For anyone, receiving a cancer diagnosis triggers anxiety and a determination to find the best medical treatment available. For those living in countries without adequate cancer care options, seeking medical treatment in the United States may seem to be their best hope, and some will pursue that option.

While visitors to the U.S. are not generally eligible to utilize government-based healthcare benefits, there is a process by which they can lawfully enter the country for medical treatment. However, U.S. immigration law can appear complicated and intimidating, and making a mistake can have serious health and travel consequences in these situations. The Cancer Advocacy Project (CAP) was contacted by the facilitator of a hospital-based cancer support group in a substantially immigrant neighborhood, and asked to organize a presentation on navigating U.S. immigration laws when entering the country for medical purposes.

In order to examine the requirements for entering the U.S. for medical treatment purposes, CAP partnered with Barbara Camacho, the Fragomen Fellow who runs the Immigrant Outreach Project at the City Bar Justice Center. Barbara began by explaining to the group that there is no separate visa specifically for “medical treatment”; individuals are admitted on a visitor’s visa. However, at the visa application stage the individual must provide evidence that the purpose of the trip is health-related.

When preparing their visa application for submission to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in their home county, individuals must first satisfy all the usual requirements for a visitor’s visa. In addition, they must provide a letter from their doctor in the home country that includes a diagnosis of their condition and the treatment required, evidence that they have been accepted for treatment, an appointment scheduled at a U.S. medical facility and, crucially, proof that the individual has sufficient funds to pay for medical and living expenses while in the U.S. This procedure allows the U.S. authorities to confirm that the individual will not become a charge on this country’s resources if they are admitted for medical treatment. Anyone arriving in the U.S. for medical care without first completing this process risks being denied entry.

The group engaged in a lively discussion about their own experiences of cancer treatment in their home countries, and their feelings of uncertainty when arriving at U.S. airports. One woman, currently back in the U.S. for ongoing treatment, recounted a disturbing exchange on this trip. Despite having complied with all the visa requirements and providing the requisite medical-related evidence, upon re-entry a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer challenged her decision to seek treatment in the U.S., and asked why she did not go somewhere else, “like the U.K.” (presumably for the “free” health care); this, despite having her funding verified before her arrival. It is because of ill-informed and unpleasant interactions of this type, and the potentially serious ramifications, that the group sought clarification.

Barbara advised the group that if proper procedures have been followed and a visitor’s visa for medical purposes has been granted, they should not, as the woman had recounted, be subjected to rude or unprofessional treatment upon arrival at U.S. immigration; if that happens, a complaint can, and should, be filed online, and can be done anonymously if preferred.

CAP provides advice and assistance to cancer patients, survivors and their caregivers in three areas: life-planning, private medical health insurance appeals and cancer-related employment discrimination. In addition, the project conducts community presentations on those topics, as well as on medical debt. Although CAP does not provide assistance with immigration issues, with the support of groups like Judges and Lawyers against Breast Cancer Alert (JALBCA) and colleagues like Barbara, the project is able to establish key collaborations that allow us, as in this instance, to respond to the many and varied needs of cancer patients and survivors.

Vivienne Duncan is Director of the City Bar Justice Center’s Cancer Advocacy Project

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The Immigrant Women & Children Project (IWC) at the City Bar Justice Center was recently honored by one of our volunteers, Sandra Edmund, an Administrative Legal Assistant at Time Warner Corporate, with a donation of $5000. Ms. Edmund received a Richard D. Parsons Community Impact Award at the Time Warner Center in New York City for her civic and community service on June 4. With that award, she was given a grant to donate to the non-profit of her choice.

From left: Aline Gue, IWC Project Coordinator; Laura Berger, IWC Staff Attorney; Sandra Edmund; Suzanne Tomatore, IWC Project Director.

Ms. Edmund, the assistant to Kwanza Butler, a board member of the Justice Center, had worked as a volunteer for IWC. She assisted “Nancy,” a survivor of domestic violence originally from Trinidad, in applying for immigration assistance under the Violence Against Women Act, so that she can live in the United States permanently and work legally. Ms. Edmund interviewed witnesses, prepared affidavits and compiled evidence to document abuse and help Nancy reach her goals of employment and saving toward opening her own small business. No longer living in fear of violence, deportation or separation from her children, Nancy has been given a new beginning.

“Congratulations to Ms. Edmund on her well-deserved award,” said IWC Director Suzanne Tomatore. “We are grateful for her donation so that we can continue to assist women like Nancy.” For more information about the Richard D. Parsons Community Impact Award, click here.

