe Passage, Harry stated “I really appreciate the support that Safe Passage has given me throughout the entire process. The people at Safe Passage not only helped me with a lot of the heavy lifting, but also just genuinely cared about the case and the client we were helping.” Harry has found the cases he worked on with Safe Passage to be very interesting and complicated, often with lots of surprises and lessons along the way. Despite the complexities of this field of law and the cases, Harry says that it is an extremely cooperative environment and that everyone he has met through this work has been so helpful and genuine. He stated, “I feel so lucky to be in a position to help the Safe Passage Project.” We at the Safe Passage Project feel lucky to have Harry on our team! Thank you, Harry, for all of the time, effort, and energy that you contribute to enriching the lives of the Safe Passage clients and team!

Attorney of the Week

The Safe Passage Project is proud to feature Sofia Dee as this week’s Attorney of the Week in recognition of the recent victory in her client’s asylum case and Sofia’s continuous efforts towards achieving the Safe Passage mission of creating a safe and stable life for immigrant children.


Over the past five years, Sofia has worked tirelessly to assist Miguel,* a 21-year-old male from Guatemala, with his claim for asylum. Since Sofia first took on the case in 2011, the government has presented an uphill battle at every stage of the process. Although it has been a challenging experience, the immigration judge finally granted relief this past Tuesday – making every hour and year devoted to the case worth it for Sofia. With this grant of asylum, Miguel’s future is bright: he will be able to find more stable work, re-enroll in school, and eventually pursue citizenship and bring his parents to the United States. Reflecting on this experience, Sofia stated, “Miguel is a great kid and deserves to be happy and safe. I am glad I could be a part of the team that made it possible.”

In addition to Miguel’s case, Sofia has worked extensively with Safe Passage over the years by conducting numerous client intakes at the surge dockets in immigration court as well as assisting another Safe Passage client with her asylum case. Sofia is drawn to this work because she enjoys giving back to the immigrant community and helping immigrants navigate the complex and confusing immigration system. Sofia, a New York Law School graduate, also has a strong relationship with the staff of the Safe Passage Project. Sofia stated, “Lenni Benson was my mentor in law school and is really the reason why I chose to enter this field.” Sofia, now an experienced immigration attorney herself, followed Ms. Benson’s example and has helped mentor Ms. Benson’s students. Sofia explained: “I think it is essential to help this next generation of young lawyers and expose them to as much real world experience as possible.”

Sofia is an Associate Attorney at the Law Offices of Harold Dee, where she specializes in immigration and visa law. After graduating from Fordham University, Sofia received her law degree from New York Law School in 2008. While in law school, Sofia gained experience in immigration law through interning at non-profit organizations, where she helped low-income individuals file VAWA and asylum applications. Sofia also has experience interning with business immigration firms and has assisted clients with various types of employment-based visas. As a Senior Litigation Associate at Yerman & Associates, Sofia represented over 500 clients before USCIS and the immigration courts, with a focus on asylum and Cancellation of Removal cases. Sofia’s legal background demonstrates both her expertise in this field and passion for assisting immigrants throughout the United States.

Safe Passage is so grateful for the incredible work and dedication that Sofia has provided our clients with over the years and we look forward to continuing to have Sofia as part of the Safe Passage family in the future.


* Name has been changed to protect the client’s privacy.

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