On November 13, 2014, as part of the New York City Immigration Advocacy Initiative’s (NYCIAI) final clinic for the year, over sixty participants in the Children’s Aid Society’s programs received free immigration consultations from experienced practitioners.

Since its inception in 2007, NYCIAI, a collaboration between the City Bar Justice Center’s Immigrant Outreach Project, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), and Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy LLP, has conducted several dozen such clinics.  NYCIAI partners with community-based organizations throughout New York City to conduct clinics where practitioners advise members of New York City’s underserved immigrant communities.

The City Bar’s Immigrant Outreach Project, led by the new Fragomen Fellow Danny Alicea, and twenty four practitioners rushed uptown after work to volunteer at the clinic.  “Coming into this role, I inherited the longstanding tradition of facilitating clinics with great organizations like the Children’s Aid Society. They rallied up the families; we brought the lawyers,” said Alicea.  The Children’s Aid Society transformed a large junior high school lunch room into office-like private work stations, innovatively using folded cafeteria tables as dividers.  With great finesse, they mobilized clients to attend the clinic—an overwhelming task, considering it was also the night of city-wide public school parent-teacher conferences.

The twenty four volunteer attorneys ranged from recently admitted attorneys to practitioners with more than ten years of experience. Among them were Martine Cuomo, a partner at Fragomen, and Matthey Bray, AILA’s pro bono committee chair.  Volunteers advised primarily on family-based immigration issues, but because so many expert practitioners were in attendance, we were able to provide roadmaps to individuals with all kinds of immigration issues, ranging from U-visa eligibility, asylum, naturalization, and complicated waiver inquiries.  “I was amazed at the variety of issues.  I really enjoyed the challenge and being able to help so many clients,” said Cuomo.

The City Bar Justice Center, Fragomen, and AILA will continue their community outreach activities through the NYCIAI collaboration.  The planning stages for the NYCIAI’s 2015 series of clinics has already begun.

 

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Suzanne Tomatore, the project director of the City Bar Justice Center’s Immigrant Women & Children (IWC) Project, was one of only four U. S. representatives from service providers to attend  the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) October 22 & 23 meeting in Vienna, Austria, on the role of recruitment fees and recruitment agencies in trafficking in persons. Recruitment fees are often mentioned as a factor that can fuel trafficking in persons.

A group of 25 experts attended from various countries including Serbia, Mexico, The Gambia, Zambia, Uganda, and several throughout Europe. About half the group was government officials or agents, including a police chief from Germany and an immigration official from Spain, and a third of the group consisted of representatives from UN affiliated agencies that work on policy.

The meetings were informal and all participants had the opportunity to present and comment on various subtopics. UNODC has contracted with consultants from Verité and others to draft a report on recruitment and trafficking that will be ready next year.

In her presentation, Suzanne shared her first-hand experience at IWC  working with survivors of labor trafficking. She included an overview of U.S. trafficking laws on labor and foreign labor recruiting and case studies from her docket at the City Bar Justice Center. She also presented some examples of recent U.S. civil cases.

At the end of the second day, the meeting group came up with some goals to strive for in connection with these issues, including:

  • Transparency for both the recruiter, the employer and the employee
  • No identification documents should be withheld
  • Freedom to change employment
  • Access to remedy
  • Safe working conditions
  • Workers are to be timely and directly paid

Suzanne called the meeting a very valuable opportunity for shared learning and policy recommendations. “Israel, for example, has an agreement with the Thai government to recruit foreign workers and has promoted a bilateral agreement as a way to curb exploitation and fraud in labor contracting,” she said. “Overall, it was a very interesting and engaging discussion on fair labor practices and trafficking. I look forward to the final report, in particular, to help us better assist our pro bono attorneys in working on these cases.”

 

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The City Bar Justice Center’s Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project is pleased to partner with the Association of Pro Bono Counsel (APBCO) along with ten other legal service organizations to host a Small Business Academy (SBLA) at Brooklyn Law School on November 19. The SBLA is a comprehensive one-stop shop for small business owners to learn how to proceed with their ventures.

This is the second annual SBLA in which the Justice Center has participated. The first was held last year at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, where over 200 entrepreneurs received free legal counsel from volunteer attorneys representing nearly 35 top NYC law firms. This year’s SBLA is expecting nearly 100 attorneys to volunteer in addition to the legal service providers, financial consultants, and City and State agencies that will be providing free services to the fledgling businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs who may otherwise not have the means to receive expert counsel.

For more information and to register, please click here.

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The 2014 Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) is off and running, and this year the City Bar Justice Center (CBJC) is participating for the first time. What this means is that anyone who is a federal employee, including lawyers, can support the CBJC as part of their workplace giving.

What the CFC does is encourage and make it easy for federal government workers to ‘give back’ by providing them with a listing of qualified charities and allowing them to donate through payroll deductions or one-time contributions. The campaign runs from mid-September to mid-December each year.

You can find CBJC under the name “City Bar Fund” and our number is 50267 in the online and paper listing of charities provided by the CFC. We hope you will help us spread the word (and number)!

