Desireé Hernández Featured in NBC Latino 20!

Safe Passage Project is proud to announce that our Director of Legal Services has been featured in NBC Latino 20!

According to NBC News, “The #NBCLatino20 honors achievers who are making our communities and our nation better. These honorees are fiercely proud of their heritage, which has guided their work and inspired their accomplishments. Follow their fascinating stories throughout Hispanic Heritage Month.”

We are so grateful to work with someone as passionate as her. She reminds us everyday how important it is to tirelessly advocate on behalf our clients! Congratulations Desireé!

To read the complete article, please click HERE.

Safe Passage SIJS Manual is Now Available

Safe Passage is proud to release the 2017 SIJS Manual co-authored by Alex Rizio and Gui Stampur. This manual is a step-by-step resource guide for representation of a SIJS-eligible clients. If you are a Safe Passage Pro Bono attorney, please let your Safe Passage Mentor Attorney know if you have any case-specific questions. And, if you have interest in becoming a Safe Passage Pro Bono attorney, please reach out to the Deputy Executive Director, Gui Stampur at [email protected]g


Click here to download our 2017 SIJS Manual.

Cesar Vargas, Safe Passage Attorney of the Month

Cesar is an immigration rights activist and the first undocumented immigrant to be granted admission to the New York State Bar. In 2014, he began volunteering with Safe Passage as an interpreter while he and his pro bono legal team were litigating his right to be an attorney. Upon receiving his law license to practice in New York, Cesar was incredibly eager to give back.

One of the first cases he took as an admitted attorney was a Safe Passage pro bono case. Cesar feels that working with children is difficult in and of itself, but, working with children who have experienced trauma adds another layer of complexity. Cesar explained that when he first met his client it was hard to get him to open up as his client was very reserved and did not want to talk to anyone. Cesar decided to tell his client his own story of coming to the United States. “I saw my story in his story,” Cesar said. “Although his journey was more difficult crossing the border, our stories were the same in that it is a story of families reuniting.” Cesar felt that by describing what he himself had been through, his client was able to more readily confide in his attorney: “He began to trust me and was able to tell me not only his past, but his present, and his future aspirations.” Cesar explained that the case was very challenging, both legally and emotionally. He believes that the ongoing support of the Safe Passage staff, who reviewed documents and connected Cesar and his client with translators, social workers, psychologists, and subject matter experts, was a “critical ingredient for the success of the case.” Ultimately, Cesar helped his client obtain asylum, and Cesar is proud that his client now has a secure immigration status within the United States.
Cesar feels that he is still trying to find his approach as a legal practitioner after working in advocacy and politics for several years. But, no matter what, Cesar explained that pro bono will always be an integral part of his legal practice due in large part to the time people invested in supporting him in his own legal case: “Pro bono pushes your boundaries as a person, advocate, and lawyer.”

Cesar is an inspiration to the Safe Passage team and we are so proud of everything he has accomplished and will in the years to come. According to Deputy Executive Director, “Safe Passage is proud to have partnered with New York’s first undocumented attorney. Cesar is an inspiration to the organization, our clients, and is one of the most impressive people I have ever met. We are lucky to consider him part of the Safe Passage Family.”

Thank you Cesar for your unfailing dedication and hard work for your client and all the children you have worked with over the years at Safe Passage. We feel extremely lucky to have such a smart, empathetic, and dynamic pro bono advocate in our ranks. We look forward to continuing to partner with you on future cases for many years to come!

Safe Passage Pro Bono Attorney Cesar Vargas featured in Huffington Post

Link to article:

NEW YORK ― When attorney Cesar Vargas first met his teenage client Ivan Ruiz, a newly arrived undocumented immigrant from Honduras, he noticed Ruiz seemed to wear the weight of his traumatic childhood on his sleeve.

Ruiz, 15 at the time, rarely spoke, returning questions about his life in Honduras with long stares and heavy nods. It was only over the course of a year that Vargas would learn the extent of abuse Ruiz suffered while living with extended family members after his parents immigrated to the United States for a better life. Ruiz was barely fed, forced to work long hours and beaten ― even whipped with tire rubber ― as punishment.

