Safe Passage calls on DHS and ICE to Ensure Protections for Immigrant Survivors of Violence

Safe Passage Project has joined over 560 organizations to call on DHS and ICE to ensure that immigrant survivors of violence can access safety and protections.

The letter may be read in its entirety HERE.

Lenni Benson, Safe Passage Founder, Quoted in The New Yorker and City Limits

Safe Passage staff and affiliates have been incredibly busy providing educational and legal clarity to immigrant communities as new announcements continue to spark fear and uncertainty throughout the city.

Among those hard at work is Professor Lenni Benson, founder, who attended a February meeting of the Brooklyn community group Darfur People’s Association. Afterwards, Benson stayed to assist Sudanese attendees in better understanding their own unique immigration situations.

Her time speaking with attendees is quoted in the article Sudanese Refugees After the Ban from the 3/6/17 edition of The New Yorker and may be read in its entirety HERE.

Benson is also quoted a recent article in City Limits, where she discusses the relationship between New York City’s record of protecting immigrant data and the Trump administration’s insistence that it will sanction municipalities who refuse to cooperate with immigration officials.

“The importance of the details matter,” Benson says. “Until the federal government articulates rules and programs and specifics, I don’t think people should stay away from safe housing because they are afraid the city would have to turn over their records.”

The 2/24/17 article, Shelter System and Other NYC Services Should Be Safe For Migrants, Experts Say may be read on the City Limits website HERE.

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 with the NYC Bar Association: Central American Refugee Crisis

On January 26, 2017, Safe Passage Project took place in a pro bono fair following a program at the NYC Bar Association entitled “The Central American Refugee Crisis: Human Rights Challenges and needs in the United States and South of the U.S.-Mexico Border.” Director of Training, Claire R. Thomas, spoke on the panel, along with Luis Canales, a Honduran refugee who is now a law student at Villanova School of Law.

To view a recording of the event, please click HERE.

At one point in the evening, Thomas quoted Warsan Shire’s powerful and timely poem titled “Home.” Read that poem in its entirety HERE.

Panelists, Including Claire Thomas

Panelists, Including Claire R. Thomas

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.

Safe Passage Project Hosts ICARE Training on November 18

On November 18, 2016, Safe Passage Project hosted attorneys from the ICARE (Immigrant Children Advocates Relief Effort) coalition of non-profit organizations in New York City for a training on Immigration Court Practice. Safe Passage Project Attorneys Rex Chen, Alex Rizio, Stephanie Gibbs, Desiree Hernandez, and Claire R. Thomas participated.


SPP Staff Attorney Rex Chen


SPP Staff Attorney Stephanie Gibbs

Riverdale Country Day School Community Day 11/19/2016

On Saturday, November 19th, students and alumni of Riverdale Country School in the Bronx invited community-based organizations to share a day of service and giving. Attendees had a chance to do projects at various tables or to donate blood. Safe Passage Project clinic students Ann Pham and Melissa Salama as well as Cherish Pratt of the NYLS Office of Experiential and Clinical Learning joined Professor Benson at the event. The group brought stories and photographs of some of the youth Safe Passage Project assists. Community members donated Spanish language books and made bookmarks.

Participants at the Safe Passage Project tables also made friendship bracelets for newly-arrived immigrant children. When asked by a child why they were making bracelets for someone he didn’t know and why he couldn’t keep it, Cherish Pratt told him that is was “So they will know we are friendly and because they don’t have any bracelets or much of anything when they come here.”



Ann Pham, NYLS Clinical Student, learning how to make friendship bracelets.

“I absolutely loved this event and the idea behind it! This day was about giving and it was great to see so many adults and children engaged in the cause and willing to do what they can to give to those who don’t have all the things we take for granted every day. Despite it being a Saturday morning, the place was packed and everyone was enthusiastic to be there. From making friendships bracelets to donating books and everything in between, this event was a great way to allow even the youngest child a chance to help others!”

Melissa Salama


NYLS Clinical Student Melissa Salama making a friendship bracelet with one of the children.

Lenni and Claire Participate in UNICEF #ChildrenFirst Vigil

On Sunday, September 18th, Lenni and Claire participated in UNICEF’s #ChildrenFirst vigil outside the United Nations (UN) headquarters in Manhattan. During this candlelight vigil, advocates stood in solidarity with the 50 million children who are on the move worldwide and called on world leaders to put children first on the agenda during the UN’s summit on refugees and migrants.


Left to Right, Lisa Szarzkowski, Vice President of Humanitarian Emergencies and Executive Communications at U.S. Fund for UNICEF, alongside Professor Lenni Benson and Claire Thomas. Director of Training at Safe Passage Project

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IDNYC Celebrates a Year and a Half


IDNYC, a free photo ID card for ALL New Yorkers, is celebrating a year and a half of identification accessibility in New York City!

Any person who is a resident of the five buroughs may apply for and obtain an IDNYC for free, regardless of whether or not they may be homeless, youth, elderly, undocumented, formerly encarcerated, a victim of domestic violence, or transgender.

The card can be used to access all City buildings that serve the public as well as for interacting with the NYPD (a relief for people that were previously unable to obtain ID from the DMV and who relied on passports, cedulas, or simply went without identification.)

Additional IDNYC benefits include access to public libraries, free memberships to many cultural institutions, and discounts at grocery stores, movie theaters, animal shelters, and local YMCAs.

Card holders may add an emergency contact to the back of the card as well as note their primary language.

Click here to make an appointment at any site throughout the five boroughs!

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