By Claire R. Thomas
Since September 2014, Safe Passage Project has had the pleasure of working in conjunction with the Unaccompanied Latin American Minors Project (“U-LAMP”), a CUNY Service Corps program spearheaded by Professor Isabel Martinez of John Jay College.
Members of the U-LAMP team, or “U-LAMPers,” are all Spanish-speaking CUNY undergraduate students who serve as a social support system for our Safe Passage clients. U-LAMPers accompany Safe Passage staff, volunteer attorneys, and New York Law School students to our monthly Juvenile Dockets at the New York Immigration Court. At Immigration Court, U-LAMPers provide Spanish-language interpretation for volunteer attorneys conducting intake interviews of young people who are first appearing on the Immigration Court’s docket. After the court appearances, U-LAMPers are assigned to particular Safe Passage clients. U-LAMPers make weekly follow-up phone calls to these young people in order to answer any questions that they might have about what happened in Immigration Court or about adjusting to life in the United States.
Professor Martinez and the U-LAMPers shared memoranda summarizing conversations with me, so that we might better assess the role of the U-LAMP team. Reviewing two months’ worth of summaries of conversations between U-LAMPers and our young Safe Passage clients allowed me not only to get to know the young people we serve, but also to experience the difference that U-LAMPer support makes in the life of a teenager new to the United States.
U-LAMPers informed me that many of our young Safe Passage clients are a bit shy at first. Because the young people do not always have their own phones, U-LAMPers often speak with an adult caretaker first before the phone is passed to the young person. The adults pose their own questions at the U-LAMPers, mainly inquiring as to whether there has been progress in finding lawyer. As the U-LAMPers begin to develop a relationship with the young people through phone and text message conversations, their personalities start to shine through. U-LAMPers have been invaluable at providing encouragement for young people who are resuming their studies after educational interruptions and at finding non-traditional learning centers for young people who are not able to attend traditional high school. I learned all about one of our Safe Passage client’s pet dogs; that another client was tickled pink with happiness at celebrating her birthday in early November with her mother and younger siblings after being apart from them for a decade; and that most of our Safe Passage clients are excited to have another young person calling on a regular basis who is concerned about their well-being. Further, U-LAMPers have also been quick to inform me when issues arise, such as those which require a lawyer’s or a social worker’s advice and expertise.
One of my roles at Safe Passage is to mentor pro bono attorneys through their young client’s cases. I am delighted to report that our pro bono attorneys have been thrilled when I inform them that their Safe Passage clients have a U-LAMPer assigned to the case. When the young client requests, pro bono attorneys have welcomed the U-LAMPer to attend client meetings and have even ordered extra pizza at longer sessions.
At Safe Passage, we are truly grateful for the support of Professor Martinez and the U-LAMPers who are working so hard to make a difference in the lives of our Safe Passage kids.