Posts Tagged ‘Legal Aid Society’

Attorneys Jump In to Help Children in Immigration Court

Friday, September 5th, 2014

By Tania Karas
New York Law Journal

Alberth, a shy 10-year-old who made his way alone from his native El Salvador to the United States, appeared last week in a tiny Manhattan courtroom thousands of miles from his homeland.

Apprehended at the southwestern border, the dark-haired, freckled boy was sent to New York to be reunited with his mother. Alberth was one of 36 children appearing at Immigration Court as part of a “rocket docket” to expedite deportations of the tens of thousands of Central American children who have entered the United States illegally in the past year.

Immigration Judge Virna Wright asked Alberth through a Spanish-language interpreter whether he was enrolled to start school. And was he excited?

Alberth only nodded.

Wright then turned to the boy’s mother, who was seated beside him, and asked if they had an attorney.

‘Not yet,’ she said…

The Door, along with four other legal services providers—the Legal Aid Society, Catholic Charities Community Services, the Safe Passage Project at New York Law School and the New York chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association—has volunteered daily since Aug. 13 to guide the influx of children, along with their adult sponsors, through their first court appearances…

Volunteer lawyers said many of the children have suffered domestic abuse, gang violence, abject poverty and human trafficking in their native countries.

At least 4,200 have been sent to New York since January, according to ORR data. More than half are in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Those without family are sent to shelters, such as The Children’s Village in Dobbs Ferry and Lincoln Hall Boys’ Haven in Somers.

Rocket docket sessions start at 9 a.m. with a “Know Your Rights” presentation in Spanish by Elvis Garcia Callejas, a case manager for Catholic Charities’ unaccompanied minors program.

Children and their sponsors fill the court’s 12th floor pro bono room. Some of the boys sport suits and ties, and some girls wear flowered dresses. A few teenage girls hold babies in their laps. They seek legal status for themselves and their own children.

Everyone clutches folders with their names and “alien number” scrawled across the front.

Adults take notes as Garcia Callejas writes a list of “los remedios legales” on a whiteboard. Based on their situations, the children may qualify for special immigrant juvenile status, asylum or visas for victims of serious crimes or trafficking.

‘It’s very important to come to court. Because if you don’t, the judge can order your deportation,’Garcia Callejas told his audience last week…

Catholic Charities recently received a “substantial” grant from the Office of Refugee Resettlement to hire attorneys, paralegals and support staff, said Mario Russell, director of Catholic Charities’ Immigrant and Refugee Services division. Catholic Charities focuses on children living in or just released from temporary shelters.

With the new hires, it expects to handle 300 to 600 such cases and host “Know Your Rights” trainings at 16 shelters in New York City, the Hudson Valley and Long Island.
“Our plan is to take as many of these as we can,” Russell said. “Specifically we’re looking to partner with nonprofits who have worked on these issues. We expect each case to take 12 to 36 months.”

Read the full story online

Expedited Immigration Hearings in NYC for Minors

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

A federal immigration court in Manhattan that usually deals with fewer than 100 new children’s cases a month is getting a lot busier, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Twenty-nine minors who entered the country unaccompanied by adults appeared Wednesday before Judge James Loprest, Jr., some with attorneys, others with family by their sides. Six-year-old Gabriela and her brother Brandon Lopez, 15, were among the minors hoping to be allowed to legally stay with family already living in the U.S.

The siblings participated in the first day of surge docket hearings at federal immigration court. The “surge docket” is an initiative by the federal government to help expedite the legal process for the more than 57,000 unaccompanied minors who have been processed into the system since October.

The minors are fleeing poverty, gang-violence and death, say advocates from the New York chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

AILA is one of five groups handling unaccompanied minor cases. The others are the Legal Aid Society and nonprofits Catholic Charities, Safe Passage, and The Door. The groups have been preparing for a surge in cases since they learned 3, 347 unaccompanied minors had arrived in the state since January. New York is second to Texas with the most cases.

Gabriela and Brandon needed to leave their home country to get away from extortionists, said their father, 35-year-old Emerson Lopez.

“I began to hear rumors that they were going start charging rent for each head,” Lopez said, referring to his children.

“In my home country, they call them ‘heads.’ They treat people as if they are cattle, and that’s when my wife and I made the decision to send for them,” he said.

Read the full story in the Wall Street Journal.

Find out more about the help Catholic Charities provides in the Latin Post.

Catholic Charities Joins Public Advocate Letitia James to Call for Pro-Bono Legal Help for Unaccompanied Children

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014
2014-08-12 11.38.02

Catholic Charities Supervising Attorney Margaret Martin with Letitia James and fellow advocates

Public Advocate Letitia James joined a coalition of immigration advocates including Catholic Charities, New York Immigration Coalition and Legal Aid Society yesterday, August 12, 2014, to call on increased protection and representation for undocumented youth navigating New York immigration court.

Margaret Martin,  supervising attorney for Catholic Charities Unaccompanied Minors Program, spoke at the event along with others to call for the creation of a help desk at Immigration Court that will provide counsel and resources to children and their families, and monthly clinics around the City to train attorneys who volunteer to act as a friend of the court during initial hearings (“surge dockets”) that involve unaccompanied minors.  The Public Advocate seeks to recruit attorneys to serve in this capacity pro-bono and also plans to undergo training to serve unaccompanied youth.

Today, the first of nearly 3,500 unaccompanied children– many of whom have both experienced and been witness to heinous crimes in their home countries– will enter New York State to face deportation proceedings via accelerated court hearings.

New York State is second only to Texas in the number of unaccompanied children hosted, followed by Florida with 3,181 and California with 3,150. These children, as young as five years old, come without any knowledge of our legal system, yet are expected to navigate the complex juvenile surge docket.

Children and others in court for immigration charges do not have a right to an attorney — so if they cannot afford one or do not have family to help them find one, they go unrepresented in their hearings.

“For more than 8 years, Catholic Charities has been providing compassionate help to those seeking refuge from Central America,” said Catholic Charities Executive Director Monsignor Kevin Sullivan.

“We have seen the number of children in need of help increase dramatically and witnessed the emotional and physical scars they bear from violence and abuse in their home countries.  We continue to respond to each child’s needs, by expanding our services to meet the growing demand, whether through providing proper legal representation, helping reunification with custodial parents, or coordinating needed supportive human services.”