It is a great year for us to join the pool, because the CFC introduced “universal giving” with this campaign. Universal giving expands federal employees’ giving opportunities by allowing employees to donate to local charities that are not within the regions in which they currently work. Therefore, someone who works for a federal agency in D.C. is able to select us to be the beneficiary of his/her charitable workplace giving even though we are a New York City charity. The one requirement is that the contribution be arranged online rather than through the paper system.

CBJC staff have been attending charity fairs and employee education events organized by federal agencies to promote the campaign, distributing materials, addressing large groups, and speaking one-on-one  with attendees. The agencies include the General Services Administration, International Court of Trade, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Post Office, and Internal Revenue Service. It has been exciting to publicize the work of CBJC and the City Bar Fund, and we are finding a receptive audience.

If you have any questions, please email Marilyn Casowitz, CBJC’s Director of Development.

 

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The City Bar Justice Center’s Immigrant Women and Children Project recently met with a group of legal, labor rights and government agency leaders that work on issues of labor migration and human trafficking. The group was travelling with the Solidarity Center, a non-profit international organization that assists workers around the world struggling to achieve safe and healthy workplaces, family-supporting wages, social protections and a voice on the job. The leaders came from Bangladesh, India and the Maldives and work with migrant workers in the host, transit and destination countries and were uniquely situated to see the full effects of migrant worker exploitation.


Murshida Akter from the National Domestic Women Workers Union and Chandon Kuma Dey from the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation both work with workers from specific labor sectors and assist union leaders in advocating for workers.

Muslima Adter Roge and S K Rumana from BOMSA counsel migrant workers before they depart and coordinate with agencies in destination countries if workers experience exploitation or trafficking, to get them services and repatriate them. If migrant workers die while abroad, BOMSA assists in retrieving the bodies and ensuring that the workers’ families receive the pay that the worker should have received.

Fahmida Akther from the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association and Gayatri Jitendra Singh from the Human Rights Law Network in India work by providing legal services to victims of labor exploitation and trafficking and advocating with their respective governments to change the law and policy toward migrant workers.

Aishath Nafa Ahmed works with the Maldives Labour Relations Authority to change law and ensure adequate implementation to prevent human trafficking in a country where nearly half the population are migrant workers.

Jasiya Khatoon represents the Welfare Association for the Rights of Bangladeshi Emigrants, a workers’ rights organization that raises awareness of unlawful or unrelated recruiters and trafficking in order to improve conditions for migrants.

At the City Bar Justice Center, this group of activists, lawyers, and government officials were able to meet with New York-based lawyers and service providers to discuss the overlap in our work and our different strategies for assisting the victims of human trafficking.

 

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Since its inception in 2004, the City Bar Justice Center’s (CBJC) Pro Bono Consumer Bankruptcy Project (CBP) has been a highly successful initiative. The project recruits, trains and mentors law-firm attorneys who, working with Justice Center staff, provide free legal assistance to low-income debtors in bankruptcy matters.

Part of the success of this model was due to the issuance of a favorable Formal Ethics Opinion (2005-1) by the City Bar Committee on Professional and Judicial Ethics, wherein the committee concluded that under certain conditions volunteer lawyers from large commercial law firms could represent both low-income debtors in Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases and their creditors in unrelated matters without having a conflict of interest. This opinion removed a significant road block to law firm attorneys looking to volunteer with projects like the CBP. The opinion has also served as a model for pro bono programs in other jurisdictions such as Boston.

Recently the New Jersey Volunteers Lawyers for Justice (VLJ) created a low-income bankruptcy clinic using a model similar to that of the CBP and enlisted the help of volunteers from the firm of Lowenstein Sandler LLC, a New Jersey-based firm that already volunteers with the CBP. Because some of the prospective volunteers were concerned about possible conflicts of interest, the VLJ asked the New Jersey Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics (ACPE) to issue an opinion.

ACPE concluded that before volunteers could assist the VLJ, they would have to inform both prospective clients and obtain the consent of each to participate in the program. This condition would effectively prevent most volunteers from working with the VLJ. The VLJ appealed the opinion to the Supreme Court of New Jersey. The firm of DLA Piper LLP submitted an amicus brief to show the public benefit of pro bono representation for bankruptcy-related issues, and they asked the CBP to submit the City Bar Ethics Opinion and supporting statistics showing the need for, and value of, pro bono assistance in these types of matters.

On July 2, 2014 the Supreme Court of New Jersey issued a unanimous decision overturning the action of the ACPE. In doing so they cited the City Bar Ethics Opinion in support of their ruling and went on to state:

“Programs like the VLJ’s clinic help address this crisis [the inability to obtain legal services in civil matters], as volunteer lawyers try to pave the way for debtors to recover financially. We commend the lawyers in this and other pro bono initiatives who offer their skill and help at a time of need. By doing so, they help bridge the justice gap that leaves many low-income residents in New Jersey without legal services.”

This decision is a great victory in the fight for more pro bono legal services for those in need. The CBP is happy to have been of assistance to those organizations and firms who brought this case and fought for the successful outcome.

