Every year, thousands of children are taken into custody by U.S. immigration officials while entering the U.S. illegally. Many crossed the border without an adult, fleeing abusive situations. Unable to afford an attorney and without guaranteed legal representation, they face immigration court and possible deportation alone.
The Safe Passage Project, founded by Professor Lenni Benson and housed within New York Law School (NYLS), operates on the principle that no child should have to face immigration court alone. Safe Passage Project links young immigrants with volunteer attorneys. NYLS students and others are critical to this work. At New York Immigration Court, a five-minute walk from NYLS, they screen young people and offer immediate help.
Safe Passage Project also tracks critical legislation, such as H.R. 495, which would limit children’s ability to seek asylum. This bill would hold unaccompanied children in detention and require a hearing within 14 days. Children held in detention are unlikely to find the assistance they need. Further, the work needed to prepare a child for an immigration hearing can take weeks, even for trained attorneys, let alone a child without counsel.
In honor of World Refugee Day, three Safe Passage Project summer interns voiced their support for young immigrants:
Sarah Fassberg, Riverdale Country School ’18
“Since a young age, I have always been aware of the harsh treatment many refugees face, but it was not until I interned at Safe Passage Project that I was able to see the real truth: America, the courts, and the law treat immigrants like they are not humans. Last summer I sat in on a court hearing for a young mother and her baby daughter. The mother, a teenager herself, could barely speak English, and she had to take care of her crying daughter while trying to make sense of what the judge was saying. No one was helping her. It was in that moment that I realized how important Safe Passage Project is. They work hard to mentor volunteer attorneys and to ensure that children are not afraid in court. So many of these teens, people my own age, are fleeing for their lives. They deserve a fair hearing, and I know that I could not possibly represent myself if I were in that court. I wish people could see the lack of justice in the system. Today and every day, I stand with refugees.”
Emma Shainwald, College of William and Mary ’20
“Working for Safe Passage Project is an amazing experience because I want to understand and get involved in pressing immigration issues. Especially in today’s political climate, immigration is talked about everywhere, and the media is filled with stories of people’s fear of deportation or arrest. Safe Passage Project not only keeps me aware of various realities and struggles, but also teaches me what I can do about it. This internship lets me come face to face with the legal process and familiarize myself with it. This past week, I worked with Professor Lenni Benson on a deportation defense training for pro bono attorneys and witnessed attorneys gain skills so they are able to defend undocumented people. It was clear that even non-lawyers could make a difference if they step forward to help tell an immigrant or refugee’s story. It’s amazing to intern in an organization that can reach so many people. I am looking forward to our next training on World Refugee Day at New York Law School.”
Danney Salvatierra 2L
“Not knowing where you belong leaves you without a sense of identity. Running away from violence and struggle is something nobody should have to experience. Leaving one’s home is simply not easy. I say so myself as a daughter of immigrants. I say so as a law student, who is constantly disappointed at the wrongs in this world and wants to make sure the immigrant and refugee community has a voice. I want to continue to learn more about the law to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves. My summer internship with Professor Benson and the Safe Passage Project is helping me prepare to defend immigrants.”
- World Refugee Day Training: This June 20 Continuing Legal Education training will focus on the United Nations Convention on Refugee Protection, U.S. domestic treatment of refugees, and the basics of helping someone apply for asylum.
Learn about NYLS’s clinical Immigration Law work here.