As Minors Across the Country Face Unequal Access to Lawyers, Speaker Mark-Viverito Says, “We are Proud to Serve as a National Model”

CITY HALL – The New York City Council’s Unaccompanied Minors Initiative – a groundbreaking public-private partnership between the Council, Robin Hood Foundation and the New York Community Trust– is ensuring that unaccompanied minors who make their way to New York City receive much needed help from qualified attorneys. While published reports show that unaccompanied minors across the country continue to face unequal access to legal services, in the six months since its launch, this initiative has provided screenings for virtually every unaccompanied child appearing at the surge and regular juvenile dockets at the New York City immigration court, secured representation for over 400 children, along with much needed social services, and resulted in asylum for four of these children.

“The New York City Council’s initiative ensures that children escaping horrific violence can have access to an attorney, and we are proud to serve as a model for the rest of the country. In the last six months, organizations representing these children through our funding, have taken on over 400 cases, filed over two dozen asylum applications, and obtained asylum for four of these children. It’s very possible, that without the City Council’s efforts, none of these outcomes would have occurred” said Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “Children fleeing gangs and murderers should not have to face their plight alone, and today the City Council’s initiative with the Robin Hood Foundation and the New York Community Trust is ensuring they don’t have to.”

“I am so happy that Atlas is working on my legal case. If my lawyers had not been with me at court I would have felt very scared and alone. They make sure that I understand what is happening in my case and I am very thankful for them,” said Juan, a client from Guatemala who was 17-years-old when he fled to the United States.

In September 2014, the New York City Council provided $1 million and successfully leveraged an additional $900,000 in funding from Robin Hood and the New York Community Trust, allowing Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, Central American Legal Assistance, The Door, The Legal Aid Society and the Safe Passage Project (New York Law School) to provide Know Your Rights (KYR) presentations, and comprehensive screening to all unaccompanied minor children appearing at the surge and regular juvenile dockets at the New York City immigration court. Providers have also been able to render quality legal representation to eligible unaccompanied minor children who reside in New York City, using staff attorneys and mentored volunteers. To ensure the longevity of the initiative, providers have recruited and trained approximately 1,600 attorneys and student volunteers at 36 training sessions. The specialized trainings covered asylum, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), U and T visas, and Family Court Practice.

Statistics Through February 2015:

Cases Accepted for Representation: 424
Petitions Filed in Family Court: 105
Family Court Petitions Granted: 9
Applications Filed with the Asylum Office: 22
Asylum Applications Granted: 4
I-360 Applications Filed: 5
U & T Visas Filed: 1
Other Relief applications N-600: 1
Referrals to Education: 71
Referrals to Health: 75
Referrals to Mental Health: 73

“The Council’s precedent-setting response to the crisis facing unaccompanied minors last year remains one of my proudest moments as Chair of the Committee on Immigration The City Council was able to hear the recommendations of advocates, professionals, and affected persons about the needs that this population faced, and acted immediately–in partnership with other stakeholders–to fill those gaps. Months later, we are able to celebrate how much work has been done as a result of that concerted effort. While the realities of those young people remain difficult, our City can be proud of the work we continue to do to secure a better future for these kids,” said Carlos Menchaca, Chair of The Committee on Immigration.

“The good news is that our immigration laws are designed to offer refuge to many of the children fleeing poverty and violence on their own,” said Shawn Morehead, Trust senior program officer for human justice at New York Community Trust. “The bad news is that without legal help, many would be deported regardless of their eligibility to remain here legally. That’s why we made the grants we did — to nonprofits with proven track records of successfully helping unaccompanied immigrant children benefit from current immigration laws.”

“As New York City’s largest poverty-fighting organization, we are pleased to work with the New York City Counsel to ensure that the most vulnerable children have the right to legal services that can help provide a healthy and stable future for themselves and their families,” said Eric Weingartner, Managing Director of Robin Hood.

“Unaccompanied minor children are the most vulnerable population facing deportation and yet lack counsel,” said Seymour W. James, Jr. Attorney-in-Chief, The Legal Aid Society. “The Unaccompanied Minor Children Initiative addresses this critical representation gap and ensures that these vulnerable children receive high quality legal representation in removal proceedings and thereby avoid unwarranted deportations resulting from the lack of counsel. The Society applauds the Speaker and the New York City Council for their visionary leadership in keeping with New York City’s traditional leadership role in providing access to justice.”

