Lenni on NPR’s All Things Considered


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.


Lenni Benson, Professor of Law and Executive Director of Safe Passage Project, testifies in front of New York City Council

L Benson at NYC City Council l 6.27.2016

On June 27, 2016, Lenni Benson, professor of law at New York Law School and Executive Director of the Safe Passage Project, testified in front of the New York City Council in support of two pending resolutions:  Resolution 1105, seeking to support the admission of Syrian refugees, and Resolution 1097, seeking Congressional improvements to the “U Visa Status.”

Please click HERE for complete Press Release

Please click HERE for the Testimony on Resolutions for greater admissions of refugees

Welcome to “Baby Jail”: Women Seeking Asylum in the United States

“Am I in prison?” This question was posed to me by a woman incarcerated at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, also known as “Baby Jail.” “When I heard we were going to a family residential center,” she said, “I thought maybe this was a place where they help families. But it is a prison, isn’t it?”

Photo credit: Robin Taylon

Photo credit: Robin Taylon


Please click HERE for complete article by Michelle Castaneda

United States: The Other Refugee Crisis

Every day, there are stories in the news of people fleeing war, violence, famine, persecution, and other horrors in their home countries to find safety and basic dignity in distant foreign lands. But absent from the current media are the accounts of the “other refugee crisis,” one that is happening much closer to the United States.

Photo credit: CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project

Photo credit: CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project


Please click HERE for complete article by Claire R. Thomas


Learning to Walk Behind Bars: The Treatment of Accompanied Children in Detention

The Treatment of Accompanied Children in Detention

Learning to walk behind bars

South Texas Family Residential Center, Dilley, Texas. Photo courtesy Claire R. Thomas

Over the past 30 years, immigration detention in the United States has expanded significantly.  In 1994, there were less than 7,000 individuals detained every day in immigration detention facilities, by 2012, over 34,000 persons were detained on a daily basis.

Please click HERE for complete article.

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



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.


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.


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.

Fragomen, Del Rey and Safe Passage at Immigration Court

This past week, a team of Fragomen, Del Rey LLP attorneys assisted Safe Passage at Immigration Court to provide free legal assistance to over 20 children. Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy LLP is a New York City-based International Law firm established in 1951 and specializes in providing a range of immigration law services to corporate and individual clients, and is widely recognized as the world’s leading immigration law firm.Fragomen at immigration court

Safe Passage is so grateful to Fragomen for its continued support and to the six attorneys who graciously volunteered their time to assist our children in need.

Senior Staff Attorney Alexandra Rizio presents on Safe Passage’s work at the Northeast People of Color Legal Scholarship Conference

Senior Staff Attorney AR

From left: Professor José Luis Morín; Professor Jodie G. Roure; Professor Isabel Martínez; Senior Staff Attorney Alexandra Rizio

On May 20, 2016, Senior Staff Attorney Alexandra Rizio presented at the 2016 Northeast People of Color Legal Scholarship Conference, held at Touro Law Center. This year’s conference theme was “Confronting the Violence of our Times: the Role of the Legal Academy.” The audience was comprised mainly of law professors devoted to social justice.

Alex sat on a panel titled “Immigration Rights and Wrongs: Reversing the Deleterious Effects of Current Immigration Policies.” Her presentation, “Challenges of Representing Unaccompanied Immigrant Youth in New York City,” discussed the causes of increased child migration from Central America to the United States, and their treatment upon arrival in the United States. She then described Safe Passage Project’s innovative strategies to provide these children with legal representation, and how a community of advocates in New York City, helmed by Safe Passage, is working to ensure that all children have a chance to have their claims heard in a court of law.

Her fellow panelists included Professor José Luis Morín and Professor Isabel Martínez of John Jay College. Professor Martínez’s presentation, “When Latina/o College Students become Legal Advocates” was a case study of the Unaccompanied Latin American Minors Project (U-LAMP), a program co-run by Safe Passage and the City University of New York. “ULAMP” student interns provide social service, translation and paralegal support to Safe Passage clients and staff.

Professor Morín’s talk, “Hate, Violence, and the Construction of a Latina/o Criminal Identity Past and Present” placed the current surge in anti-Latina/o immigrant sentiment in a historical and legal context.

NYLS Clinical and Experiential Learning Newsletter features two stories about students and Safe Passage

newyorklaw-logo1Students in Action: Standing Up for Immigrant Kids & NYLS Safe Passage Students participate in the Pro Bono Scholars Program
The Safe Passage Project is thrilled to have both Carlos A. Valenzuela and Robert Drolet serving as Pro Bono Scholars as both have been actively involved with the Project since they began New York Law School. Article Here.


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