Protection from Deportation: Safe Passage Project Aids a 14-year-old from El Salvador

Upon reaching the border of the United States, children fleeing systematic violence, forced labor, and violent family members might imagine that our legal system would provide them with at least some assistance in navigating the complicated immigration process. Unfortunately, this is simply not the case. Children do have rights to legal status and family stability, but instead of ensuring that they have the help they need, our government arrests, detains, and places children in removal or deportation proceedings. No one, not even a child, is appointed a free lawyer throughout this process.

It was during these removal proceedings that one of the Safe Passage Project’s legal fellows, Alexander Holtzman, met a boy named Carlos*, now 14 years old. Carlos was arrested at the Arizona-Mexico border after a long journey fleeing the constant neglect and forced labor that he faced at the hands his extended family in El Salvador. He was eventually released to an uncle living on Long Island, but his uncle did not have the income to hire legal counsel, and did not know how to help his nephew remain in the United States.

Luckily Carlos and his Uncle met the Safe Passage Project. Our organization agreed to directly represent Carlos and guide him through the complicated process of obtaining Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (or SIJS for short), a form of legal protection that would enable Carlos to become a permanent legal resident. SIJS is a form of federal protection created by Congress to promote child welfare. Under this statute, immigrant children living in the U.S. who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected by at least one parent, can apply for lawful permanent resident status, commonly known as a “green card.” SIJS is an important resource for young non-citizens. It waives circumstances that would otherwise preclude adjustment of status, such as unlawful entry, working without authorization, status as a public charge, and other immigration violations. Once the minor becomes a lawful permanent resident, he/she can eventually apply for full U.S. citizenship.

The Safe Passage Project and Carlos worked closely for months to navigate the enigmatic family court applications. Carlos’ uncle was ultimately able to qualify and serve as his legal guardian, offering Carlos the stability and safety he desperately needed. Then the Safe Passage Project prepared and obtained the necessary materials for his SIJS case, documenting the neglect and harm Carlos suffered due to his father’s physical and mental abuse, as well as the dangerous labor he was forced to endure as a young teen. Based on these findings and an application to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, our organization was able to obtain Special Immigrant Juvenile Status for Carlos and put an end to his removal proceedings. Carlos can now remain the United States and is on the path to full legal residence. He is currently attending high school in Long Island and, perhaps unsurprisingly, wants to study to become a lawyer.

In the United States, many children are detained and ultimately deported because they are not provided with free legal counsel in immigration proceedings. Here at the Safe Passage Project we are trying to bridge the gap between a child’s rights and the law. We have more than 400 pro-bono attorneys working on over 700 cases like that of Carlos. We are incredibly grateful for the work of our generous volunteers, but we also require financial assistance to support our work. Donations help us recruit, mentor and train additional attorneys as well as support our direct service team of legal fellows and paralegals.

Safe Passage Project is primarily funded by donations and small grants, while New York Law School generously provides us with facilities and extensive overhead support. The Episcopal Diocese of Long Island also provides free office space for the use of our team. More than half of the children facing deportation in the New York City immigration court live in Nassau or Suffolk county on Long Island. There is no free legal aid inside the immigration court system, but we aim to change that. Please consider donating to support our mission. Your work can transform a child’s life.

We are seeking to raise $50,000 before the end of the year, and as of mid-December we have raised 30,000! Now is a great time to donate because our Board has generously agreed to match all donations up to that amount. Please donate today at:

*Name has been changed to protect client’s identity.


U.S. Protection of Immigrant Children: A System in Need of Improvement

Ahead of an international meeting on migration in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, UNICEF released a blueprint for how to protect immigrant children. The report titled “Beyond Borders: How to make the global compacts on migration and refugees work for uprooted children,” highlights best practices for the care and protection of refugee and migrant children. “Refugee and migrant children are especially vulnerable to xenophobia, abuse, sexual exploitation, and lack of access to social services. It is imperative to have policies in place to protect them over the course of their journey,” the report says. Sharing case studies from around the world, the report presents a six point agenda for action as a basis for policies to protect refugee and migrant children and ensure their wellbeing.

