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.


Support Safe Passage Project on #GivingTuesday


On this #GivingTuesday, will you consider standing up for the rights of immigrant children by giving as generously as you can to Safe Passage Project?

For siblings and Safe Passage clients Javier and Gabriela*, 10 and 13 years old, this holiday season is bittersweet. They fled violence and death threats in their native El Salvador and made the perilous journey, often on foot, to the United States. When they arrived at our border they formally turned themselves in and sought refuge. Our government placed them in deportation proceedings.

We met Javier and Gabriela when they arrived at immigration court on their own, without a lawyer to represent them. Safe Passage was able to connect the children to pro bono attorneys who have been trained and mentored by our expert staff. Javier and Gabriela have been released to the care of relatives in the Bronx and are currently attending school while their attorneys work on their case.

Without a well-prepared lawyer who understands our complex system, it is extremely unlikely that these children would even be able to complete the asylum application. The law is horribly complex. Recent data indicate that an immigrant child without a lawyer will be ordered deported 83% of the time. With a competent attorney, however, these children realize their rights and are ordered deported only 8% of the time. Having competent counsel makes the difference.

It is entirely because of supporters like you that we were able to take the cases of Javier and Gabriela and 581 other children with heart-breakingly similar stories.

Unfortunately, given the anti-immigrant rhetoric in our recent election, we can’t be entirely sure what is next for immigrant children. But we do know that we must continue to stand along side Javier and Gabriela – and to give them the most robust possible legal defense. And we know that we need your help now more than ever.

Our extremely lean organization benefits not only from pro bono attorneys and other volunteers, but also from in-kind office space and more. We raise money to pay for staff attorneys, social workers, and to support a robust pro bonotraining program. $1,000 is enough to provide 6 months of legal representation and social work services to a child facing deportation. $250 supports our work to train pro bonoattorneys on the intricacies of immigration law. And even $50 helps defray a child’s travel costs to and from court around NYC and Long Island.

Can you make a contribution today?

Thank you so much for being a part of our community and being willing to stand with Javier, Gabriela, and with Safe Passage Project.

— Rich Leimsider, Executive Director

*Our clients’ names were changed to protect their privacy.

Looking for a Way To Make a Difference?


Dear Safe Passage Project Friends,

The incoming presidential administration has made it very clear this week that they are planning aggressive steps to limit the rights of immigrant children. Our staff and pro bonos are feeling a mix of sadness, concern, and a renewed determination to fight. For our 584 extremely vulnerable clients it’s much simpler – they are terrified. Will the police come and take away their uncle? The child herself? We are not going to let that happen.

So I’m writing to ask whether you might consider making a donation today to help Safe Passage Project take back the initiative.

When our staff gathered in a small conference room on Wednesday morning I told them two things I believe with all my heart:

1. Our clients, already so strong, are stronger because they can rely on Safe Passage Project. And we will never stop fighting for them.

2. Safe Passage Project is strong because of our amazing extended community of supporters like you – our terrific staff, of course, but also our wonderful friends, partners, pro bono attorneys, donors and volunteers.

This week we received a many messages from long-time supporters asking how they could help, right now. And they encouraged me to consider that many other friends and allies, like you, might be looking for ways to get involved.

The truth is that we need financial resources. We’re going to need to adapt and prepare to fight on behalf of each client in new ways. And we need to take on far more clients who would otherwise face immigration court alone. So we need to hire more attorneys and social workers. 

Will you consider making a donation today? $1,000 is enough to provide 6 months of legal representation and social work services to a child facing deportation. $250 supports our work to train pro bono attorneys on the intricacies of immigration law. And even $50 helps defray a child’s travel costs to and from court around NYC and Long Island.

And no matter how much you can donate, can you also share this message with your friends, colleagues, and family members who might ask you how they can help protect the rights of immigrant children?

We are deeply grateful for the support that you’ve already provided – financial or otherwise – and will keep you posted on our progress. As always, I welcome your feedback and am happy to try to help answer questions you might have in these challenging times.

Thank you so much.


PS. I apologize that this may not be the most polished fundraising appeal you’ll receive. But our attorneys were in court yesterday with 30 new potential clients and we’re not sure we’ll have capacity to serve them all. So I felt compelled to reach out.



