Monday, 29 March 2010

New York Law School’s Safe Passage Immigration Project

The Safe Passage Immigration Project is a unique pro bono model. We are part of the Justice Action Center of New York Law School. The project’s co-directors are Professor Lenni B Benson and Adjunct Professor Lindsay A Curcio. Safe Passage trains and mentors pro bono attorneys to represent children needing immigration assistance.

A recent study found that an estimated 43,000 unaccompanied illegal immigrant children were removed from the US in 2007 and that 50 to 70 percent of unaccompanied minors who appeared before an immigration judge that year did so without legal representation. [Read a PDF of the report here.] Some of these children are escaping abuse or political turmoil in their home countries. Others have been victims of smugglers or trafficking. In some situations, children have lived most their lives in the US unaware that their parents or guardians failed to secure a legal immigration status for them. While these children are entitled to counsel in immigration proceedings, the federal government does not provide this legal representation as immigration is a civil matter.

US immigration laws provide special relief for some, but not all these children. Special Immigrant Juvenile Status is extraordinary relief leading to permanent residence for eligible children, teens and young adults under the age of 21. The Safe Passage Immigration Project helps social service providers, foster care agencies and non-profit organizations screen juvenile populations and identify immigration issues and relief available to these children. Safe Passage brings together pro bono attorneys, including New York Law School alumni, and current volunteer law students dedicated to providing direct client services for special immigrant juvenile status cases. Safe Passage continues to monitor each case throughout the process.

New York Law School students may volunteer for the Safe Passage Immigration Project to develop training and intake materials for special immigrant juvenile status cases. Our students also provide language translation assistance between volunteer attorneys and clients and assist in research and case preparation. In addition to their volunteer work with Safe Passage they participate in other immigration events such as clinics and initiatives sponsored by the New York City Bar Association, Justice for Our Neighbors and the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

In Spring 2008, Safe Passage received the New York State Bar Association’s President’s Pro Bono Award for its innovative program. For more information about Safe Passage and special immigrant juvenile status, please visit the site, which also contains our current newsletter.

Posted by
Lindsay A Curcio
New York Law School

Monday, 15 March 2010

Legal aid funding and the financial crisis

In December 2009, the District of Columbia Access to Justice Commission and the D.C. Consortium of Legal Service Providers issued a report that reflected the negative effect the financial crisis has had on the funding of legal aid programs in the DC.
Among other things, the report revealed a 60 percent drop in Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA), which is an important source of funding for legal aid; a 20 percent drop in local government funding support for legal services; and a decrease of more than $1 million in charitable donations and volunteer services. As a result, 21 lawyers working for legal aid organizations along with 30 non lawyers had to be laid off. At the same time these cuts were being made, the demand for legal assistance increased by 20 percent.

The DC experience is mirrored in Connecticut, which has traditionally also been largely dependent on IOLTA accounts to provide funds for its legal service organizations. One Connecticut legal service organization avoided layoffs by its staff of lawyers and non lawyers agreeing to a 20 percent reduction in salaries and a 4 day work week.

The IBA Pro Bono and Access to Justice Committee, the IBA Bar Issues Commission, and the IBA Forum for Barristers and Advocates will be co-presenting a session at the IBA Annual Conference in Vancouver, 3-8 October 2010, that will explore the issue of legal aid funding, including the ramifications when governments fail to provide adequate funding for legal aid programs.

We doubt that DC and Connecticut are unique in suffering these problems and would welcome further examples from other jurisdictions in order further to inform our Vancouver discussions.

Posted by
Patricia N Blair
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee