NYLAG Launches Large-scale Initiative to Assist Unaccompanied Children
The New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) announces the launch of a large-scale initiative to provide legal representation for immigrant minors. An expansion of NYLAG’s robust immigration law practice, the new program is a direct response to the humanitarian crisis of unaccompanied children fleeing extortion, rape, gang violence and murder in Central America.
Of the projected 145,000 children who will have arrived in the US by year’s end, a majority is expected to relocate to New York City. Since the beginning of 2014, over 3,300 children have already been released into New York State, with as many as 900 active cases on the New York Immigration Court’s juvenile docket. An estimated 10,000 more children have evaded detection by law enforcement and arrived in New York without familial support or involvement by immigration authorities. These numbers are expected to balloon in the months ahead. In anticipation of an unprecedented case load, the Court has announced the creation of a “surge docket” that will enable it to schedule 35 respondents per day, five days per week, indefinitely – translating into an astounding 700 child respondents per month.
These children need and deserve legal representation in Court, but by pushing their cases to the front of the new docket, there is a high risk that they will be forced to appear alone and unprepared. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that at least 58% of unaccompanied minors are eligible for some form of immigration relief. NYLAG knows firsthand that the majority of these children have compelling cases for asylum, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, or both. At a recent Immigrant Youth Fair, NYLAG immigration attorneys screened 89 children and only 12 were found to be without possible relief.
How You Can Help
In response to this urgent need, NYLAG staff and supporters have launched an online crowd funding campaign to raise public awareness about this crisis and funds that will ensure these children have access to a knowledgeable attorney who can give them a voice in Court.
Every $1,000 we raise means we can represent one more child in immigration court. Every $1,000 is a life we can save. Click here to donate and share.
One Child’s Story
Sixteen-year-old Silvia is just one of the children seen at the two-day clinic. She came together with her fourteen-year-old sister Sonia, and her six-month-old baby Jorge. In the Honduran neighborhood where the girls grew up, gang activity is rampant, and their sister-in-law was raped and killed by a gang member three years ago. After serving a short prison sentence, the suspected murderer was released and began threatening to kill Silvia and her baby. Unable to finish high school and fearing for their lives, the girls fled to New York in the hopes of being reunited with their mother. All three are potentially eligible for asylum, but without representation and unable to speak English, their chances of success in Court are minimal.
“The need for legal assistance for large numbers of young immigrants has moved from pressing to desperate. Many of those who reach New York are eligible for various forms of immigration relief, and NYLAG is committed to helping them successfully navigate a complex and often frightening process with sensitivity and compassion,” said Yisroel Schulman, NYLAG’s President and Attorney-in-Charge.
To address the urgent need to screen a huge volume of children at once, NYLAG plans to conduct ongoing large-scale legal clinics, twice per month, for as many as 300 unaccompanied minors at a time. NYLAG has long been on the forefront of providing assistance to large numbers of immigrant clients by leveraging long-standing relationships with more than 60 law firms to recruit and train pro bono attorneys who help staff the clinics, a model it developed for its Haitian Temporary Protected Status Project in 2010. Clients will be assessed by culturally sensitive and language-proficient staff and pro bono attorneys for all forms of immigration relief and assisted in pursuing the options that will provide them and their families with the greatest benefit. NYLAG works with more than 600 community-based organizations to conduct outreach and promote its clinics.
To address the escalating need for representation in Court, the agency plans to rapidly increase its professional staff as well. This will include bringing on temporary attorneys to help with existing non-urgent immigration cases, thereby freeing NYLAG’s experienced attorneys to immediately take on more complex cases for unaccompanied children. NYLAG attorneys currently handle approximately 600 immigration cases for juveniles annually. A new senior attorney is being hired specifically to oversee cases involving Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, which require advocacy in both Family and Immigration Courts. NYLAG is uniquely positioned to handle these cases expertly and efficiently. In addition to a staff of 25 full-time immigration attorneys and accredited case handlers, the agency has 14 full-time Family Law attorneys, and maintains a strong presence in all five New York City Family Courts.
NYLAG’s next large-scale youth immigration clinic will be held in coordination with the New York Immigration Coalition on September 28th in Brooklyn. Click here for more information.