The abuse became too much to bear. After trekking through Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador, Ruiz crossed the border into the United States in spring 2016. His journey wasn’t over, though, and a year ago he was ordered to appear in immigration court.

With Vargas’ help, Ruiz recently won a life-changing victory: He was granted asylum. He now spends his days in summer school, soaking up new English words and the novelty of life with only low-stakes, teenage worries. He recently took two girls to the prom and is delicately balancing the affections of another. He is looking forward to the day when he can join a Manhattan-based soccer league, but the $180 joining fee is currently too steep.

His case is remarkable for two reasons. At 16, Ruiz is representative of a class of highly vulnerable undocumented minors living under a presidential administration that is pushing people like him out. Even more remarkable is the person who helped get Ruiz to this point ― his lawyer, who also happens to be New York state’s first openly undocumented attorney.

It’s the type of legal win that motivated Vargas to work in immigration law. It’s also one that is bittersweet. It means that Vargas’ immigration status, as a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, could now be in more danger than that of his client. DACA, as it is known, is an Obama-era initiative that protects immigrants who came to the country as children from deportation, but its fate under President Trump remains ambiguous.

“As an attorney it’s just incredible to make sure that I can successfully win a case on behalf of my client based on the circumstances,” said Vargas, 33. “The other emotion is a mixed emotion. My client is probably going to have a much more permanent immigration status than his attorney.”

Ruiz’s story of getting to America was a familiar one for Vargas, who crossed the border from Mexico as a 5-year-old. Vargas was admitted to the bar association in February 2016, after passing the bar exam in 2011. He fought a years-long battle to receive this recognition as a person without legal status.

Vargas’ advocacy may have made all the difference for Ruiz, especially in the current political climate. Vargas connected with the teen as a pro bono volunteer with Safe Passage Project, a nonprofit that provides free legal representation and assistance to unaccompanied minors.

Undocumented people are significantly less likely to face deportation when they receive legal representation in immigration court. While immigrants are under nearly constant attack from President Donald Trump and government officers are increasingly hostile to their plight, happy endings like Ruiz’s are rare.

Safe Passage attorneys are working with about 700 children in the New York City area. It’s only a small slice of the children who need legal help, said Gui Stampur, deputy executive director and co-founder of the group.

In Vargas, Ruiz was able to find an advocate and a friend, too.

This month, on a sunny day at Safe Passage’s downtown office, Ruiz eagerly told Vargas about his adventures in teenage romance. He squirmed with youthful energy while explaining that he likes “everything” about his new life ― from his summer school classes to his new wardrobe. Back in Honduras, his cousins used to wear his shirts and underwear, he said. It wasn’t unusual for him to go without undergarments.

With Vargas translating, Ruiz said he loves living in New York, readily grinning when he correctly guessed a word in English and bragging about having received a new work authorization card. His mood shifted when he briefly touched on the intense physical and emotional abuse he endured in his home country.

My client is probably going to have a much more permanent immigration status than his attorney. –Cesar Vargas

Ruiz is a member of the Garifuna ethnic group, an Afro-indigenous people who are often subjected to intense discrimination, including from the police. This lack of protection allowed Ruiz’s abuse to go unchecked.

Vargas learns more details about this abuse nearly every time they talk. On the day of Ruiz’s last hearing in June, Vargas watched as his sweet, buoyant teenager client broke down when he was asked to go into details about the violence.

“That day, to see him completely shut down and relive those moments was very difficult,” said Vargas.

It made his client’s victory more sweet.

“It’s not just like a [legal] settlement, like here’s a million dollars. It’s like, here’s your life,” said Vargas.

It’s been a busy year for Vargas since he gained admission to the bar. He traveled around the country as Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign adviser on immigration policy and Latino issues. He started working to represent undocumented service people and their spouses. Now he’s also working to organize residents in Staten Island to push for immigration reform.

Ruiz describes Vargas and his work as inspiring.

“He does beautiful work. He’s always there for me, every day,” said Ruiz.

AIG’s Deborah McNeil honored with the Thomas A. Russo Award

Safe Passage congratulates Deborah McNeil, who was recently honored with the First Annual Thomas A. Russo Award for Outstanding Leadership and Dedication to AIG’s Pro Bono Program/ Ms. McNeil was presented with this award on May 15, 2017 at Peter Solmssen’ s GCLR Town Hall in part for her work in support of Safe Passage.

