Lisa Mendel is an attorney with Meyers & Meyers, LLP in Albany. As a volunteer attorney with Safe Passage, as well as in her own practice, Lisa and her firm have been able to improve the lives of unaccompanied children by successfully representing them in Family Court, the Asylum Office, Immigration Court, and before United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
In 2014-2015, Ms. Mendel partnered with Safe Passage on two cases. In her very first unaccompanied child asylum case, she won asylum for her young client, who fled his home country leaving behind his family and everything he knew. Ms. Mendel’s tireless advocacy, diligence and creative lawyering helped her win this case, and Ms. Mendel is extremely grateful to Safe Passage Executive Director Lenni Benson, with helping walk her through the process and specifically, pointing
to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services policy memos to help ensure her client would have the right to have his case adjudicated by USCIS due to his unaccompanied child status, rather than being forced to present his claim in an adversarial removal hearing before the IJ.
At times Immigration Court proved challenging, but Lisa was able to successfully help her client navigate it. Initially, the court did not want to let her client proceed as an Unaccompanied Alien Child (UAC) in immigration court, but Ms. Mendel provided proof to the Immigration Judge that her client filed an application with the USCIS for asylum and was also in the process of pursuing Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). Despite this, the IJ still refused to relinquish
jurisdiction and decided instead to set the case for a merits hearing on the asylum case. Thereafter, a trial attorney (TA) who recognized that Ms. Mendel had been correct in claiming that the USCIS has jurisdiction to hear UAC claims, decided to contact the asylum office to seek an asylum interview for Lisa’s client prior to the date of the merits hearing.
Subsequently, Ms. Mendel filed a motion for administrative closure with the IJ and a complaint on the jurisdictional issue with the Chief Immigration Judge (CIJ). As a result, the CIJ intervened and soon the IJ granted the motion. Her client was then interviewed by the asylum office and was subsequently granted asylum. In addition to helping her client win asylum, Ms. Mendel was able to help her client win a successful guardianship case in Albany Family Court. Now he has someone to protect his best interest and make sure he is safe and secure. Following her work in family court, Ms. Mendel was approved to be on the Albany County Family Court Panel for Attorneys for Children. Ms. Mendel has expressed to us that she is
thrilled to be in this position now and eager to learn of other unaccompanied children in the area that need pro bono representation in asylum or SIJS cases.
In April, Ms. Mendel took on a pro bono case with Safe Passage and is representing a young client who fled gang violence in Guatemala. In this instance, the child’s parents were unable to protect the child from gang threats and violence and the child’s life was in imminent danger in Guatemala.
After consulting with the Safe Passage staff, Lisa formulated an argument that due to the extent of the gangs’ power and control in Guatemala, and the inability of the government to protect children from them, Guatemalan children are eligible for asylum as members of a particular social group who lack effective protection. This basis for asylum is somewhat similar to women who cannot obtain protection from abusive domestic partners. Her argument follows the reasoning and logic of Matter of A-R-C-G.
Safe Passage is incredibly grateful to Lisa for her tireless effort, advocacy, and support of her clients. Lisa praised Safe Passage’s mentoring efforts and expertise, and specifically found the Safe Passage SIJS step-by-step guide to be extremely valuable in representing her clients effectively. For Lisa, “the materials were tremendous” and a big help to her in her first family court SIJS case. “I am really enjoying working on these cases, and am so grateful to be able to work with Safe Passage.” We are delighted to hear of Lisa’s success and hope to continue the partnership for many years to come.