Safe Passage Project Press Release in Response to Immigration Policy Memos



New York, NY – February 21, 2017 – Safe Passage Project is concerned that two policy memoranda dated February 20, 2017 and signed by John Kelly, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), will put unaccompanied children from Central America and other countries at risk of serious harm and will prevent children from obtaining immigration relief they qualify for.

The memoranda would, for certain children, eliminate protections under the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, and would subject children to the horrors of expedited removal. The memorandum entitled “Implementing the President’s Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements Policies” (the “border security memo”) suggests that the government may seek to remove the designation “unaccompanied alien child” from children who have parents or legal guardians in the United States, even if they are in fact unaccompanied at the time they cross the border and face DHS officials.

Imagine an 8-year-old who crosses our borders seeking protection. Unless she is able to convince a Department of Homeland Security officer that she has a fear of returning to her home country or intends to apply for asylum, she will be removed from the U.S. on an expedited basis. She will not have the opportunity to talk to a lawyer or see a judge; she will simply be sent back. This is an unjust process that should never be employed against a vulnerable child, and yet the memoranda propose doing just that.

The border security memo also provides that DHS may direct enforcement resources toward the parents of children who made the dangerous journey to the United States to flee violence and persecution in their countries of origin. Specifically, the memo seeks to initiate removal or even criminal proceedings against parents that have directly or indirectly assisted their children to enter the U.S.

While these provisions purport to “protect alien children from exploitation and prevent abuses of our immigration laws,” we are concerned that these policy changes will have the detrimental effect of discouraging parents from claiming their children who arrive at our borders seeking protection from violence and other abuses. It may discourage the reunification of a child with a parent or legal guardian in the United States who is available to provide adequate care. By keeping parents away from children, these policies may deprive children of caretakers who would be best positioned to care for and assist them in the preparation of their legal claims. It may also result in an increased number of unaccompanied children who are forced to remain in detention indefinitely.

Implementation of the two new policy memoranda needlessly puts vulnerable unaccompanied children and their families at risk. Parts of the memoranda purport to be aimed at the elimination of child trafficking, but in fact, the result will be increased fear and child exploitation.


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 Project Opposes the Nomination of Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General

Safe Passage Project has joined dozens of other New York organizations in a letter to Senators Gillibrand and Schumer to oppose the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General of the United States. Sessions’ confirmation vote has been pushed back to Tuesday, January 31st. The full text of the letter may be read below.

Dear Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand:

The undersigned New York-based organizations urge you to vigorously resist the appointment of Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) as Attorney General of the United States. We hope you will consider using any and all methods available to you to prevent Senator Sessions from being confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Much of New York’s vitality and prosperity is owed to the more than four million immigrants who call our State home. Together they account for a fifth of the State’s population and a quarter of its economic output. As organizations that serve New York immigrant and refugee communities, we are very disturbed by the prospect of Sen. Sessions leading the Department of Justice.

The Attorney General is the single most powerful figure responsible for this country’s immigration laws. In addition to being in charge of the nation’s immigration courts, the Attorney General is empowered to create new regulations, require particular forms of bonds or other documentation, issue new instructions, review past administrative determinations in immigration proceedings (including Board of Immigration Appeals’ decisions), amid a whole host of other duties. Sen. Sessions’ record on immigration and his affiliations with anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim organizations prove he is too extreme to be this country’s top lawyer and law enforcement officer.


Sessions has proven himself to be the most dangerous ally of the anti-immigrant movement in Congress since his election in 1996. He has received awards from the anti-immigrant hate group FAIR and has invited members of anti-immigrant organizations to testify at numerous Congressional hearings.

During his twenty-year tenure in the U.S. Senate, Sessions has consistently opposed any efforts to reform the country’s immigration laws, referring to the bipartisan 2007 bill as “terrorist assistance.” He has long been a champion for draconian immigration enforcement laws (self-deportation) that break families apart. He has railed against the DREAM Act (and DACA) and has been a fierce proponent of stripping citizenship from children born in this country to undocumented parents. Sessions has also advocated for greatly reducing legal immigration limits citing “cultural” concerns: “The numbers cannot be too great or it takes jobs from Americans and can, in fact, create cultural problems that wouldn’t occur if it was a little slower.”


Sessions has a disturbing relationship with anti-Muslim extremists and organizations. He has received numerous awards from the anti-Muslim David Horowitz Freedom Center and the Center for Security Policy, both of which promote vicious conspiracy theories and animosity towards American Muslims. Sessions has not shied away from blaming an entire religion for the actions of few, “We need to use common sense with the who-what-where of the threat. It is the toxic ideology of Islam.”

The United States Attorney General has immense power over the lives of immigrants and refugees–Sen. Jeff Sessions’ has demonstrated through his voting record, associations with extremist organizations and his public statements that he is not the person for the job.

In addition to his views and actions impacting immigrants and Muslims, Sen. Sessions has a deeply disturbing track record on women’s rights, racial justice, voting rights, gun reform, criminal justice, LGBTQ rights, environmental justice and the rights of people with disabilities.

By any measure, Sen. Sessions is grossly unqualified to be the nation’s top law enforcement office. We urge you to publicly and loudly oppose his nomination to be Attorney General.

Safe Passage Project Joins 850+ Organizations in Affirming the Value of DACA

Safe Passage Project has joined over 850 other immigrants rights organizations nationwide in a letter sent to President Trump prior to his inauguration.

The letter details the impact and importance of the DACA program and urges the President to preserve the program for the benefit of the economy, the public, and national security. It also mentions DACA’s importance in light of the BRIDGE Act proposed by Senators Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-IL).