According to Ms. McNeil, this was quite unexpected and a complete surprise – I did not see this coming, as I believe whole heartedly in sharing information on our events, but personally try to do things unnoticed, invisible if I can. I am truly thankful and appreciate the honor and speech my colleague gave to the GLCR team at the Town Hall event and to those listening on the webcast, sharing various opportunities and projects I was fortunate enough to participate on.”

Safe Passage feels lucky to consider AIG a corporate sponsor and to be working with AIG attorneys on behalf of immigrant children. As McNeil so aptly stated, “If  anything I’ve accomplished within the last year reaches or motivates at least one person to commit to Pro Bono, then we are on the right path to continue filling and surpassing  Tom’s (Mr. Russo’s) expectations. After all we have big shoes to fill, and have to start somewhere.
Ms. McNeil encourages other corporate leaders to get involved in Pro Bono and to volunteer with Safe Passage. According to Ms. Mcneil, “Start small and make the time – find your availability!”

Safe Passage Deputy Executive Director, Gui Stampur congratulates Deborah and says, “hopefully Deborah’s example will encourage other corporate leaders to get involved in Pro Bono and to start small, reach out, and lend a hand. Safe Passage is incredibly grateful and now more than ever, people need to follow Deborah’s lead and lend a hand.”

Safe Passage Project featured on NY1!

New York 1 interviewed one of our amazing clients. She courageously shared her experience as an unaccompanied minor, and her sentiments on what it was like for her to be a Safe Passage Project client.

Our Deputy Executive Director, Gui Stampur, and Director of Legal Services, Desireé C. Hernández, are also featured on this segment!

Please see below for the English and Spanish Versions of the interview:

Unaccompanied Minors Who Are Undocumented Immigrants Feel Especially Vulnerable to New Policies.

Ayudan a migrantes menores de edad para que puedan enfrentar su caso en la corte.

Safe Passage wins Green Card on behalf of Client

Safe Passage helped this incredible young girl from Honduras obtain Legal Permanent Residence in the United States.  We first met her in Immigration Court in February 2012 and took on representation immediately. She won asylum in February 2014 and in April 2017 was granted Legal Permanent Residence.  And now, in early-May 2017, she has her Green Card in her possession and is happy living with her partner and two young children.  The Safe Passage Legal team was led by Rex Chen and supported by Bethany Ow, Nisanat Rolling, and volunteer law graduate Daniel So.  It was truly a Safe Passage Team Effort.

NYC Mayor’s Office Honors Safe Passage

Last week, the New York City Mayor’s office  recognized and celebrated Safe Passage Board Members, Careen Shannon, Susan Henner, and Lenni Benson, as well as Safe Passage Pro Bono Attorneys, John Ryan, Joe Francoeur, and Steve Kent, for their commitment to service through the NYC Mayoral Service Recognition Program. Careen, Lenni, John, Joe, Steve, and Susan have contributed over 5,000 hours of pro bono time to Safe Passage in the last year and Safe Passage is so grateful. Lenni Benson, Rich Leimsider, James Stejger, and Gui Stampur attended the awards ceremony at 1 Municipal Plaza, where First Lady Chirlane McCray addressed the award winners.
According to award winner and Pro Bono attorney, John Ryan, “I am very honored to have been recognized by the Mayor’s office for my pro bono work with the immigrant community in New York. I know that I have been blessed in so many ways through my involvement with Safe Passage in its mission to provide legal services to undocumented children as they navigate the very complicated immigration system in this country. My clients have inspired me and so has Safe Passage. The children I have represented, and those I now represent have risked everything for the hope of forging a new and meaningful life in this country. Their stories replicate those I read about in text books describing those who came to America with the hope of forging a new life and helped build a stronger nation.”
Safe Passage salutes Careen, Lenni, John, Joe, Steve, and Susan for all they have done for Safe Passage and our clients.
Read the NYC Mayor’s Office Press Release here:

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.

Gui Stampur quoted in Youth Today Article

Safe Passage Project’s Deputy Executive Director was quoted in “Trump Administration Could Target Central American Teens” by Zach Williams. To read the whole article, please click HERE.

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