Children deserve better protection. In 2016, Safe Passage Project and Professor Lenni Benson authored a paper US Protection of Immigrant Children: A System in Need of Improvement, contending with some of the fundamental issues highlighted in the report.

Click here for the UNICEF full report.

and here for Professor Benson’s paper: U.S. Protection of Immigrant Children_A System in Need of Improvement June 2016 (2)

Safe Passage Statement on DACA “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals”

On September 5, 2017, the government announced that it will no longer accept applications for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) other than renewals for people whose work permits expire by March 5, 2018. Safe Passage Project is deeply saddened by the Administration’s decision to end new registrations for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). DACA has benefitted our nation and the United States by allowing young people to come out of the shadows and to live and work without daily fear of immigration law enforcement due to a lack of immigration papers. All of the DACA recipients came to the United States before the age of 16.  Today the New York Attorney General and 16 other states joined in suing the federal government to stop the end of this program. The suit seeks privacy protection for the nearly 800,000 young people who have DACA benefits. This includes over 50,000 New York residents. The suit also argues that the abrupt ending of this program violates the Administrative Procedural Act and denies equal protection and due process protections.

Safe Passage Project meets immigrant youth every day who deserve opportunities to seek humanitarian protection guaranteed by U.S. statutes, treaties, and regulations. We are troubled by the Administration’s actions and stand ready to defend the rights of our clients with DACA status. We also move forward with the support of our hundreds of volunteers and our able staff. Please join us in asking Congress to take action to give youth more immigration protections. Consider donating today to enable us to further our mission that no child should face deportation alone.

Lawyers representing children with DACA for Safe Passage Project should contact their mentor attorney with additional questions.

The DHS memorandum on rescinding DACA is available at:

Attorney General Issues Urgent Fraud Alert on “ICE” Immigration Scams

Please see below for the latest updates from Attorney General Scheiderman pertaining to the “ICE” Immigration Scams.

News from Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman

February 15, 2017

New York City Press Office / 212-416-8060
Albany Press Office / 518-776-2427
Twitter: @AGSchneiderman


Attorney General’s Alert Follows New Reports Of Fraudsters Posing As ‘ICE’ Agents, Threatening To Detain Immigrants Unless They Pay Up

Schneiderman: ICE Agents Will Never Ask For Money

NEW YORK – Today, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued an urgent fraud alert, warning immigrant communities of potential scams in light of recent reports that fraudsters have been posing as Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents scams and demanding money in order to avoid deportation. The Attorney General’s office has received an increased number of reported scams along these lines following the ICE deportation raids that have taken place over the last few days.

“It is unconscionable for scam artists to prey on heightened fear in our immigrant communities by pretending to be ICE officers and demanding that families pay up in order to avoid deportation,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “I urge communities to protect themselves by learning about these potential scams – and contacting my office if they suspect fraud. We will continue to use all of the tools at our disposal and bring to justice those who commit fraud against our immigrant communities.”

The Attorney General’s office has received a number of reports of unsolicited calls or in-person inquiries from fake immigration officials. For example, one immigrant living in Queens was approached by four men dressed as ICE agents. The purported ICE “agents” told the man that he was going to be detained unless he gave them all of his money.

To report potential fraud or other issues regarding immigration services, contact the Attorney General’s Immigration Services Fraud Unit Hotline at (866) 390-2992 or email The Attorney General’s office will never ask for your immigration status or share immigration information with federal authorities if you contact the Immigration Services Fraud Unit Hotline.

Attorney General Schneiderman also reminded immigrant communities of the New York resources available to those seeking immigration and naturalization-related support. Managed by Catholic Charities Community Services, the New Americans hotline is a toll-free, multi-lingual hotline that provides live assistance in receiving immigration and naturalization information and referrals, regardless of citizenship or documented status. All calls to the hotline are confidential and anonymous. Call 1-800-566-7636 (toll-free) anytime between 9:00am to 8:00pm Monday through Friday.

Attorney General Schneiderman reminds New Yorkers of these common forms of immigration fraud:

Being Approached by Fake ICE Agents. Official Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents will never ask you for money or threaten detainment or deportation if you do not pay them. ICE agents also do not have the authority to enter your household without a warrant signed by a judge.