 

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When New York City homeowners come to the City Bar Justice Center’s Lawyers’ Foreclosure Intervention Network (LFIN), they seek to avoid foreclosure and keep their family in their home. The overwhelming majority of LFIN clients become unable to pay their mortgages because of significant changes in their financial situation. LFIN routinely tracks each household’s hardship—the specific reason for its financial difficulty—and recently conducted a review of its current cases to identify the top five reasons for mortgage distress among clients. (In creating these statistics, we excluded families whose primary hardship resulted from Superstorm Sandy. A significant percentage of LFIN cases within the past two years were Sandy-related.)

1. Loss of job or income: Almost half (48%) of LFIN clients encounter mortgage distress because the homeowner or another family member becomes unemployed or loses overtime or a second job, full-time or part-time. Some clients are small business owners whose businesses failed with the onset of the recession. When homeowners face significant income loss, loan payments that were once affordable become a significant burden, consuming huge percentages of their income.

2. Illness or injury: Homeowners’ lives and financial situations are made more difficult by heart attacks, strokes, cancer, job-related injuries and other health issues which prohibit them from working or force them to incur significant medical expenses. Homeowners often have to choose between paying for treatment and making their mortgage payments. These situations represent approximately 11% of LFIN cases.

3. Unaffordable loans: Approximately 7% of LFIN’s current clients experience mortgage distress because their loans were unaffordable from the beginning. For many homeowners, scraping together unaffordable payments became even more difficult with the onset of the recession.

4. Marital and other family issues: Divorce, separation, custody battles and other forms of family disintegration also contribute to financial difficulties, and approximately 5% of LFIN clients cite such issues as their primary hardship. Some two-parent households lose significant income when one parent leaves the family; other households face expenses related to the legal and logistical issues involved.

5. Death in the family: Approximately 5% of LFIN clients struggle to keep their homes after a homeowner or another adult in the family passes away. In these scenarios, households not only have to cope with reduced household income as a result of the death, but also have to find a way to pay for funeral and burial expenses.

It is important to note that the statistics above only reflect each household’s primary hardship. In fact, many clients report various hardships, which are often related. Thus, the numbers above cannot provide a complete picture of the often tremendous difficulties faced by each household, but only a snapshot of the main issues identified by a broad sample of clients. LFIN supports homeowners facing financial difficulties like those highlighted above by working with them to find a solution – usually a loan modification under the federal Home Affordable Mortgage Program – that will allow them to stay in their homes.

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The City Bar Justice Center has launched the LGBT Advocacy Project to provide direct civil legal services to low-income LGBT New Yorkers. Seed money for the initiative has been provided by the Tiger Baron Foundation.

In addition to screening clients and matching them with pro bono attorneys trained by project staff, the project will also network and collaborate with other New York-based LGBT projects and organizations to allocate resources efficiently and address unmet legal needs.

Directing the project will be K. Scott Kohanowski, a staff attorney at the CBJC, a member of the City Bar’s LGBT Rights Committee, and a board member of the LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York.

“While the LGBT community has won significant protections in housing, employment, public accommodation and the right to marry in large parts of the U.S., many low-income LGBT New Yorkers do not fully understand how these achievements can benefit them, or they face significant hurdles in implementing these new rights,” said Kohanowski.

Identifying as gay, lesbian or transgender may still carry a significant stigma at school, at home, in the workplace and when seeking housing or services. Elderly gay men and lesbians face the legacy of reduced income and savings due to historic work-place discrimination and are much less likely to have family-support structures as they age. Transgender individuals are twice as likely to live in poverty than the general population and it is believed that one in five have experienced homelessness since first identifying as transgender. An extraordinary 20% of homeless youth are LGBT and have a significantly higher suicide rate than their heterosexual counterparts. While marriage equality increases opportunities, it also raises novel questions about parenting, property rights and benefits, especially when the relationship ends or the couple travels to other jurisdictions.

Potential clients may call the CBJC’s Legal Hotline at 212-626-7383 to speak with a trained attorney.

 

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Jenny, a forty-year-old mother of two, recently had some wonderful news: her employment authorization card was approved by the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service. This card will allow her to apply for a Social Security number and will open many doors for Jenny and her family. Having immigration status also will give her the security and peace of mind that she belongs here in the country where she has lived for most of her life.

