Angelica (names changed for privacy and safety) came to the City Bar Justice Center’s Immigrant Women & Children Project (IWC) in 2013 seeking legal assistance because she was a victim of international labor trafficking. IWC works with immigrant survivors of violent crimes, including domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, hate crimes and human trafficking to secure immigration and other civil legal relief.

Back home in the Philippines, in 2006, Angelica had responded to a job posting seeking hotel workers in the United States. She applied for the job and was selected for an interview. Because there were fees to go through the process and additional fees if she were offered the job, she borrowed hundreds of dollars. She was offered the position and secured a visa to come to the U.S., eager to begin working and to send money home to her husband and children. She did some calculations and thought that she would be able to pay back the loans within a few months.

When Angelica arrived in the U.S., the job conditions were nothing like what she had been promised.  The recruiting agency in the Philippines and a labor agency in the U.S. worked together to force Angelica to work for over two years at upscale hotels in the U.S. for very little money and made her live in pre-arranged, crowded, and overpriced housing. Angelica worked at hotels in three different states before she realized that the agencies had defrauded her and that she would not be able to pay back her debt. She escaped and came to the City Bar for help.

Staff at the City Bar Justice Center helped her gather documentation and put together her application for T nonimmigrant status as a victim of trafficking. Angelica was able to include her husband in the petition, as well as her three children who were still living in the Philippines. In January 2015, Angelica’s application was approved and she got work authorization. Unlike the visa that she had when she worked for the hotel chains, the T status for victims of trafficking allowed her to find a job in any industry and did not tie her down to one employer. The City Bar Justice Center worked with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to help Angelica’s children travel to the United States, and they arrived here in June. They had been apart for eight years. Angelica is now reunited with her family and working to build a new life for them in the United States. Her children will be starting school in the fall and the family is looking forward to a new life together.

“It was very touching and I can’t help to shed tears,” said Angelica. “I am so proud of the story and the staff of the City Bar Justice Center who helped me accomplish my dreams of a decent and happy life together with my family….Thank you so much.” As a token of appreciation, her children brought with them a small gift for attorney Laura Berger, a model jeepney, a form of public transportation that has become a symbol of Filipino culture and art for its brightly colored decorations.

A few weeks later, another happy reunion between mother and child took place. Maria met Jose in 1993 in Tenancingo, Mexico, when she was twenty years old. They began dating and from the beginning he was very abusive.  He soon forced her into prostitution. When their son was born, he allowed her to take some time off to care for him. After a few months, Jose placed the child with his family and told her that they were going to the U.S. so that she could make more money. They went to the U.S. and he continued to demand that she work in prostitution and he took all of her earnings, which he sent home to Mexico. After a few years, she convinced him that their son would be better off helping her parents on their farm so she was able to move him to their home.

In 2010, Maria was finally able to escape Jose’s abuse and control when he returned to Mexico. She instructed her parents never to let Jose take their son or to let him into their home. Maria came to the City Bar Justice Center on the advice of a friend back in 2011. I prepared her application for T nonimmigrant status and included her son as a derivative. The case was approved in 2013 but there were challenges getting Jorge to the U.S. He had a visa, but he was not able to obtain a passport without the permission of both parents. Maria had not been in touch with Jose for several years and wanted to keep it that way.

I contacted a Mexican human rights organization called IMUMI that works to support the rights and safety of migrant Mexican women. I had met their staff a few years ago at the Freedom Network conference (a national network of service providers who work with survivors of human trafficking) and was impressed by their anti-trafficking work. They put me in touch with an attorney who agreed to bring a case in Family Court in Mexico to allow Maria’s sister to petition for her nephew’s custody, which would allow her to help him apply for a passport. The process took more than a year and a half and had many roadblocks. During this time we reached out again to the IOM to see if they could help coordinate Jorge’s travel to the U.S. and accompany him throughout the process.

Maria’s son wanted to finish out the school term and flew to the U.S. in July. He is finally living with his mother again and his two-year-old half brother. Maria is overjoyed at having her family finally living safely with her and she is optimistic about their future.

*

IWC leverages additional resources through pro bono support from the private bar. To make a donation to the City Bar Justice Center’s programs, please click here.

Suzanne Tomatore is director of the Immigrant Women and Children Project at the City Bar Justice Center.

 

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Ann Smith (not her real name), a senior in her 60s, lost her job and soon found herself struggling to pay the bills. Despite her best efforts to keep things going, she gradually fell behind with the rent and was evicted from her apartment. She left with only what she could carry. All the rest of her belongings, including furniture, almost all of her clothing and other irreplaceable mementos, were bundled up and put into storage by her landlord.

