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.

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.

Lenni Benson shares thoughts on John Kelly – Trump’s new chief of staff

On Monday, July 28, Lenni Benson was featured in a Financial Times article by Courtney Weaver and David J Lunch. In the article, Lenni Benson shares her disappointment in John Kelly’s decisions regarding immigrants and immigrant rights.

Please click here to read the full article.

President Donald Trump and Chief of Staff John Kelly — as featured on www.newsday.com, photo credit: AP/Susan Walsh.

Safe Passage Pro Bono Attorney Cesar Vargas featured in Huffington Post

Link to article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/cesar-vargas-undocumented-lawyer-client_us_59727244e4b09e5f6ccf6cf6

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.

Safe Passage Project Featured in LinkedIn Article

The Founder and CEO of BorderGab, Maneesha Mukhi spoke highly of Safe Passage Project’s work in her article “No Child Should Face Immigration Court Alone.” This short Linkedin pierce describes the value of Safe Passage Project in aiding the influx of undocumented children. Mukhi notes,”The current climate has led to large groups of people mobilizing to defend our rights and that mobilization is both heartening and effective. With the judicial system at our disposal and the willingness of the people to work together, there is hope. Bureau Chief of the Civil Rights Bureau, Lourdes Rosado, said: “Now… is THE time for lawyers for social justice.”

Safe Passage Project featured in Medium

Felicity Conrad, Co-Founder of Paladin, recently published an article in Medium that featured Safe Passage Project. In this article, Conrad expresses the value of Safe Passage Project’s efforts in providing representation for undocumented children.

Click here to read the full article. 

 

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.

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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