Jenny (name changed to protect her identity) was brought to the U.S. from the Caribbean as a toddler. She spent her childhood growing up in a very abusive home. Her mother beat her and her step-father sexually abused her. Jenny has a large scar on one of her hands where her mother burned her with scalding hot water as a punishment. Needless to say, Jenny’s parents neglected to file her immigration paperwork. Jenny was eventually removed from her mother’s home and placed into foster care and group homes. After aging out of the foster care system, Jenny became homeless. Estranged from her family in the U.S., she reached out to her father’s family in the Carribean for assistance. They helped her get a copy of her birth certificate and introduced her to other relatives living in the New York area. Through those family contacts she found a job and an apartment but she still had no secure immigration status. The years passed and Jenny became a mother of two children. The father of her youngest child was abusive and subjected her to domestic violence. While fleeing that relationship, Jenny sought assistance from a community based organization in Queens where she received a referral to the City Bar Justice Center for immigration assistance. The Justice Center did a full and comprehensive legal screening for Jenny, found her eligible for U non-immigrant status based upon the abuse that she suffered as a child, and applied for that relief on her behalf.

The Justice Center’s Immigrant Women & Children Project focuses on working with clients like Jenny: survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, human trafficking, or hate crimes. We train and mentor pro bono attorneys at law firms and corporate legal departments, and partner with them to create a road map for achieving the best possible legal outcome for hundreds of clients like Jenny.

Immigrant survivors of violent crimes may be eligible for special immigration relief under U non-immigrant status. There are now nearly thirty crimes listed in the statute that may allow a crime victim to file for this special relief. This relief allows crime victims, who cooperate with law enforcement, a path to permanent residence (green card). However, there are only 10,000 slots available each year. For the past few years, the slots were filled up near the very end of the fiscal year. In 2014, all of these slots were filled in the first two months of the year. This leaves thousands of applicants on a wait list and, without a change in the law that would lift this number or abolish the cap altogether, it is unclear how long they will have to wait.

Jenny is sitting on this wait list for full U-non-immigrant status. Survivors like Jenny are strong, resilient, and they have cooperated with law enforcement to make our communities safer for everyone.  To break the cycle of poverty, her children deserve a mother with the full U-1 status and all of the benefits that come with it.

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

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The City Bar Justice Center (CBJC) successfully reunited a father with his adolescent son after one and a half years of detention. When the client, Mr. E, was referred to the City Bar Justice Center, Barbara Camacho, the Fragomen Fellow at the CBJC, sprang into action. She and Simone Archer, a pro bono attorney, represented Mr. E.

Mr. E  had a green card and lived and worked lawfully as a craftsman in the U.S. for twenty-five years. He was a dedicated father committed to raising his children. Several years ago, Mr. E was arrested for minor crimes as a result of his struggle with alcoholism. By the time Mr. E was placed in removal proceedings, he had successfully completed an alcohol rehabilitation program and had been sober for years. Facing banishment from the United States to a country where he had no family ties, Mr. E’s community came to his aid and described the good works Mr. E had contributed to his church and neighborhood.

Supported by the Fragomen Fellow, Ms. Archer deftly assisted Mr. E and his family in developing crucial evidence and, following his hearing, Mr. E walked out of the courtroom a free man.

In describing her pro bono experience, Ms. Archer said, “I appreciated Barbara Camacho’s guidance and support through this process. If it wasn’t for her expertise, compassion and support, I wouldn’t have had the courage to take on this case.”

Seven years ago, the global immigration firm of Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy, LLP (Fragomen) created the Fragomen Fellowship at the CBJC as an innovative pro bono effort to increase outreach to and representation of immigrants in dire need of high quality free legal services. The Fragomen Fellowship has been a huge success in improving the ability of a wide range of pro bono lawyers to work in the complex and rapidly changing areas of immigration law. The Fragomen Fellowship has become a national model for expanding legal services to low income immigrants by leveraging thousands of hours of pro bono service.

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In 2010, a semi-retired actress, teacher and entrepreneur approached the Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project (NELP) hoping to revive a business she had started twenty years prior. The entrepreneur had informally launched her Manhattan-based venture in 1990, a passion project that assisted singers, dancers and athletes in overcoming their stage fright. After partially retiring from acting and living on a fixed income, the actress sought to bring her former business back to life. And in keeping with the actor’s convention of playing a role, she decided to use a pseudonym as she rebuilt her business: Peitho, the ancient Greek goddess of persuasion and speech.

Peitho reached out to NELP in the fall of 2010 for pro bono legal assistance as she planned to broaden her client base by developing an interactive eLearning curriculum that would allow her business to reach clients from a wide variety of professions and worldwide. NELP connected Peitho with two attorneys from Dechert LLP: Partner David Rosenthal and Associate Victor Semah (who has since left the firm). They helped to ensure her business re-established itself on a sound legal footing, by applying for an Employer Identification Number, incorporating the business, and drawing up the company’s Articles of Incorporation and bylaws. In 2011, PS4e1 was officially incorporated.

