Legal Aid’s Maria Navarro Appointed Immigration Judge
FRIDAY, JULY 21, 2017

Today, please join Legal Aid in congratulating Maria Navarro, Attorney-in-Charge of the Immigration Law Unit, as she departs after 21 years of service to join the federal immigration court as an immigration judge. Maria’s numerous accomplishments have left an indelible mark of excellence at The Legal Aid Society.


Excellence as a Leader, Innovator and Mentor

Maria has been the leading force in the detained immigration defense work in New York City, and the subsequent establishment of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP), the first project of its kind in New York City where the Society along with two legal services defender partners essentially provides a right to counsel to all detained immigrants with families facing deportation, to help ensure New York families are not separated simply because they cannot afford an attorney. Through Maria’s leadership the project is extraordinarily successful, serving as a model promoted by the Vera Institute, and now emulated by seven other jurisdictions in the United States.

Maria helped to create the immigrant youth docket in immigration court for immigrant youth, and worked to coordinate and supervise the Unit’s Unaccompanied Minor Children Project, or what later became known as Immigrant Children Advocates Relief Effort (ICARE). In July 2014, New York City faced an urgent crisis – the imminent arrival of thousands of unaccompanied minor children in New York City. This vulnerable population, with no right to appointed counsel faced expeditious return to their home countries following fast track proceedings. With the assistance of The New York City Council Speaker and the New York City Council recognizing the urgent need for services, Maria and the Unit expanded our provision of services to profoundly impacted the lives of these New York resident children, most of whom are attending school for the very first time, and receiving much needed mental and medical services.

Through Maria’s expertise and vision, she developed and implemented an immigration removal defense practice at the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights (NMCIR), a non-profit community based organization. The project supervised Columbia Law School student interns and pro bono attorneys to regularly take on cases, and Maria served as an adjunct professor at Columbia Law School where she co-taught the Immigrant Defense Externship, a weekly seminar on the interaction between immigration law and criminal law.


Interesting Career Beginnings and Move to Immigration Law

Few people realize that following law school at New York University, having served as a staff editor for the Review of Law and Social Change; volunteered at the Washington Square Legal Services Civil Rights Clinic; and awarded the President’s Award for Volunteerism and Community Service that Maria started her legal career as a tax associate at Coopers & Lybrand in 1992. It wasn’t long, however, before Maria sought challenges in the public interest sector, which have become the focus of her career. Maria joined Brooklyn Legal Services, Corporation B as a staff attorney in the Housing Law Unit, and then in 1996 joined The Legal Aid Society as a housing staff attorney in our Brooklyn Neighborhood Office. In a little more than one-year, her intention to more directly serve immigrants and address the increased enforcement, detention and collateral consequences to criminal offenses, led her to The Legal Aid Society’s Immigration Law Unit as a staff attorney (in a little more than one-year – a fact that Warren Scharf, then AIC of the Brooklyn Neighborhood Office told us that he has never forgiven)!

Then in 2008, Maria became a Supervising Attorney of our citywide Immigration Law Unit. When she moved into this role she was the only supervising attorney in the unit, working for Jojo Annobil, then the Attorney-in-Charge of the ILU. Together with Jojo and senior leadership, Maria has helped grow the Unit from 9 to 55 staff including additional supervising attorneys and a Deputy AIC. Following Jojo’s departure in 2016, Maria became the Attorney-in-Charge.

Consequently, Maria’s goal – that of ensuring that every New York non-citizen, detained or non-detained, adult or child appearing in removal proceedings receives information about the immigration process and that every non-citizen with a viable case is represented by competent counsel – is still possible. Her projects and collaborations have all made tremendous progress in recent years providing competent high quality representation to indigent non-citizens facing removal, and pushing for the legal reform of immigration, and working passionately to address racism and xenophobia in our great City of immigrants.

Please join Legal Aid in congratulating Maria as she begins a new chapter in such an illustrious career!