Children Welcoming Children

“I read a book this year about what refugee kids go through when they first arrive and I wanted to do something to make you feel like you belong here and this will be a happy home for you.” -Preston, age 11. “I know you are new to this country and I bet you feel a little scared or lost but I promise that you will love this country as much as I do once you get to know it. This city has people from all over the world and everyone is welcome here. I hope you feel welcome.”-Tripp, age 11.

A class of local fifth grade students from PS6 donated posters to Safe Passage Project to welcome immigrant children to the United States. These students understand the need for messages of compassion, solidarity and support for migrant youths during the complicated and difficult process of immigration within the United States.

Safe Passage Project is currently aiding around 700 immigrant youth who would be facing deportation alone if our volunteers and staff did not step forward to assist them in seeking asylum or other protected status. Thank you for continued support and consider donating or volunteering for Safe Passage Project today.

Safe Passage Project Concerned that the DOJ is Pressuring Immigration Courts and Ignoring the Vulnerability of Children

Attorney General Sessions issued a press statement and background memorandum discussing efforts to improve efficiency in the immigration courts. These administrative tribunals are part of the Department of Justice and are formally called the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). The workload of the EOIR is generated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Cases may arrive from the airports, the border, or interior enforcement.

We volunteer at the New York Immigration Court and meet unaccompanied children who are facing deportation proceedings. New York is one of the most high-volume jurisdictions with over 75,000 pending immigration cases. In the past few years more than 15,000 cases have involved unaccompanied minors. The children are placed into removal proceedings by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is part of DHS. Almost all of these young people have claims for protection under international and domestic law. Yet U.S. law does not give them free legal counsel. Children who manage to find a free attorney or who have a family member who can pay for counsel usually win a positive result in their cases – typically over 85% of the time.  Children who are unrepresented prevail less than 15% of the time.

In the backgrounder posted by the Department of Justice today, the agency points to three factors that it says are slowing down the courts:

1) prosecutorial discretion

2) DACA; and

3) provisional waivers.

None of these three actions are handled by the EOIR nor by DOJ. In fact, all three take work away from the immigration courts and free up the staff and judges to hear complex cases and to adjudicate claims for protection such as asylum claims. These three programs are handled by the DHS and all are based on Congressional authority vested in the DHS both to determine its priorities and to operate normally as all prosecutorial agencies must.

But what is most concerning in the DOJ release today is that there was not a word about the challenges faced by the vulnerable population of juveniles navigating the complex court system. While efficiency might mean speedier cases for some, the legal reality is that juvenile cases require continuances because almost all of the remedies available to a child are adjudicated first by DHS, not by an immigration judge in the DOJ.

EOIR has, in the past, tried to speed up children’s cases, but it ended the “surge” dockets for children last January. EOIR has issued past Operating Procedures that keep juvenile cases on a separate docket to allow the judges to adapt the process the needs of children and to facilitate pro bono representation. In New York, the EOIR docketing practices have become erratic and now it is harder than ever for the pro bono and nonprofit community — as well as the private bar — to ensure representation for children. Kids should not be on the same docket with adults, and judges should not feel pressured to rush a case to a removal order that will ultimately have to be “reopened” because the young person has been able to qualify for legal status through one of the protective options available under Congressional statute.

We urge the leadership of the EOIR and the DHS to remember to value due process and fairness in adjudication. We don’t measure our justice systems by the number of cases handled. We measure courts by efficiency tempered by the goal of accuracy and fairness.


Learn more about Safe Passage Project at  

Follow us on Twitter @SafePassageProj

Media queries: [email protected] or [email protected]


Finally an Opportunity to Be Heard

Today, Tuesday December 5, 2017, Safe Passage Project and our cooperating attorney Paige Austin from the NYCLU successfully defended a teenager who had been detained by the federal government for more than five months as part of his immigration proceedings. “This young man was cooperating with immigration authorities and pursuing legal status in the United States when he was swept up in rearrests by DHS in the summer of 2017,” said Tim Greenberg, who is one of his lawyers and is one of our staff attorneys. The Safe Passage Project first fought for our client’s return to New York State after the government wrongfully moved him to a remote detention center in California. Our cooperating attorneys at the Northern California chapter of the ACLU successfully won a federal court order (Saravia v. Sessions) and a class certification that DHS must justify why it rearrested and detained youth based on gang allegations that did not seem to stand up under scrutiny. Under that federal court order and the Flores judicial orders, children should not be detained without an opportunity to contest the circumstances of their rearrest and detention.

We expect the government to reunite our client with his mother and family within the next day. Pictured below are the family and some of the members of his legal team. We are grateful to everyone who has assisted in this landmark case and believe that at least 13 other young people have been released after wrongful rearrest.

Children are children first. Immigration law should not change the fundamental protection of the best interests of children. Safe Passage Project housed at New York Law School is a nonprofit organization dedicated to recruiting, training, and mentoring attorneys who provide free legal assistance for children in immigration proceedings. Safe Passage thanks Stephanie Gibbs, Rex Chen, Lenni Benson, and Desiree Hernandez, who provided invaluable help to the case.