“This is one of those rare instances where a local government was ahead of the curve in looking out for its vulnerable immigrants”, said Central American Legal Assistance Attorney Anne Pilsbury. “Funding usually follows long after, if ever, the needs of the refugees.”

“Across the country, unaccompanied, immigrant children are being deported to dangerous conditions in Central America with no regard for their safety, and no right to legal representation. But here in NYC, things are different. Thanks to an historic partnership between New York City Council, private foundations and legal services providers, children in NYC have lawyers to represent their interests and to protect them from harm. What we are doing here is a model for the United States and for the world. I have never been prouder to be a New Yorker,” said Eve Stotland, Director, The Door’s Legal Services Center.

“There are few things more daunting than appearing in court. Add to that the fact that you are a child, traveling alone, unable to speak the language and most likely fleeing for your life and you have a terrifying proposition. Where the U.S. government has failed to support its most vulnerable charges with the right to legal counsel New York City has stepped up and ensured that most every child receives competent lawyers specially trained to deal with young immigrants. We are proud to be a part of this initiative and the city that supports it,” said Lauren A. Burke, Executive Director, Atlas: DIY.

“Thanks to the efforts of the New York City Council and others, pro bono representation for unaccompanied children has been greatly expanded, ensuring that significantly more children have attorneys to help them make their case for U.S. protection in immigration proceedings,” said KIND President Wendy Young. “Many of these children are fleeing severe violence in their home countries; without an attorney, they are largely unable to present their claims in immigration court and are at great risk of being returned to harm.”

“Safe Passage Project, a pro bono mentoring project jumped in last August to expand its work at the immigration court from one day a month to one day a week. Without the City Council’s support and that of Robin Hood Foundation, the Project could not have met the needs of unrepresented immigrant children,” said Lenni B. Benson, Director of the Safe Passage Project. “With the support we were able to host over twenty free trainings and happily more than 2,000 attorneys participated in one of our trainings on how to provide pro bono representation to immigrant youth. We are thrilled to mentor and expand the pool of excellent attorneys who will be meeting the needs of these unaccompanied youth.”

“Unaccompanied children, some as young as 3 years old and many who are traumatized after escaping violence and abuse, are navigating a complex court system that most English-speaking adults would find challenging,” said Marika Dias, Managing Attorney, Make the Road New York. ” The City Council’s unaccompanied minors initiative has ensured that unaccompanied children in New York City’s immigration court have access to essential legal advice and the chance to obtain lawful humanitarian relief.”

En Español:

Iniciativa del Concejo Municipal de la Ciudad de Nueva York para Menores No Acompañados – esta innovadora asociación público-privada entre el Concejo Municipal, la Fundación Robin Hood y el Fondo del Fideicomiso de Nueva York – asegura que los menores no acompañados que llegan a la ciudad de Nueva York, reciban la ayuda necesaria de abogados calificados. Mientras que los informes publicados muestran que los menores no acompañados en todo el país continúan enfrentando el acceso desigual a los servicios legales, en los seis meses desde su lanzamiento, esta iniciativa ha proporcionado revisiones legales para prácticamente todos los niños no acompañados que aparecen en la corte de inmigración de Nueva York. También logró asegurar la representación para más de 400 niños, brindó los servicios sociales necesarios y resultó en asilo para cuatro de estos niños.

La iniciativa del Concejo Municipal asegura que los niños que están escapando una terrorífica violencia, tengan acceso a un abogado. Nos sentimos orgullosos de servir como modelo para el resto de la nación. En los últimos seis meses, las organizaciones – que gracias a nuestro respaldo económico representan a estos niños – han tomado más de 400 casos, sometieron más de dos docenas de aplicaciones para asilo y obtuvieron asilo para cuatro de estos niños. Sin los esfuerzos del Concejo Municipal, es muy posible que nada de esto hubiese ocurrido”, dijo la Presidenta del Concejo Melissa Mark-Viverito. “Los niños que escapan a los asesinos y las pandillas no deben enfrentar esta lucha solos, y esta iniciativa del Concejo Municipal, en asociación con Robin Hood y el Fondo del Fideicomiso de Nueva York, se asegura que no lo tengan que hacer”.

“Estoy contento de que Atlas esté trabajando en mi caso. Si mis abogados no hubieran estado conmigo en corte, me hubiera sentido solo y con miedo. Ellos se aseguran que yo entienda lo que está pasando en mi caso y estoy muy agradecido de tenerlos”, dijo Juan, un cliente de 17 años de edad que escapó de Guatemala.