As Peitho’s business moved forward, she sought additional legal assistance from NELP in order to protect her intellectual property through copyright and trademark. NELP placed Peitho with three Intellectual Property attorneys from Fitzpatrick Cella Harper & Scinto: Partner Frank A. Delucia, Jr., Associate Sachin Gupta (who has since left the firm), and Associate Whitney Meier. These attorneys provided Peitho with copyright and trademark assistance and succeeded in obtaining trademarks for the corporation’s name, PS4e1, and its slogan, “Expressing Yourself Matters.”

“Intellectual property rights play a large role in our business, as a great deal of what we consider to be valuable original content resides on our website for the world to see,” said Peitho. “We are very grateful to NELP for having introduced us to [the Fitzpatrick Cella attorneys] who so generously answered our questions and diligently made sure that this content is protected.”

As PS4e1 further evolved, Peitho attended one of NELP’s small business legal clinics for assistance with a Sales Agreement. Shortly after the clinic, her matter was placed with Albert Rizzo of the Law Offices of Albert Rizzo, P.C. for pro bono assistance in drafting the Sales Representative Agreement. Peitho, satisfied by the work of her pro bono attorney yet again, described the agreement as an “elegant and excellent template.”

Since first reaching out to NELP in 2010, PS4e1 has expanded its reach to provide services to people worldwide and has become attractive to new client bases. The company has built an online presence, increased its staff, and continues to develop an expanding series of interactive, illustrated eLearning courses. Most recently, the company published a Kindle eBook about the PS4e1 Method on Amazon: Broadway Actors Present The Public Speaking Guide For Everyone.

“With the help of NELP and the extraordinary lawyers they pulled like rabbits out of a hat, PS4e1, Inc. was launched. The original concept is no longer a mirage. It exists. And we at PS4e1 will forever be grateful to NELP for all it has given us and made possible,” said Peitho.

To learn more about PS4e1, please visit their website.

Stay up to date with the Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project (NELP) by liking us on Facebook. Visit our page to find out more about NELP’s free legal services for New York City microentrepreneurs, our upcoming legal clinics and presentations, as well as other useful resources for local small businesses. 

 

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This Monday, April 28th, William Gunn, the General Counsel for the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), will speak at the New York City Bar Association on the needs of our nation’s veterans. He will be joined by the VA’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Hughes Turner, on a panel moderated by Phil Carter, who served as the National Veterans Director for President Obama’s campaign and is now a scholar at the Center for a New American Security. We invite you to attend to learn more about what we as attorneys can be doing for our veterans.

The enduring hardships many returning soldiers face are often exacerbated by the difficulties they encounter in obtaining the benefits to which they are entitled. There are an estimated 190,000 veterans living in New York City, many of whom are disabled as a result of their military service. The VA administers a range of benefits, including disability compensation, and seeks to meet the healthcare needs of veterans. The VA is responsible for evaluating any service-related conditions and determining the amount of compensation benefits to be paid.

Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are applying for VA benefits at higher rates than veterans of previous wars. The number of claims filed by this group is expected to increase even more as the years unfold. Studies show that the peak years for government healthcare and compensation costs for veterans usually comes 30 to 40 years after those wars end. Vietnam veterans make up the majority of the VA’s current caseload. The VA also works on claims from veterans of World War II, Korea, the Gulf War, as well as peacetime veterans.

The delays and large backlog in the disability claims process has been a subject of concern for many years. As of April 2014, the New York Regional Office of the VA had nearly 9,000 claims in process. Fifty-six percent of veterans who file a claim for benefits at the New York Regional office will wait over 125 days before receiving a decision. The average wait time is 161 days. In many of these cases, receipt of a decision is not necessarily the end of the process. The veteran may need to appeal an improper denial of a claim for benefits or the assignment of an incorrect disability rating or effective date. Historically, the wait time for a decision on an appealed claim will be even longer than the wait time for the initial decision.

At the City Bar Justice Center, we have operated a pro bono program for the past six years, helping low-income disabled veterans claim their VA benefits. The Veterans Assistance Project is funded by the Robin Hood Foundation. Veterans who have legal assistance completing their initial benefits claims are more likely to receive the benefits to which they are entitled and less likely to need to appeal a decision in the future. Attorneys are able to help veterans develop evidence, gathering medical and service records that may be difficult to obtain or incomplete. Attorneys are also able to assist veterans in demonstrating the link between their current disabilities and their time in service. Our Project works closely with veterans programs at Legal Services New York and the Urban Justice Center to meet the other civil legal needs of the veteran community.