Ann spent nine months in a shelter until she was finally offered a place at a Single Room Occupancy (SRO) residence.

As the weather turned cooler and she continued to wear the small selection of clothes she had taken with her, Ann worried about the fate of her property. Since the landlord had paid just one month’s fees to put her items into storage, several months of payments were overdue on the unit.  As a result, Ann was not permitted to enter the unit and, worse, the facility was threatening to auction off her belongings unless she paid the outstanding amount. She was now facing winter with her possessions being ‘detained’ in a different borough where, even if she could have paid the fees, it was difficult for her to get to.

Ann had been requesting help from the NYC Human Resources Administration (HRA), which, among other services, provides financial assistance to eligible individuals in Ann’s situation. In particular, they can cover monthly storage fees and arrears, and the costs of moving to an alternate location. However, trying to navigate HRA’s convoluted system, and its duplicative demands, had exhausted Ann and she despaired of ever recovering her belongings.

Ann was directed to one of the free legal clinics run by the City Bar Justice Center’s Elderlaw Project, which is staffed by attorneys from the law firm Reed Smith, LLP. Ann met with Evan Farber, and explained her predicament. Although, on the face of it, she was eligible for the benefits she was seeking, when Evan followed up he soon encountered the same bureaucratic obstacles Ann had run into.

Over a period of months, Evan advocated with HRA on Ann’s behalf, while also mediating with the storage facility to dissuade them from auctioning off of her belongings. There were constant promises by HRA that they would cover the monthly storage fees, but payments were extremely sporadic and did little to satisfy the storage company. While Ann’s case inched its way through HRA’s system, she found an alternate, conveniently-located storage unit, which she was in danger of losing unless she received assistance from HRA. Faced with the impending auction of her possessions, Evan and Ann joined forces with Priom Ahmed, a staff member at NYC Council Member Daniel Garodnick’s office, to challenge the continuing bureaucratic road blocks.

As a result of their tenacious joint advocacy, HRA finally covered the storage arrears and moving costs to the new facility which, after a year, totaled over $5,000. This financial assistance was crucial in allowing Ann to move beyond the devastating experience of being evicted, living in a shelter, and almost losing everything that she owned. After months of constant stress she now has a safe place to live and ready access to her property.

Expressing her happiness to Evan and Priom, she wrote “Miracles happened after a lot of hard work from both of you. How could I thank you enough!  I am all moved in to my storage unit and it all fits with room left over.  Amazing…thank you so much!”

To contact the Elderlaw Project, call 212-382-6658 or email them here.

Vivienne Duncan is Director of the Elderlaw & Cancer Advocacy Projects at the City Bar Justice Center

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The New York Immigration Court, like most immigration courts around the country, continues to be inundated with young Respondents who have fled their home countries in Central America.  As a result, the courts have chosen to prioritize newly arriving unaccompanied minors and adults with children through what has been dubbed the “surge docket.”  As the number of children seeking refuge in the United States continues to grow, so too does the need for competent counsel.

Danny Alicea, Fragomen Fellow at the City Bar Justice Center, with one of the youngest respondents the Justice Center has ever seen.

The role of an attorney is crucial: helping clients navigate the immigration court process, screening them for forms of immigration relief, and getting them connected with medical and social services providers.  A great portion of these “surge docket” respondents qualify for humanitarian relief such as asylum, withholding of removal, or Special Immigrant Juvenile Status–relief, that for many would be impossible to obtain without counsel.

Another value that comes with having an attorney is the sense of security that many feel when they have an advocate preparing them for the immigration proceedings and accompanying them throughout the process.  Legal service providers have stationed themselves in immigration courts during “surge dockets” to ensure that Respondents on the priority docket are screened for relief, and in hope of finding them pro bono counsel.  The City Bar Justice Center has sent volunteer attorneys to assist with such screenings and has also taken on many new cases involving minors. Our Immigration legal team regularly volunteers at these dockets and holds trainings on this topic.

 

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When Sophia Sylvester’s two children started experiencing severe dry skin that no cream or prescription could cure, she took matters into her own hands and decided to concoct her own lotion.

The products she had found in stores contained obscure ingredients she couldn’t pronounce and ended up making her children’s skin worse. Wanting to create an all-natural product for her children, she researched “healing butters and oils” and started making her own body butter at home. Miraculously, her children’s skin improved.

