Safe Passage Project Proud Recipient of $480,000 Grant from Keith Haring Foundation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 28, 2018

PRESS CONTACT:
Gui Stampur, Deputy Executive Director
gstampur@safepassageproject.org

New York, NY – Safe Passage Project, a New York-based legal services organization, announced today that it has been awarded a $480,000 grant by the Keith Haring Foundation. This generous grant, which will be allocated in two yearly installments of $240,000, will provide Safe Passage Project with general operating support to provide legal defense of children being targeted for deportation.

“Safe Passage Project is deeply grateful to receive this support from the Keith Haring Foundation,” said Safe Passage Project’s Executive Director, Rich Leimsider. “These funds will allow us to expand our legal and social services to some of the most vulnerable children in New York.”

Last year, more than 40,000 children travelling alone were apprehended at the US Southern Border. Despite their impoverished economic status, these children are not provided with a court-appointed lawyer. According to data from Syracuse University’s TRAC Program, without legal representation, immigrant children have only a 17% chance of success in court, despite eligibility for relief under United States immigration law.

To address the needs of these vulnerable children, Safe Passage Project specializes in recruiting, training and mentoring pro bono attorneys to become adept in representing immigrant youth in Family Court, Immigration Court, and with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Since its founding, the small nonprofit has taken on full representation of over 1,000 unaccompanied immigrant children, and has maintained a success rate of over 80%. The funds provided by the Keith Haring Foundation will enable Safe Passage Project to accelerate its growth and to overcome the increasing obstacles in US immigration law. With this grant, Safe Passage Project plans to take on full legal representation of an additional 200 children over the course of 2018 and 2019.

“The significance of this cannot be overstated. With these funds, the Keith Haring Foundation has ensured that Safe Passage Project will be able to fight for more children than ever in the years to come. Every new case that we are able to take on brings us closer to our vision of a world where no child faces Immigration Court alone,” continued Leimsider.

“We are so very proud to renew and increase our investment in Safe Passage Project,” said Julia Gruen, Executive Director of the Keith Haring Foundation.  “Haring believed in giving children opportunities to live their lives creatively and without fear.  We continue to celebrate his legacy through this meaningful and urgent partnership.”

Before his death from AIDS-related complications in 1990, Keith Haring established his foundation to ensure that the causes he cared about continued to receive support. The Keith Haring Foundation focuses on giving to organizations that assist marginalized children and organizations involved in education, research and care related to HIV and AIDS.

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To download a PDF version of this press release, click here.

New York Law School Alumni Magazine Features Safe Passage Project

Recently the New York Law School alumni magazine featured the immigration activities of Safe Passage Project.

New York Law School is a generous supporter of our nonprofit as well. From office space to the participation of professors, students, and alumni, Safe Passage Project is thankful to be a part of the New York Law School community.

Many of the trainings and CLE’s offered at NYLS and profiled in the magazine story are designed and implemented by Safe Passage Project staff.

Some of the over 400 pro bono supporters of Safe Passage Project are also featured in the story.  Pictured below, the Safe Passage Project NYLS clinical class and some Safe Passage Project staff.

Check out the magazine here.

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.

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 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. 

 

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.

Lenni Benson on WNYC

What it Means That Trump Wants to Limit ‘Unaccompanied’ Status for Minors Crossing the Borders

by Sarah Gonzalez, reporter for WNYC

Lenni Benson, Founder of Safe Passage Project 

Sarah Gonzalez discusses the potential consequences of President Donald Trump looking to limit ‘unaccompanied’ status for immigrant children. Tune in here to listen to Sarah Gonzalez interviewing Lenni Benson, founder of Safe Passage Project, and to read the full article.

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