Many of the clients we serve are homeless or at risk of homelessness. The monthly benefit payment for a veteran with a service-connected disability can range from $130 per month to over $3,000 per month, depending on the severity of the disability and the number of dependents. VA benefits are an important anti-poverty resource and can make a huge difference in veterans’ ability to pay for housing, food, clothing, and take care of their families. The VA will also pay retroactive benefits back until the date the claim was first filed. Veterans who have been waiting a long time for their claims to finally be decided correctly can receive significant retroactive awards. The Veterans Assistance Project has helped some veterans with severe disabilities receive retroactive awards of over $100,000.

To learn more about what the VA is doing to help veterans, please register for Monday’s event here. If you would like to get your firm or corporate legal department involved in the Veterans Assistance Project, please email Caitlin Kilroy here.

Caitlin Kilroy is Staff Attorney for the City Bar Justice Center’s Veterans Assistance Project

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On April 9, the City Bar Justice Center’s 9th Annual Gala will honor the law firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz and the global financial services company UBS with the 2014 City Bar Justice Awards, for their leadership and dedication to pro bono service.

The annual gala is a fundraising event vital for the Justice Center to continue its work in protecting the rights of over 20,000 New Yorkers each year who cannot afford legal assistance. Through pro bono legal representation, know-your-rights presentations, clinics targeting specific legal needs, and a free Legal Hotline, the Justice Center provides over $20 million worth of legal assistance each year.

The law firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz handles a range of pro bono work in the areas of immigration, intellectual property, not-for-profit, tax, trusts and estates, and real estate. The Justice Center recognizes the positive impact Wachtell Lipton has had on the New York community through leadership of numerous philanthropic and public policy causes and support for nonprofit institutions, in addition to its pro bono contributions. In 2013, the head of Wachtell’s Trusts and Estates Practice founded the pro bono Planning and Estates Law Project (PELP) at the City Bar Justice Center to address the gap in free legal services for low-income New Yorkers facing end-of-life and estate-planning issues.

UBS actively encourages the volunteering activities of its employees. In the New York metropolitan area, UBS attorneys are involved in three key City Bar Justice Center programs: the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund legal clinics, the Immigrant Women & Children Project, and the Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project.

“We are pleased to recognize organizations that provide pro bono legal services to the underserved. The value they place on improving the lives of underrepresented individuals and the community as a whole serves as a reminder of the importance of access to justice for all,” said Carey R. Dunne, President of the New York City Bar Association, who, along with Mei Lin Kwan-Gett, Chair of the City Bar Fund Board, will present the awards.

In addition to the honorees, sponsors this year include many of New York’s leading law firms as well as companies including BNY Mellon, Pfizer, EY, MetLife, American Express, Barclays, CBS, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, KPMG, Morgan Stanley, Thomson Reuters and Time Warner.

For questions regarding sponsorships of the event, please contact the gala office at 212.249.6188 or jennifer[at]emgbenefits.com.

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On February 12th, the Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project (NELP) held a small business legal clinic in Harlem in partnership with the Upper Manhattan NYC Business Solutions Center. Volunteer lawyers and legal professionals from three powerhouse financial institutions – Barclays, Goldman Sachs, and UBS – partnered with NELP to provide low-income micro-entrepreneurs with expert legal advice for their small businesses.

In total, 13 attorneys and 4 legal service professionals volunteered at the clinic, showing strong representation from all three financial institutions. Over the course of the evening, these volunteers provided legal counsel to 20 clients whose businesses represented a diverse array of industries including pet grooming, film production, cuisine and fitness. Each client was able to meet with a team of three to four volunteers at once. The attorneys’ varying areas of legal expertise allowed them to advise on everything from incorporation and contracts to intellectual property and tax issues.

“This clinic was a tremendous success. The advice and guidance that the in-house attorneys provide to these entrepreneurs are an invaluable and core part of growing their businesses,” said Akira Arroyo, NELP’s director. “It is through the efforts of generous volunteer attorneys like those from Barclays, Goldman Sachs and UBS that NELP is able to provide hundreds of small business owners each year with quality legal assistance, which most would otherwise be unable to afford.”

This three-bank legal clinic model was first conducted in 2012, bringing together in-house attorneys from each financial institution to assist low-income clients with their small business legal issues. Carlos Pelayo, a Managing Director in Barclays Legal Department, said, “Citizenship at Barclays is defined as positively impacting the communities in which we operate, and the NELP program gives us a terrific opportunity to support this incredibly important agenda.”

 

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