Sophia had been a medical assistant at a local Brooklyn hospital, but she stopped working after getting injured on the job. The unexpected unemployment gave her the time to continue making the butters at home, along with massage oils, soap bars, and soy candles. She started selling the products at her doctor’s office and sharing samples with her friends and family. Receiving widespread praise and positive feedback, Sophia decided to focus on her business full-time and knew she had to take steps to protect it.

Sophia approached the Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project (NELP) in 2010 for trademark assistance for her business name, “Brooklyn Flavors” as well as for some of her product names, which were based on historical locations in Brooklyn. NELP paired her with volunteer attorney Ana Alba of Alba Law Firm, P.C. Although initially there was a concern that Sophia couldn’t trademark her business name due to its widespread use, Ana eventually filed two successful trademark applications.

In 2013, Sophia found a storefront in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. She came back to NELP for assistance with reviewing and negotiating the commercial lease. NELP paired her with Matthew Schneid, formerly an associate at DLA Piper LLP, and she opened her storefront in August 2013. “He worked out a great lease for us and really fought for us,” Sophia said. “He did such a great job that even the landlord was wondering where I got the money to get an attorney from this high-end law firm.”

Sophia said that NELP “made it possible for my business to take the next step. It was smooth sailing and really great. I have recommended NELP to friends and will continue to do so.”

NELP was launched by the City Bar Justice Center in 2003 to provide low- to moderate-income micro-entrepreneurs with the legal services necessary to get their businesses started off on as sound a footing as possible. To date, NELP has partnered with more than 100 law firms, 25 corporate legal departments, and 30 community-based organizations to assist more than 14,000 clients through the provision of brief services, direct representation, legal clinics, and community presentations.

Sophia’s all-natural skincare products can be purchased online at www.brooklynflavors.com or at her store located at 820 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11238.

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On the morning of Tuesday, June 25th, I drove down to the South Bronx from Westchester in my Honda Civic. In the car’s back seat, front seat, and trunk were clothes that I had gathered to drop off at the Stratford House with Kendra Oke, who is organizing a clothing drive in July for the tenants of the low-income housing development.

I had heard about the clothing drive while interning at the City Bar Justice Center. Lisa Pearlstein, the director for the CBJC’s Legal Clinic for the Homeless, mentioned that Stratford House was looking for clothes in good condition, including business attire, and I thought that my teachers and the Irvington High School community would have some clothes to donate to meet those needs.

A couple of weeks ago, I began corresponding with the vice principle of IHS, made up fliers and distributed them to the faculty mailboxes, and sent out a couple of mass e-mails to the school faculty. Within two weeks, the vice principle’s office was full of bags of clothes from the faculty and the faculty’s children who had outgrown many garments. I also corresponded with Ms. Ricciardi of the Irvington Middle School, who allowed me to sort through many clothes that the IMS Midnight Run club had collected.

From these two sources, I collected enough clothes to fill my car and drove down to the Stratford House to meet Ms. Oke and drop them off. Ms. Oke welcomed me and gave me a tour of the Stratford House and of her apartment. She served me a glass of ginger ale and told me about the hardships she and other tenants of the house had faced and about the noble work she was doing for the house and with her church.

I was humbled and inspired by Ms. Oke’s stories and her attitude. She told me more than once that she believed in “paying it forward.” After I left the house, contributing to her clothing drive seemed like a no-brainer. More often than not, resources like clothing are abundant in the town that I am from, and leveraging some of these resources to donate to those less fortunate seems only right. I hope the clothes that I collected will be of good use to the tenants of the Stratford House.

Ben Wojnar is a student at Irvington High School.

 

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The City Bar Justice Center welcomes yesterday’s announcement by Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to designate Nepal for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) based on the conditions resulting from the devastating earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25, 2015, and continuing aftershocks.

TPS is a humanitarian form of relief extended to foreign nationals from countries specifically designated for relief by the Department of State because of ongoing civil strife or, as is the case for Nepal, natural disasters.  “This is a temporary, compassionate and commonsense action that removes a burden of worry from Nepalese nationals already residing here in the U.S., who could have been required to return home to a devastated country,” said Senator Charles Schumer, who had written to the Department of Homeland Security for the protection.

The TPS designation for Nepal is effective June 24, 2015, through December 24, 2016. During the 18-month designated period, eligible nationals of Nepal cannot be removed from the United States, may receive work authorization, and be granted travel authorization.  The 180-day TPS registration period begins June 24, 2015, and runs through December 21, 2015.  The Federal Register notice published yesterday provides details and procedures for applying for TPS.

