New York (June 22, 2015) – On World Refugee Day, June 20, 2015, The Safe Passage Project at New York Law School held a “walk and talk” in order to raise awareness of the plight of people fleeing appalling circumstances in their home countries. Before the walking tour began, participants met at the lobby of New York Law School and heard welcoming remarks from Dean and President Anthony W. Crowell and New York City Council Member Carlos Menchaca, who represents District 38 in Brooklyn. They spoke of the important role refugees and immigrants in general have played in the history and development of New York City.
Dean Crowell emphasized the necessity of Safe Passage Project’s mission: working with attorneys and law students to provide pro bono legal representation to unaccompanied immigrant children, the majority of whom are in removal (deportation) proceedings in the New York Immigration Court. Council Member Menchaca remarked on the connection between the history of immigration in New York City and the needs and experiences of immigrants today. Also present was Professor Isabel Martinez, the director of the Unaccompanied Latin American Minor Project, at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at CUNY. College students participating in this project work closely with Safe Passage Project, providing ongoing interpretation services between Safe Passage clients and their pro bono attorneys.
The opening comments also included two client stories, told by two recent NYLS graduates, Luisa Lebron, a Justice AmeriCorps Fellow, and Juan Chiquillo, a Safe Passage Law Fellow. Ms. Lebron spoke of a client, referred to as “Alejandra,” a 12-year-old girl from Honduras. “Alejandra’s” parents immigrated to the United States, leaving her in the care of a family member who abused and neglected her. To escape the horrific abuse she was subjected to, “Alejandra” fled to the United States, where Ms. Lebron is currently seeking asylum for her. Mr. Chiquillo spoke about his client, “Jose,” who is 9 years old and also from Honduras. “Jose” was present when his father was shot and killed by gang members right outside his home. Jose was able to flee to the United States, where Mr. Chiquillo represents him in his asylum claim.
After these moving stories, Professor Lenni Benson, founder and executive director of the Safe Passage Project guided a walking tour of 40 people in lower Manhattan. During the tour, Professor Benson led people to 11 historical sites related to different groups of refugees and immigrants throughout the downtown area.
The tour’s first stop was Castle Clinton, the first official immigration inspection station in the United States, and the last historical site visited was 26 Federal Plaza, which houses New York’s Immigration Court, where Safe Passage weekly assists children who are facing removal proceedings. Other stops on the tour included the Museum of Jewish Heritage, the Irish Hunger Memorial, St. Paul’s Chapel, the 9/11 Memorial, and the African Burial Ground National Monument. The entire audio tour has been recorded, and is available as a self-guided tour that can be downloaded here.
To learn more about Safe Passage Project, please visit the organization’s website. To support Safe Passage Project, visit the website and sign up to volunteer or to make a donation.