Safe Passage Project Helps Long Island Children Challenge Questionable Gang Allegations

On November 20, 2017, a federal district court judge in Northern California issued a sweeping order forcing the government to provide all unaccompanied children who are currently detained with a chance to challenge allegations they are affiliated with gangs if that was the justification for re-arresting them after April 2017! Safe Passage Project provides free legal services to unaccompanied children across New York, including hundreds of children who live on Long Island.

Using Operation Matador and other efforts by DHS and ICE, the government has re-arrested a number of children based on supposed gang affiliations. Some of the clients that Safe Passage Project was representing were re-arrested. The government unfairly re-arrested one of our clients on Long Island and then immediately moved him to California, far from his lawyers. Drawing on the immigrant rights’ legal community, Safe Passage Project partnered with the ACLU of Northern California to challenge the detention of our client by ORR, the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Building on our client’s case, the ACLU of Northern California spearheaded a federal lawsuit to challenge how the government is re-arresting many children without offering any method to challenge the validity of supposed gang affiliations.

News articles discuss how many of the gang affiliation accusations fall apart once they are studied. Many accusations are based on perfectly innocuous conduct, such as having a country’s flag posted on a Facebook account.

At Safe Passage Project, our staff has been heavily involved with defending our client and helping the ACLU of Northern California obtain the nationwide injunction. Safe Passage Project staff working on the case include Stephanie Gibbs, Tim Greenberg, Rex Chen, Desireé Hernandez, and our founder Lenni Benson. We are very thankful for the class action litigation team, which includes Julia Harumi Maas and Bill Freeman (ACLU of Northern California), Stephen Kang and Judy Rabinowitz (ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project), Martin Schenker (Cooley LLP), and Holly Cooper!

A quickly-prepared practice advisory about the new court order is available at:

The court’s November 20, 2017 order is available at:

Please contact us for more information about defending unaccompanied children who are in ORR custody after being recently rearrested or the struggles that children on Long Island are facing. Thank you to all our volunteers and supporters who make this possible!

Fair Process in Name Only featuring Lenni Benson

Safe Passage Project’s Founder and Senior Advisor, Lenni Benson, was featured on Notice and Comment: A Blog from the Yale Journal on Regulation and the ABA Section of Administrative Law & Regulatory Practice. Please click here to read the full essay co-authored with Jill Family!

Safe Passage Attorney of the Month

We are proud to feature Greg Perl as our Safe Passage Project Attorney of the Month.

Greg Perl is the owner and managing partner of Perl Law where he specializes in all types of complex immigration issues.  Pro bono is an important part of Greg’s practice and he tries to always have an active pro bono case.  Over the years he has volunteered with a variety of local immigration organizations.

Greg volunteered with Safe Passage during a juvenile docket at the New York Immigration Court and took on the case of the young person he helped that day.  “We knew we had a strong case, and he was an excellent client,” Greg recalls.  “He was easy to communicate with…and was great in collecting documents from his home country.”  While the young person was eligible for both Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) and asylum, they decided to pursue asylum.  Greg explains that his client was “shy, but, he was able to explain his story.  He faced serious adversity in his home country and the asylum officer was able to see that.”

Through all his hard work and preparation, Greg was able to secure asylum relief for his client.  Greg enjoys working on asylum cases and representing children in immigration court.  “They are in such a vulnerable position,” Greg explained, “My client did not have either parent in the United States to care for him.  I cannot imagine what it would feel like to move to a foreign country at such a young age without parents.”

When asked what he would say to attorneys who are thinking of taking on a pro bono case, Greg encourages attorneys to take a case as there is “plenty of need in New York.”  He added, “the staff at Safe Passage serve as an excellent resource, so even if you take on a case outside your comfort zone you will be well-guided and learn valuable skills.”

Greg is currently handling a new pro bono case on behalf of Safe Passage, in which he is pursuing SIJS for a youth who recently lost his ability to renew deferred action when the DACA program was repealed.

Thank you for doing such an amazing job Greg.  Safe Passage is proud to have such a dedicated and thoughtful pro bono partner.  We are excited to see how you are able to help your next Safe Passage client!

Safe Passage Participates in AIG Pro Bono Month

Safe Passage and AIG teamed up for a training  at AIG earlier this month to celebrate Pro Bono month. Desiree Hernandez, Alex Holtzman, Elizabeth Rivera and Gui Stampur attended. Alex and Elizabeth shared information about our work with AIG employees and Desiree conducted a training for prospective AIG Pro Bono attorneys and staff.
Safe Passage is a designated Pro Bono sponsor organization and we are grateful to AIG and all of their support. A special thanks to AIG’s Ralph Trama, Heather Shea and Deborah McNeil for inviting Safe Passage.

Lauren Blodgett featured in The Salem News

Our very own Equal Justice Works Fellow Lauren Blodgett was featured in The Salem News for her leadership in using her sports and legal expertise to help refugee children.

Click here to read the article.

White House Demands Eviscerate Protections for Children

Safe Passage Project just issued a press release in response to the White House demands rolled out Sunday night. Click here to download the PDF.