The City Bar Justice Center will be working with area organizations, including Adhikaar, the largest Nepali community group in New York City, to conduct TPS screenings and application assistance clinics.  The Justice Center has a long track record in organizing large-scale legal clinics in response to emerging needs and crises, including Special Registration following 9/11, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Hurricane Sandy, and Haitian TPS. Earlier this year, the Justice Center mobilized volunteer attorneys following the TPS designation for Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea in the wake of the ebola outbreak there.

Jennifer Kim is Director of the Refugee Assistance Project and Danny Alicea is the Fragomen Fellow at the City Bar Justice Center

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Jane C. Sherburne, principal of the legal consulting firm Sherburne PLLC, has been elected Chair of the City Bar Fund of the New York City Bar Association. The Fund encompasses the City Bar Justice Center, the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice, the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, the Lawyer Assistance Program, and other activities. Sherburne succeeds Mei Lin Kwan-Gett as Chair of the City Bar Fund.

In addition, the following officers were elected for the 2015-2016 term: Heidi Levine, Partner, DLA Piper, as Vice President; Hazel-Ann Mayers, Senior Vice President, Assistant General Counsel, Litigation & Chief Compliance Officer, CBS Corporation, as Vice President; Bret I. Parker, Executive Director, New York City Bar Association, as Vice President; Thomas J. Halter, Chief Operating Officer, New York City Bar Association, as Assistant Treasurer; and William Viets, Managing Director & Associate General Counsel, J.P. Morgan, as Secretary.

Debra L. Raskin, Partner, Vladeck, Waldman, Elias & Engelhard, P.C., and President, New York City Bar Association, and Damian S. Schaible, Partner, Davis Polk, and Treasurer of the City Bar serve ex-officio as President and Treasurer of the City Bar Fund.

The following new members were elected to the City Bar Fund Board of Directors Class of 2018: Pamela Ehrenkranz, chair of the Trust and Estates practice at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz and Chair of the City Bar Justice Center’s Planning and Estates Law Project, and Michael Schachter, the Pro Bono Partner at Willkie Farr & Gallagher.

In addition, the following directors were reelected to the City Bar Fund Board of Directors Class of 2018: Mei Lin Kwan-Gett, Carmen Ciparick, Natasha Wyss, Tracy R. High, and Mary Beth Forshaw.

Sherburne was previously Senior Executive Vice President and General Counsel of BNY Mellon; Senior Executive Vice President and General Counsel Of Wachovia Corporation; Deputy General Counsel and Senior Deputy General Counsel of Citigroup, and General Counsel of Citigroup’s Global Consumer Group. Sherburne has also been a Partner at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering. She served as Special Counsel to the President during the Clinton Administration, and as Chief of Staff and Executive Assistant to the Commissioner of Social Security in the Carter Administration. Sherburne is a trustee of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the National Women’s Law Center.

To view the full board, click here.

 

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The United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York and the City Bar Justice Center have collaborated to launch the Federal Pro Se Legal Assistance Project (FedPro), a pilot project to provide information, advice, and limited-scope legal assistance to people proceeding pro se in a variety of federal civil cases in the Eastern District of New York.

FedPro, which operates out of an office in the Eastern District’s Brooklyn courthouse, has access to the resources of the City Bar Justice Center, including supervision, malpractice insurance, computer equipment, a cloud-based case management system, support on client counseling and legal issues, and a wide pro bono network.

“The Eastern District of New York is taking the lead in providing much-needed assistance to pro se litigants,” said Chief Judge Carol B. Amon, United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. “The program is showing early promise of great success.”

Lynn M. Kelly, Executive Director of the City Bar Justice Center, the pro bono services affiliate of the New York City Bar Association, said, “We are pleased to partner on this innovative pilot project to expand legal assistance for people pursuing or defending claims in court and who cannot afford attorneys.”

FedPro’s project director is Nancy Rosenbloom, an experienced civil rights litigator. Over 100 people have sought free legal consultation from FedPro since the courthouse office opened this spring. Cases have ranged from employment discrimination and other civil rights matters to small business disputes and mortgage foreclosure actions.

FedPro receives referrals from District Judges, Magistrate Judges, the Court Clerk’s office, and word of mouth, and has received early positive feedback from court personnel as well as clients. As the work progresses, FedPro is developing informational material and forms, and tracking data to measure results and refine the model.

This summer FedPro will add a student intern as well as a rotation of pro bono attorneys from participating firms who will be of counsel to the City Bar Justice Center. Law student externs or clinic students are expected to join the Project in the fall.

