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44th Street Notes

Piling On

Nov 2003

In football, there is a penalty called “piling on.” The ball carrier is already down, but opponents still pile on top of him. Transfer that penalty to the real world, and you will meet the people our City Bar Fund serves. Many started out with strikes against them, generally caused by the poverty in which they live. But then something else happens:

– a mother and children become homeless

– a young man escapes death in his home country, only to be denied sanctuary in his new one

– a woman sent to this country to be a domestic worker is virtually imprisoned by her employers

We also help other victims of circumstance, who were coping with their lives – often handling things well – until their lives become so disrupted that they need extensive, often immediate help to keep their lives together:

– a young mother develops cancer

– a man of Moroccan descent making a life for his family in New York is ensnared in the government’s special registration program

– a woman’s husband leaves her after 30 years of marriage and tries to get a default divorce; And, of course,

– children whose parent died in the September 11th attacks.

Many of these victims feel helpless as their misfortune grows. But there are lawyers who want to provide help, and the City Bar Fund makes that happen, by mobilizing the Bar to provide information, counseling and representation to those in need. The City Bar Fund, an organization established by the Association of the Bar, has been working since 1987 to identify particular legal needs where there seem to be gaps in the coverage provided by the City’s effective but overwhelmed legal services providers. It works with groups, both legal and non-legal, to help target the population to be served and develop the best way to provide those services. And then it draws upon volunteers to provide the assistance, who are trained, supported and supplemented by the dedicated City Bar Fund staff, led by Executive Director Maria Imperial. A brief description of two City Bar Fund programs will give you a sense of the important work of the Fund.

Homeless Clinic

The City is facing unprecedented numbers of homeless, and the number of New Yorkers living in poverty is on the rise. Welfare legislation being proposed in Congress will turn the screws further on those least able to manage in this economy. For over a decade, the City Bar Fund has been visiting shelters, drop-in centers and other facilities that serve the homeless, helping clients obtain benefits they are entitled to, including public assistance, medical assistance and food stamps, and working to prevent homelessness. It is hard enough to navigate the social services system when you have a home and a stable address; when you’re homeless, you need the kind of help our homeless program provides.

Special Registration

Government policies after the September 11th attacks have particularly focused on immigrants from Arab or Muslim nations. Male immigrants who arrived in this country before September, 2002 from 25 such countries and who are not classified as citizens or permanent residents have been required to register with the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. There was a tremendous amount of misinformation in those communities, and fear that minor visa violations could lead to deportation. The fear in many cases became the reality, and now thousands of people who had established productive lives in this country need representation to make their case to remain here.

The City Bar Fund is coordinating a coalition of legal and community groups that are seeking to match volunteer lawyers with men facing deportation as a result of this registration program and, where necessary, providing the lawyers with mentors. Potential clients are being screened by experienced immigration lawyers to identify those who can make a good case for stayingin the United States, for example, those with wives and children who are citizens or permanent residents, and those who already have brought a proceeding to establish permanent residence. We will need a substantial number of lawyers to provide this assistance. The City Bar Fund has already held training programs, and more will be scheduled.

Other Programs

The Fund conducts a number of other programs that draw on volunteers to provide legal services. We assist cancer survivors with insurance and employment problems, the elderly with wills and other documents and with obtaining benefits to which they are entitled, battered immigrant women by helping them leave their spouses and obtain legal status, and persons suffering persecution in their home countries by helping them seek asylum. This is all in addition to our continuing role in assisting over 1,700 families and 800 small businesses seriously, often tragically, affected by the September 11th attacks. We depend on you for your skills and efforts, and we also depend on you for the resources to support this program. Much of our budget is contributed by Association members, and we would greatly appreciate your assistance in continuing these valuable City Bar Fund programs.

If you would like to volunteer for these or other City Bar Fund programs, please call Carol Bockner at 212-382-4714. If you would like to send a contribution, please send it payable to the City Bar Fund* at 42 West 44th Street, New York, NY 10036, attention: Rosemary Griffin.

Thank you for your help and support.

* The City Bar Fund is a tax-exempt nonprofit corporation organized under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code; thus contributions are deductible to the fullest extent of the law.

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