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

Check out Las Cheetas Chulas on HuffPo

Safe Passage Project’s own Las Cheetas Chulas, a girls soccer squad out of the South Bronx United, are featured in a segment with the Huffington Post.

cheetas chulas

Getting outside of the courtroom, coaches/staff members Alex Rizio and Samantha Norris were interviewed along with players/clients about their dedication to the game and what it means to them.

Las Cheetas were joined by HuffPo on the last day of their inaugural season, in which they placed 2nd overall in the league. Ms. Rizio confirms that they are looking forward to reconvening Las Cheetas next year!

We couldn’t be more proud! Check them out here.

Equal Justice Works Fellow, Lauren Blodgett To Join Safe Passage Team


Safe Passage is thrilled to announce that Lauren Blodgett (Harvard Law School Class of 2016) will be joining the Safe Passage Project Legal team this September. Lauren will provide direct representation, legal advice, and community outreach to unaccompanied minors in New York, with a focus on child victims of sexual abuse and gender-based violence. Safe Passage Project is grateful to Lauren’s sponsors, Bank of New York Mellon Corporation and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP and to Equal Justice Works.
According to Legal Director Gui Stampur, “Lauren will be an incredible addition to our team and we are excited for her to hit the ground running.”
To read more about Ms. Blodgett please visit the website below:

Safe Passage Project holds training on drafting Asylum and SIJS Affidavits

Director of Training, Claire Thomas holds internal training for staff, attorneys, paralegals on drafting Asylum and SIJS Affidavits.

Lunch Learning1

Lunch Learning2

Safe Passage thanks Maureen Schad for a great training and discussion on Special Immigrant Juvenile Status!

On Tuesday, July 5th, Maureen Schad, an experienced attorney and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) expert who is Pro Bono Counsel at Chadbourne & Park LLP, lead a training and discussion session with pro bono attorneys, non-profit attorneys, and other interested individuals on issues in Special Immigrant Juvenile Status.

Maureen Schad

Safe Passage holds Know Your Rights Presentation in Coney Island


On June 21st and 22nd, Alexandra Rizio, Senior Staff Attorney and Legal Interns, Bethany Parry and Molly Jacobs-Meyer, traveled out to Coney Island at the crack of dawn to give a Know Your Rights presentations to immigrant families. They gave a general overview of SIJS, T-Visas, U-Visas, DACA, Immediate Relative petitions, and ICE raids. A large number of the general questions from the attendees centered around what to do if an ICE raid were to occur. The presentation on June 21st was conducted in English and Spanish, and the presentation on the 22nd was conducted in English, Spanish, and Chinese. The team showed up with resources detailing what to do in the event of an ICE raid, as well as packets with names, numbers, and addresses of organizations providing pro or low-bono legal counsel to immigrants in NYC.

Thank You Riverdale Country School

Gui Stampur, RCS Class of 2000 and Safe Passage Director of Legal Services, with Joey Weinman, RCS Class of 2014 and Safe Passage Summer Intern.

Gui Stampur, RCS Class of 2000 and Safe Passage Director of Legal Services, with Joey Weinman, RCS Class of 2014 and Safe Passage Summer Intern.


The Safe Passage Project (“SPP”) would like to thank Riverdale Country School “RCS” for raising $10,000 to support our work providing legal services to immigrant children. Each year SPP serves thousands of immigrant children living in New York. We provide legal representation to empower each child to pursue a safe, stable, and fulfilling future. We recruit, train, and mentor volunteer attorneys for unaccompanied minors in immigration court, as we believe no child should face deportation alone, all children are our children, each child is our future, and all children deserve a well-trained and committed advocate. With your help, we can continue to ensure that these children receive the legal representation they need and deserve. Safe Passage is grateful for the support of Riverdale Country School and the Middle School students who participated in the Dance-a-Thon and helped raise support for our work. Safe Passage is proud of the continued partnership and invites the Riverdale Community to participate in our 5th Field Day bringing together RCS students and Safe Passage clients. To view footage from one of these Field Days hosted by Riverdale Country School, please clink on one of the links below.


spp team



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