Harlem Speaker Mark-Viverito Assures Minors Free Access To Attorneys

Melissa_Mark-ViveritoOne year after calling for New York City to step up and “respond to the humanitarian crisis we have before us,” East Harlem Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced today that the New York City Council Unaccompanied Minors Initiative is successfully providing free attorneys for every minor who arrives in New York City.

To date, the Initiative has taken on 648 cases directly, screened over 1,600 immigrants and won 14 asylum cases ensures that every child who makes it to New York City has access to an attorney.  The Unaccompanied Minors Initiative is a public-private partnership between the New York City Council, which provided $1 million in Fiscal Year 2015,  and the Robin Hood Foundation and the New York Community Trust who together contributed $900,000. In Fiscal Year 2016, the City Council allocated an additional $1.5 million for the Initiative.

“New York City stepped and resolved the unaccompanied minors representation crisis here-  now it’s time for others to follow. There is no excuse for failing these vulnerable children,” said Speaker Mark-Viverito.  “One year ago, we said we had an obligation to help these children who flee unspeakable violence and today I am proud to announce that we have. Too many children who escaped horrific conditions are facing unequal access to lawyers across the country.”

“We’re proud to lead the nation in welcoming these hopeful young people to our city. By getting them legal help, we’re protecting their rights and opening a path for those who stay to become productive New Yorkers,” said Shawn Morehead, said Shawn Morehead,Senior Program Officer of The New York Community Trust.

“Robin Hood has long supported New York City’s strongest nonprofits in service of our most marginalized neighbors.  Providing quality legal counsel to these children fleeing extraordinary violence is the first step to ensuring they can live successful lives, out of poverty, in their new home. The early results of this model are proving that an effective intervention, can indeed save lives.  It is a pleasure for Robin Hood to partner with Speaker Mark-Viverito on this important program,” said Eric Weingartner, Managing Director of Robin Hood.

According to data from Transactional Records Access Clearing House, 91% of children in removal proceedings without a lawyer are deported. However, only 22% of children with lawyers during proceedings are deported. Overall, it is estimated that two of every three children are eligible for either Special Immigrant Juvenile Status or asylum. Through the City Council’s Unaccompanied Minors Initiative, all children who make their way to New York City have free access to legal representation and justice.

Legal and social services for the Unaccompanied Minors Initiative are provided by Catholic Charities Community Service of the Archdiocese of New York (CCCS), The Door, Legal Aid, Make the Road, Central American Legal Assistance (CALA), Kids in Need of Defense, Atlas: DIY and the Safe Passage Project at New York Law School.  In total, the Initiative has helped fund training and mentoring for more than 5,000 attorneys and student volunteers  over 60 training sessions.

The providers offer the following services:

Know Your Rights Orientations:  CCCS staff has conducted more than 100 Know Your Rights orientations, in which children and their parents or custodians are trained and prepared for upcoming legal proceedings. This is done in Spanish and English.  Non-New York City children are referred to legal services in their communities. During orientations, those eligible are encouraged to sign up for IDNYC.

Individualized Legal Screenings: Providers have screened more than 1,600 unaccompanied children along with follow-up consultations.  The screenings are conducted by volunteer attorneys and law students in Spanish and English.

Full Representation Cases:  Full representation is provided by staff attorneys of CCCS, The Door, Legal Aid, Make the Road and CALA. The Safe Passage Project has also created a program to recruit and train volunteer attorneys and law students for cases on a pro bono basis.

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Outcomes As Of June 30, 2015
 
Petitions filed in Family Court
159
Family Court Petitions Granted
40
I-360 Applications Filed
20
SIJS Granted
3
Applications Filed with Asylum
55
Asylum Applications Granted
14
Admin Closure Filing
6
Admin Closure Granted
4
Referrals to Education
36
Referrals to Health
127
Referrals to Mental Health
163

“Unaccompanied minors are among our most vulnerable populations, and I’d like to congratulate Speaker Mark-Viverito and the participating organizations on a successful first year implementing this initiative on their behalf.  Access to legal services is critical for youth facing deportation, and I know this effort has made and will continue to make a major difference for them,” said Council Member Antonio Reynoso.

“Giving unaccompanied minors an equal opportunity to remain and succeed in the only country they call home is a human right and an initiative this Council is proud to support,” said Council Member Julissa Ferreras. “The Unaccompanied Minors Initiative exist because we recognize that young immigrants are the future of our city and that we need to nurture them to become leaders,” said Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland.

“Last year, in the midst of a real humanitarian crisis, this Council stood up and by the side of young people from all over the world who were looking to us for safety and leadership. I am proud to have been a leader on the effort, to chair the committee that heard compelling and devastating testimony, and to help oversee the use of the dollars we allocated.  It is a pleasure to one year later see some of the affected young people enrolled in school, reconnected with loved ones, and on their way to success. I applaud the efforts of our Speaker and of the advocates who spoke up. I hope we can continue to recommit to ending the circumstances that would allow for children to end up in those dark days again,” said Carlos Menchaca, Chair of Committee on Immigration.

“We are lucky to live in a City that understands the critical need for legal representation and is willing to work with us to respond quickly when a crisis arises,” said Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “There are no more vulnerable individuals than refugee children. When they came to our door asking for help, our city’s leadership responded with compassion and urgency and made us all proud to be New Yorkers. We look forward to continuing our work with Speaker Mark-Viverito and the entire City Council to ensure that this good work lives on for years to come.”

“For an unaccompanied immigrant child, the ability to access essential legal services can make the difference between a grim future and a bright, hopeful path of opportunity.  The much-needed growth of Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s Unaccompanied Minors Initiative cements New York City’s position as a national leader in fairness and justice for these vulnerable young people. Para un niño inmigrante no acompañado, la habilidad de obtener servicios legales esenciales puede hacer la diferencia entre un futuro oscuro y un camino luminoso, lleno de oportunidades. El crecimiento de la Iniciativa de menores no acompañados de la Portavoz Melissa Mark-Viverito asegura la posición de la ciudad de Nueva York como un líder nacional en la equidad y la justicia para estos jóvenes vulnerables,”  said Theo Oshiro, Deputy Director of Make the Road New York.

“The Speaker’s efforts to make sure young people fleeing violence in Central America have legal representation stands in stark contrast to the immigrant-bashing going on in some quarters and she and the Council are to be commended, “ said Anne Pilsbury, Director of Central American Legal Assistance

 
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