Legal Aid's Chief Attorney Praises NYC Council, Robin Hood and Community Trust For Funding Legal Assistance to Unaccompanied Children
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 2014

Saying he hoped the initiative would be be “a model for other jurisdictions," Seymour W. James, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, praised the New York City Council, the Robin Hood Foundation, and the New York Community Trust for combining forces to provide legal representation for the estimated 1,000 unaccompanied immigrant children facing deportation.

James called the flood of children in Immigration Court a “humanitarian crisis.” "It’s really been overwhelming, and our staff has done yeoman’s work to advise these youngsters,” he told the New York Times.“The volume is such that we could not keep it up without additional resources.”




The New York Times
Program to Give Legal Help to Young Migrants
By Nikita Stewart
September 22, 2014

The New York City Council and two philanthropic foundations are combining forces to provide legal representation and other services to some 1,000 unaccompanied immigrant children facing possible deportation under a new accelerated court process.

Advocates for immigrants fear that the children, often fleeing abuse or gang violence, will otherwise be denied due process. “Without a lawyer, you’re four times as likely to be sent back to your country than if you do have one,” said Eric Weingartner, a managing director at the Robin Hood Foundation, one of the two charities contributing grants.

The Council on Tuesday is to earmark $1 million, officials said; the Robin Hood Foundation is committing $550,000, and the New York Community Trust, $360,000.

“It’s a groundbreaking public-private partnership,” said Melissa Mark-Viverito, the City Council speaker.

The accelerated process at the New York Immigration Court, informally known as the “surge docket” or “rocket docket,” began in August under a Justice Department mandate. The number of youth deportation cases has since swelled to 30 per day from fewer than 100 per month, overwhelming the legal groups that provide free screenings and legal representation to immigrant children in coordination with court officials.

The speedy deportation hearings are part of the Obama administration’s efforts to deter the illegal migration of young people from Central America. The federal goal is for children to go before an immigration judge within 21 days of being placed in the deportation process. Children could be deported within a few months, instead of years.

Ms. Mark-Viverito, who visited the immigration court last month, said she was moved to act quickly after the legal-services providers explained that the children’s most urgent need was adequate representation.

“It was just case after case after case, back to back to back,” she said in an interview, recalling the anxiousness on the faces of the children she had seen. “It was just heartbreaking. It’s a foreign environment to them. They don’t know what’s going on.”

The $1.9 million will go to a coalition of established service providers, such as the Door, the Legal Aid Society, Catholic Charities Community Services and the Safe Passage Project. Mr. Weingartner said the Robin Hood Foundation would evaluate the program’s performance after 18 months.

“The timing here was pretty fast,” Mr. Weingartner said.

Seymour W. James, attorney in chief at the Legal Aid Society, praised the City Council and the two nonprofits, saying he hoped the initiative would be “a model for other jurisdictions.”

He called the flood of children in immigration court a “humanitarian crisis.”

“It’s really been overwhelming, and our staff has done yeoman’s work to advise these youngsters,” he said. “The volume is such that we could not keep it up without additional resources.”

The new funding comes after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last week that representatives of several city agencies, including the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, would be stationed at the court to help children with enrollment in school and health services.

Councilman Carlos Menchaca, chairman of the Council’s immigration committee, said he would hold a hearing on the accelerated deportation proceedings on Monday so the public could hear what services the city was providing, as well as how the legal groups were grappling with the increase in cases. The hearing will be held with the committee on courts and legal services. “This is the beginning of a long-term conversation about this docket,” he said.

Ms. Mark-Viverito said future appropriations would depend on how the federal government handles the influx of immigrant children. “We could not leave the children alone,” she said.