The List of Immigration Demands Eviscerates Protections for Children and Tries to Turn Back Judicially Ordered Protections

Late on a Sunday night, the Administration rolled out a list of demands on immigration principles the Administration states are necessary before Congress goes forward to create protection for those people who received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). But the demands take away both domestic and international rights for others. This trade of rights for some, by harming many, is a poor start to developing lasting solutions for these complex issues.

Safe Passage Project is currently aiding around 700 immigrant youth who would be facing deportation alone if our volunteers and staff did not step forward to assist them in seeking asylum or other protected status. Congress does not provide free public defenders in Immigration Court proceedings and we recruit, train, and mentor advocates to help the children navigate the complex process of seeking protection and status under existing law.

In part, the Administrations List reads like a wish list hoping for statutory fixes that will restore legal arguments the government has lost in Federal Court. For example, the list includes abrogating a twenty year settlement in the Flores case that ensures that children are not detained indefinitely, that children have a fair opportunity to seek asylum protection, and that children can ask for state and federal courts to give them a chance to explain why they cannot return safely to their country of origin. Many of the changes sought are those Congress carefully designed and put into place in the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. Congress must preserve these measures, not strip them away.

The Administration inaccurately and improperly states that children are “admitted illegally.” In fact, these children are apprehended, detained, and put into deportation proceedings. They are not “admitted” and given status. Further, the staff who drafted this list seem to misunderstand one of the most important protections found in U.S. law since 1990: the protection for abused, neglected, or abandoned children. The list suggests that Special Immigrant Juvenile Status is a “loophole” for children to be admitted to the United States. Quite the contrary, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status is a carefully designed provision that balances federal regulation of immigration with state law protection of children. It is not a visa, it is a needed path to a safe haven.

These complex legal determinations cannot be made rapidly by untrained agents at the border. Frequently,children and teens are so traumatized during their journeys that it can take many hours of interviewing and building trusting relationships before a formal application can be prepared.

The UNHCR reminds us that women and children now represent over 50% of the world’s refugees. The U.S. law has provided a small measure of opportunity to seek protection. The proposals strip away these modest protections. We do not need to lock up these children. We do not need to gut their modest procedural rights. Instead, wee must preserve an opportunity for these young people to seek protection.

Safe Passage Project is proud to feature Joe Francoeur as our Attorney of the Month!

Joe is a partner at Wilson Elser where he specializes in professional liability defense, federal statutory litigation, commercial disputes and insurance coverage matters.  In 2014, Joe was appointed to his firm’s national pro bono committee; his first order of business was to find an initiative to get more attorneys involved in pro bono.  “I wanted to find a program that would offer training, oversight, and a really good cause,” Joe explained.  “My theory is that more people would get involved in pro bono, but, they are worried to step out of their comfort zones.”  Safe Passage fit the criteria and an initial training for 40 attorneys was scheduled.  Joe explained that over 189 attorneys actually showed up for that first training, demonstrating the tremendous interest within the firm.  Safe Passage is proud to now be Wilson Elser’s biggest pro bono project, thanks to Joe’s foresight and leadership.

Joe has worked on several of his own Safe Passage pro bono cases, and currently has three active cases.  Joe explained that whenever he steps out of his regular work to focus on his Safe Passage clients it is an incredibly rewarding experience.  “I know that I am making a real difference in someone’s daily life.”

In the first case Joe took with Safe Passage, his young client was reunited with a family member after being in the United States for several months.  “We had to switch course from a SIJS [Special Immigrant Juvenile Status] case to an asylum case because we learned new information about the child’s case,” Joe recalls.  “We had to adjust on the fly, but, he qualified for both – the Safe Passage team helped me strategically think through how to proceed.”  In another of Joe’s cases it seemed that procedural hurdles were too challenging to overcome.   Joe was able to work through the issues with the family court judge, advocate for his client, and ultimately secure SIJS status for his client.  As Joe explained, “The judge is going to follow the law and the case law in this instance is on our side – judges are human beings too and are really trying to do what is right.”

Joe is in charge of several pro bono initiatives at his firm, but, Safe Passage is one of his favorites as it was the first big pro bono effort with a lot of firm involvement, and it is an opportunity to provide much needed legal assistance to vulnerable children.  “I am always surprised that people have such harsh immigration views because the children Safe Passage is working with usually have more than one basis for staying legally in the United States. They are eligible for a host of protections under our US laws”

Joe feels that pro bono gives attorneys the opportunity to go from theoretical to making a real difference:  “Any attorneys reading this, thinking about pro bono, but, afraid to take the first step, with Safe Passage you do not have to worry.  They will take your hand and guide you every step of the way.  Take a case today.” According to Deputy Executive Director, Gui Stampur, “Joe is one of our most dedicated Pro Bono attorneys. His colleagues at Wilson Elser have been so supportive of our work from the beginning and we cherish our pro bono partnership and hope it will continue for many years to come.”

Thank you Joe for your commitment to Safe Passage and the children we work with.  You are an example for others to follow and we are grateful for you and your firm’s dedication to pro bono initiatives.  We look forward to continuing our strong partnership on future cases.

Translate »