This is one of many ways Safe Passage Project is working to ensure the rights of immigrants under the new administration.

The original letter may be read at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center’s website HERE.

Shout-out to ICARE in Times editorial

On December 18, 2016 The New York Times published an editorial, “Proud to Be a Sanctuary City” that cites a “groundbreaking City Council program”. We know this program as ICARE and we are proud to be part of this program and be responsible for some of the 1,265 cases mentioned in this piece.

For the full article visit The New York Times Editorials, or here.

Letter to City Council Speaker signed by Safe Passage receives press attention

In an article published on December 7, 2016, “‘Broken windows’ policing could hand city’s immigrants over to Trump, lawyers say” Crain’s examines speculation of what life for immigrants might be like under Trump. In particular, Crain’s focuses on how the city will behave as a “sanctuary-city” and how low-level arrests might mean deportation.

The article contains the joint letter to Speaker Mark-Viverito signed by Rich Leimsider, Executive Director, on behalf of Safe Passage along with leaders from Brooklyn Defender Services, The Legal Aid Society, The Bronx Defenders, Central American Legal Assistance, The Door and Catholic Charities Community Services, who together write to say “The NYPD’s high-arrest policies thus effectively provide the federal government with ready-made lists of thousands of immigrant New Yorkers whose humanity, family and community ties, and even lawful residency, can be undermined simply because they bear the label of ‘criminal’ for the most paltry alleged offenses.”

Read the article and our letter in its entirety on Crain’s, or here.

Safe Passage honored on Jezebel, Medium & RageDonate

As an early holiday present, Safe Passage received shout outs from several different websites. Check them out here:

Jezebel with “10 More Causes That Deserve Your Time and Money on Giving Tuesday” and “A List of Pro-Women, Pro-Immigrant, Pro-Earth, Anti-Bigotry Organizations That Need Your Support“.

Medium with “A Christmas Gift List for ‘Woke’ Santas and Maybe Even You

And on RageDonate

We’re very excited and humbled to receive this attention, so thank you to Jezebel, Medium and RageDonate. Check them out and join us in celebrating the buzz.

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.

Safe Passage Project Names Rich Leimsider as New Executive Director

Press Release

Safe Passage Project Names Rich Leimsider as New Executive DirectorLeimsider.Headshot

Safe Passage Project, a not-for-profit created to address the unmet legal needs of indigent immigrant youth living in New York, announced today that Rich Leimsider, a leader in the social sector, joined the organization as Executive Director effective August 8th, 2016.

Founded by New York Law School Professor Lenni Benson in 2006, Safe Passage Project assists unaccompanied minors in immigration proceedings by providing them with basic legal advice and assistance. In response to the extraordinary number of unaccompanied children seeking protection within the United States and the over 15,000 cases in the New York Immigration Court, in 2013 Safe Passage expanded beyond a law school clinic to become an independent nonprofit organization hosted by New York Law School.  Today, Safe Passage serves 550+ clients with nine staff attorneys and 400+ active pro bono attorneys.  Professor Benson will continue to play a major role with the organization as both a Board Director and in a new role as Senior Advisor to Safe Passage Project on issues of Policy and Law.

Rich Leimsider is a proven social sector leader, having spent the last 15 years building systems, managing teams, and raising money at the intersection of innovation and social impact. As an independent consultant to nonprofits and foundations, he advised on strategy, board governance, and fundraising with a focus on youth-serving and criminal justice organizations. As Vice President of Fellowship Programs at Echoing Green he helped to significantly increase the scale of the flagship programs from 15 to 50 fellowships per year, led on $15MM in philanthropic funding, and launched new programs on climate change, education reform, and black male achievement.

Pam Foster, Safe Passage Project Board Chair and Managing Director at the Rockefeller Foundation, said “I am delighted to announce that Rich Leimsider has accepted our offer to become Safe Passage Project’s next Executive Director. Rich brings considerable leadership, management, strategy and fundraising skills, and a growing passion for the mission. Rich will be a wonderful new leader for Safe Passage Project and a great colleague to the Board and to the staff.”

Professor Benson noted “I am so pleased that Rich is joining our outstanding staff in building Safe Passage Project. His expertise in working with start-up nonprofits and social justice enterprise organizations will be of tremendous value as we continue to grow and work to serve immigrant children. I look forward to working with Rich and will continue to be engaged.”

“The work of Safe Passage Project to defend immigrant children at risk is more important today than ever before,” said Mr. Leimsider.  “I’m honored to have the opportunity to work alongside such incredible people and to have the chance to contribute to this mission.  I’m grateful to Lenni for building this organization, and for the fact that Lenni and the law school students will continue to be part of our service and research mission.

About Safe Passage Project

Safe Passage Project is a not-for-profit corporation created to address the unmet legal needs of indigent immigrant youth living in New York.  Safe Passage Project is currently assisting over 550 youth in removal (deportation) proceedings in the New York area. Safe Passage Project is housed within, and receives significant support from, New York Law School.  Other key support comes from the Robin Hood Foundation, the City of New York, Justice AmeriCorps, the Zegar Family Foundation, the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island, the Lambert Family Fund,  the Keith Haring Foundation, Jadeja and Cimone, and the Practising Law Institute. 

For more information about Safe Passage Project, call 212-324-6558, or visit


Megan Eiss-Proctor, Associate Director, Operations and Development [email protected] (917) 257-1058

Gui Stampur, Director of Legal Services, in NY Times

Director of Legal Services, Gui Stampur, quoted in today’s NY Times article by Liz Robbins entitled, “A Paradoxical Position on Youths Fleeing Violence”

To read Mr. Stampur’s statement and the entire article, please click the link below:





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