Unsolicited Calls From Fake Officials: One of the most common immigration services scams are unsolicited calls or text messages from someone claiming to be a government official or law enforcement officer that make threats such as deportation. Often times the number on caller ID may look like a legitimate government number. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will never request payment over the phone, so immigrants should be wary of scammers that ask for any sensitive or personal information, demand payment and threaten deportation if you do not comply.

Notario Fraud: In many Latin American countries a “notario” refers to someone who has the authority to render legal services. Unscrupulous “notaries” who are not attorneys often rely on this misunderstanding to exploit immigrants. They charge immigrants excessive application fees without ever submitting applications to the immigration authorities or may induce deportation by submitting applications for relief for which the immigrant is not eligible for or did not request.

Misrepresenting Legal Credentials: Individuals may falsely claim to be attorneys or wrongly suggest that they are able to appear before the immigration agencies or court. They take advantage of immigrants who will unknowingly pay exorbitant fees for their services. By misrepresenting their qualifications, these individuals can have a detrimental impact on the immigrants with whom they work. For example, immigrants who take advice from and work with these individuals may waive their right to obtain legal residency, be unnecessarily deported, or become subject to civil and/or criminal liability for the filing of false claims.

Fraudulent Promises to Expedite Process: This type of fraud concerns individuals who contend that they know employees at immigration offices who can expedite the processing of their clients applications. Accordingly, they request high fees for this special service, but fail to provide it.

Misinformation Fraud: Under this type of fraud, a provider will typically provide inaccurate or false information to the immigrant concerning his or her eligibility for an adjustment of status under a particular law. In these cases, the immigrant is usually not aware that they have been a victim of fraud until they receive a letter of ineligibility from immigration authorities. The provider knows the immigrant is not entitled to relief, or ineligible, but will file the application with immigration authorities regardless.

Immigration Affinity Fraud: Some providers target immigrants belonging to their same ethnic or racial group. Accordingly, they seek to gain advantage over other providers by claiming to identify with the ethnic, racial, national origin or community-based affiliations of the immigrant group.

Unauthorized Practice of the Law: Individuals may not be licensed to practice law but present themselves as attorneys or immigration law experts capable of providing legal advice and services.

Attorney General Schneiderman provided these key tips to avoid getting scammed:

·         Only work with a licensed lawyer or an authorized provider.

·         Never sign blank applications or documents you do not understand.

·         Do not make payments over the phone or via email.

Last month, anticipating changes to federal immigration enforcement, Attorney General Schneiderman provided local law enforcement agencies with legal guidance to protect their immigrant communities and improve public safety by becoming “sanctuary” jurisdictions.

Additional resources can be found on the Attorney General’s website, including Know Your Rights: Immigration Services Fraud and Don’t Be a Victim of Immigration Fraud brochure. All authorized attorneys will be registered with the New York State Court. To verify an attorney, see here.  


Safe Passage Project with the NYC Bar Association: Central American Refugee Crisis

On January 26, 2017, Safe Passage Project took place in a pro bono fair following a program at the NYC Bar Association entitled “The Central American Refugee Crisis: Human Rights Challenges and needs in the United States and South of the U.S.-Mexico Border.” Director of Training, Claire R. Thomas, spoke on the panel, along with Luis Canales, a Honduran refugee who is now a law student at Villanova School of Law.

To view a recording of the event, please click HERE.

At one point in the evening, Thomas quoted Warsan Shire’s powerful and timely poem titled “Home.” Read that poem in its entirety HERE.

Panelists, Including Claire Thomas

Panelists, Including Claire R. Thomas

Safe Passage Project Hosts ICARE Training on November 18

On November 18, 2016, Safe Passage Project hosted attorneys from the ICARE (Immigrant Children Advocates Relief Effort) coalition of non-profit organizations in New York City for a training on Immigration Court Practice. Safe Passage Project Attorneys Rex Chen, Alex Rizio, Stephanie Gibbs, Desiree Hernandez, and Claire R. Thomas participated.


