NYC Council Speaker Announces Success of Program for Unaccompanied Immigrant Children; The Legal Aid Society Represented More than 250

More than 100 unaccompanied immigrant children have been granted permanent legal status or asylum in New York City through an innovative New York City Council initiative to provide immigration court representation to unaccompanied immigrant children. The Legal Aid Society assumed a lead role in the representation of these children, who are fleeing abuse and violence, and has taken on more than 250 cases under the program since it started two years ago.

The Immigrant Children Advocates' Relief Effort – a public-private partnership between the Council, the Robin Hood Foundation and the New York Community Trust – was created to address an upsurge in immigration proceedings linked to a rise in children escaping violence in certain Central American countries. Legal Aid and other legal service providers are representing the children under the program. New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito led the efforts to provide representation for the children.

City Council to announce results of unaccompanied minor program
By Gloria Pazmino

Just over 100 children have been granted permanent legal status or asylum in New York City two years after the City Council launched a private-public partnership to prevent unaccompanied minors from being deported from the city.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will announce the updated figures Thursday afternoon, her office said, which show the program has provided free legal representation in 72 asylum cases, with 47 cases resulting in children receiving permanent legal status.

The council's unaccompanied minors initiative was launched in 2014 following a surge in children fleeing Central America and crossing the southern border into the U.S. seeking permanent residency in the states. The children, who largely fled their home countries due to violence and lack of economic opportunity, had to first face immigration courts before attaining legal residency - a complicated, bureaucratic tangle of legal proceedings children, many of whom could not speak fluent English, could not easily navigate on their own.

According to data from the Transactional Records Access Clearing House, 91 percent of children facing deportation proceedings without a lawyer are deported, compared to only 22 percent of children who have representation.

Responding to that influx, the council, led by Mark-Viverito, launched the Immigrant Children Advocates' Relief Effort (ICARE) program in 2014 in partnership with the Robin Hood Foundation and the New York Community Trust. ICARE received $1.5 million in Fiscal Year 2017, in addition to $1.1 million provided by the private partners.

"We are living up to our highest ideals by protecting these children," Mark-Viverito said in a statement. "Across the nation too many of these children face unequal access to justice and it's time for others to step up."

Just over a year ago, Mark-Viverito said hundreds of minors who had been sent to New York to reunite with relatives had secured legal representation.

To date, the ICARE program has processed 1,131 cases and resolved 119 of them. During that process, 72 children have been granted asylum and 47 have received permanent residences or green cards through the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status program.

The children, who range in ages from less than a year old to 22, chiefly have come from Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador and can be eligible for either special immigrant juvenile status or asylum due to the dangerous situations they are fleeing in their home countries.

The immigration court has also administratively closed 20 cases, with the government choosing prosecutorial discretion in 13 of them. Administrative closure of a case is typically granted when the judge decides the child seeking asylum might be eligible for some sort of immigration relief.

Councilman Carlos Menchaca, who chairs the council's immigration committee, said Thursday the council's program has in part helped to solve what he described as a "humanitarian crisis."

"We understood that when you add competent and trustworthy lawyers to the equation, unaccompanied minors are more likely to get positive results in court," Menchaca said.