The Court and the Justice Center are planning a ribbon-cutting event for the FedPro office at a date to be announced.

 

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More than 30 years ago, organizational theorist Karl Wieck observed that in the face of overwhelming social problems like homelessness, we can feel helpless to do anything. However,  in Weick’s thought-provoking article “Small Wins: Redefining the Scale of Social Problems,” he suggests that we view massive issues as a series of smaller problems that can be affected by small wins. Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win; new allies suggest solutions and old opponents change their habits.

The City Bar Justice Center’s Legal Clinic for the Homeless (LCH) has achieved a series of small wins that have significantly reinforced the safety net for homeless families. Working in a coalition with other legal services providers, LCH pressured and convinced New York City’s welfare administration (HRA), that it must systematically target families who may not be receiving enough benefits to adequately feed their families: those living in shelters without kitchens or meals. In November and December of 2014, the City reviewed 176 cases and issued approximately $140,000 in retroactive and ongoing restaurant allowance to these homeless families. Welfare center staff have been re-trained and are now issuing restaurant allowance more consistently to eligible families.

More recently, pressure from LCH resulted in HRA manually reviewing over 5,000 cases of homeless families to ensure that those receiving carfare allowance to search for housing were issued an increased amount due to the March 2015 MetroCard fare hike. Shelters require families to look for permanent housing, but without the ability to pay the transportation costs, the task is impossible. Previous fare increases had not been addressed promptly or systematically by HRA. HRA’s own staff is now seeking to ensure that the next carfare increase is implemented automatically by the agency.

LCH has shifted its focus to achieving other small wins designed to alleviate hunger and suffering. We have proposed that HRA provide restaurant allowance to homeless families who are “conditionally” placed in shelter, to those adults who are working during shelter mealtimes, and to young children who may not eat the meals served by shelters. We are also urging the City to provide a small cash allowance to those who first apply for public assistance to meet emergency needs while HRA investigates their eligibility for ongoing benefits. A series of small wins can do a lot to alleviate hardship.

Lisa Pearlstein is Director of the City Bar Justice Center’s Legal Clinic for the Homeless.

 

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A power of attorney (“PoA”) is a special form that permits another person (the “agent” or “attorney-in-fact”) to act on behalf of you (the “principal”).  Any person over age 18 and competent can sign a PoA.

The reasons you would want a PoA in place are many and include the following:

  • In the case of your incapacity, your agent can administer your personal, business, and financial affairs;
  • When you are out of communication and “off the grid,” your agent can take care of your financial affairs.

Give careful consideration to whether you want to sign a PoA, and to the person you select as your agent. Choose someone you trust to stand in your shoes and take whatever actions you could take (i.e., empty and close bank accounts or sell property).

You can name one or more individuals to act as your agent.

  • You can provide that the agents act separately or require them to act together.
  • You can designate successor or alternate agents, should the first person or persons you choose be unable to act.

You can give the agent as much or as little authority as you would like.  Your agent can handle real estate, banking, insurance, tax, and/or other transactions.

A PoA becomes effective immediately when it is signed and acknowledged before a notary public by the principal and the agent.

  • Since it is such a powerful grant of authority, you should keep the fully executed PoA in a safe and secure place.
  • Your agent should be able to access the PoA when you want the agent to have it.
  • You should not give the PoA to the agent until such time as you are ready for the agent to act on your behalf.

While there is a section in the PoA form for the appointment of another individual to act as monitor of the agent and to oversee what steps and transactions the agent takes on your behalf, in practice a monitor is rarely chosen.  It is important to choose an honest and reliable agent who will not require supervision and oversight.

In order to enable an agent to make gifts over $500, an additional special form called a Statutory Gifts Rider must also be executed. This document must be signed by you before a notary and two witnesses.

You may revoke the PoA at any time in the manner specifically prescribed by law.

Your agent is entitled to be reimbursed for the reasonable expenses the agent incurs on your behalf.  You can also give your agent compensation for acting on your behalf.

If you execute a new PoA, any prior PoA will remain effective unless it is specifically revoked.

The PoA lasts only as long as you are living; it automatically terminates at your death.

The City Bar Justice Center’s Planning and Estates Law Project (PELP) has helped more than 300 low-income New Yorkers since 2013 with important legal issues and their estate planning documents, including PoA’s.

To contact The Planning & Estates Law Project, call 212-382-6756

Look for our upcoming blog posts on the following topics: Health care proxies, directives regarding organ donation, cremation, and disposition of remains

 

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