SPP Staff Attorney Rex Chen


SPP Staff Attorney Stephanie Gibbs

Lenni and Claire Participate in UNICEF #ChildrenFirst Vigil

On Sunday, September 18th, Lenni and Claire participated in UNICEF’s #ChildrenFirst vigil outside the United Nations (UN) headquarters in Manhattan. During this candlelight vigil, advocates stood in solidarity with the 50 million children who are on the move worldwide and called on world leaders to put children first on the agenda during the UN’s summit on refugees and migrants.


Left to Right, Lisa Szarzkowski, Vice President of Humanitarian Emergencies and Executive Communications at U.S. Fund for UNICEF, alongside Professor Lenni Benson and Claire Thomas. Director of Training at Safe Passage Project

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IDNYC Celebrates a Year and a Half


IDNYC, a free photo ID card for ALL New Yorkers, is celebrating a year and a half of identification accessibility in New York City!

Any person who is a resident of the five buroughs may apply for and obtain an IDNYC for free, regardless of whether or not they may be homeless, youth, elderly, undocumented, formerly encarcerated, a victim of domestic violence, or transgender.

The card can be used to access all City buildings that serve the public as well as for interacting with the NYPD (a relief for people that were previously unable to obtain ID from the DMV and who relied on passports, cedulas, or simply went without identification.)

Additional IDNYC benefits include access to public libraries, free memberships to many cultural institutions, and discounts at grocery stores, movie theaters, animal shelters, and local YMCAs.

Card holders may add an emergency contact to the back of the card as well as note their primary language.

Click here to make an appointment at any site throughout the five boroughs!

Prosecutorial Discretion: An In-Depth Training Video

Safe Passage Project held an “In-Depth Training On Prosecutorial Discretion” on August 23, 2016. Rex Chen, Safe Passage Project Mentor Attorney and veteran “prosecutorial discretion” (“PD”) presenter, helped train over 40 people about seeking PD in the context of New York City Immigration Court.  Rex co-presented with Jodi Ziesemer, Supervising Attorney at Catholic Charities (Archdiocese of NY).

Rex and Jodi offered an overview of PD, practical tips, and addressed a large number of questions from the audience along with hypothetical cases.  They covered the recent change to the fingerprinting process for someone seeking PD and has never been fingerprinted before, meaning an immigrant who is brand new to the process.  Rex and Jodi also encouraged the audience to build an immigrant’s life details into a coherent story, drawing on common themes that appear in many stories and biographies that we hear and read outside the world of immigration law.

The audience of lawyers, students, and advocates were extremely involved with the presentation and raised a large number of questions, which Rex and Jodi worked to incorporate into the presentation.

Afterward, audience members felt the training was very clear and provided many practical tips.

Rex and Jodi thanked: NY City Council, NY Community Trust, and Robin Hood for funding the ICARE project. The ICARE Coalition, Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, and Leslie Wagner. Dr. Alan Shapiro, Dr. Cristina Muniz, and the Terra Firma staff. Michelle Mendez. Catholic Charities staff, including Raluca Oncioiu and Jacqueline Stabnow. Safe Passage Project staff including Lenni Benson, Claire Thomas, Stephanie Gibbs, Marilyn Alvarado, and Xia Gordon. Rebecca Press, Liane Aronchick, and Jacqueline Stabnow (a second time).

Please contact Rex Chen ( if you would like to join an email discussion about prosecutorial discretion!

You can view the full presentation here.

For those watching the video, please download the handout and the appendix of materials that we gave the audience at the following two links:

Gui Stampur, Director of Legal Services, featured in the Atlantic

In an article published on August 20, 2016, “Across the Border and Into School,” the Atlantic recent coverage continues a recent trend of media attention on the lives of unaccompanied minors. In particular, the Atlantic focuses on unaccompanied Central American minors present in the United States and their challenges in getting in enrolled consistently in school.


Gui Stampur, Director of Legal Services at Safe Passage Project, was interviewed as part of the article. “These are challenges that, unchecked, obviously impact how kids do in school—and whether they go to school at all. “I think our goal at Safe Passage is to enable kids to be kids and to focus on school, to focus on their education,” Stampur said. While most schools in the city, he said, have been good about accepting students, occasionally he has to lean on schools upstate and on Long Island to enroll the undocumented children who live there.”


Read the article in its entirety on The Atlantic, or here.

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