 

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Today the staff and director of the Immigrant Women and Children Project hosted a meeting with Tomomi Shimizu, Senior Program Manager of the Tokyo-based Kamonohashi Project.  The Kamonohashi Project is an anti-human trafficking organization with operations in Cambodia and India. They partner with local NGOs and the criminal justice system in order to gather data and coordinate efforts and training to raise awareness and provide support for survivors.

Tomomi Shimizu spoke about her program’s work in India, which they began in 2012. They studied the patterns of migration and found that nearly half of girls and women who are victims of sex trafficking in the region around Mumbai are originally from West Bengal in Northeast India. They focused their preventative work in West Bengal where they work with local partners toward an increased rate of investigation of inter-state trafficking and empowering survivors to testify in cases against their traffickers. Tomomi Shimizu is in the U.S. visiting other NGOs and government agencies to spread awareness of the Kamonohashi Project and learn from organizations engaging in similar work in the U.S.

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Karen* first became a client of the City Bar Justice Center’s Immigrant Women and Children Project (IWC) in 2010. She was a victim of severe labor trafficking and sexual abuse that started when she was brought to the United States at age 13 to help care for young children.

Karen’s family was poor back in her home country, and her stepmother made  arrangements  for her to come to the U.S. and work for a family she knew. She promised Karen that she would be able to go to school and work to earn some money. However, after Karen came to the U.S., she was never sent to school, nor was she paid for her work caring for children.

When Karen was about 20, and the children she cared for were older, she was able to escape her trafficker. The IWC helped Karen apply for a T Visa as a victim of trafficking, and when she was approved we subsequently helped her apply for permanent residence.  Since leaving her trafficker, she has obtained a GED and gotten vocational training.

Gaining status has been a stabilizing force in her life and the life of her young daughter, and she brought us this cake to thank us for our help!

IWC team, from left: Kelly Burnett, Summer Intern; Laura Berger, Staff Attorney; Suzanne Tomatore, Project Director; Aline Gue, Coordinator

(*Name changed to protect this trafficking victim.)

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The City Bar Justice Center is pleased  to be selected as one of Immigrant Justice Corps’ inaugural Justice Fellow Host Organizations. CBJC will host two Justice Fellows for a period of two years.

The Fellows will add legal muscle to the CBJC’s Immigrant Women and Children Project, which focuses on helping immigrants fleeing domestic violence and human trafficking, and the Refugee Assistance Project, which works with victims fleeing violence abroad. The CBJC is one of only two host organizations whose main model for delivering immigration services is to recruit, train and mentor pro bono attorneys to leverage scarce resources.

In addition to being closely supervised by the CBJC’s experienced immigration attorneys, volunteers will be provided by the Immigrant Justice Corps with a comprehensive immigration law training program at the start of, and throughout the course of, the fellowship.

With the emerging human rights crisis of unaccompanied children from Central America crossing the border and being released to relatives in New York, the fellows will help the CBJC develop pro bono programming in this important arena.  At the end of the fellowship, IJC Fellows will be experienced and well trained  to engage in high quality legal practice in the complicated field of immigration law.

The IJC’s goal is to use legal assistance to lift immigrant families out of poverty, helping them access secure jobs, quality health care and life-changing educational opportunities. Read more about the Justice Fellowships and about Immigrant Justice Corps here.

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LawHelpNY, the free, statewide resource for people facing civil legal issues, has launched a new text messaging campaign aimed at informing immigrant victims of domestic violence about their rights to shelter, healthcare and free legal services. LawHelpNY.org is part of the national LawHelp.org network of nonprofit legal information portals that empower individuals to help themselves.

LawHelpNY.org is an online source of free legal aid referrals, know-your-rights information and a variety of self-help tools. It is maintained by the New York LawHelp Consortium, a collaboration of 12 legal aid and bar associations, including the City Bar Justice Center and Pro Bono Net, the site developer and a nonprofit leader in increasing access to justice for the disadvantaged through technology.

This new SMS campaign, through the use of text messages provided in English and Spanish, will guide immigrant victims of domestic violence to emergency hotlines, shelters, local free legal assistance, and emergency health and medical care.

This will allow cell phone users to receive referral information without the need for a data plan, and will allow cell phone users with a data plan to access legal information directly from their phone. This pilot program focuses on three New York counties, The Bronx, Orange and Suffolk counties. Outreach about the plan will focus on bi-lingual programs, health services, Head Start Centers and other community and social services providing immigrant support. The main message of the campaign is “No one has the right to abuse you, even if you are undocumented.”  To get help, text SAFE to 877877. For help in Spanish, text SEGURA a 877877.

“With this innovative texting program, we hope domestic violence victims will be safer while asking for help via the privacy of a mobile phone, since the text can be deleted and victims can quickly contact a hotline or free legal service while on the go,” said Leah Margulies, Project Director of LawHelpNY.

LawHelpNY.org was launched in 2001 and now serves more than 350,000 visitors a year. LawHelp.org was redesigned with support from the Legal Services Corporation Technology Initiative Grant program.

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