Projects, Units & Initiatives
Immigration Law Unit – Removal Defense
For decades, The Legal Aid Society has been a recognized leader in providing comprehensive, high-quality immigration assistance to low-income immigrant New Yorkers. Our Immigration Law Unit represents immigrants before the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), before immigration judges in removal proceedings, on appeals to the Board of Immigration Appeals, and in federal court on habeas corpus petitions and petitions for review. In particular, the need for non-detained removal defense has grown in recent years, leading LAS to increase our focus on advocacy for clients who are at risk of deportation.
LAS has traditionally been one of few organizations in New York City that represents individuals in immigration proceedings based on prior criminal convictions. Accordingly, the bulk of ILU’s removal defense work involves clients with criminal convictions. Many of these clients are long-time lawful permanent residents who entered the United States at a young age and now face the threat of deportation because of old and/or minor criminal convictions or prior immigration violations. In collaboration with LAS’s Criminal Appeals Bureau, ILU assists clients with filing motions in criminal court to vacate or modify convictions or reduce criminal sentences. This collaboration allows clients to file motions to terminate their removal proceedings or to apply for relief from removal, a common feature in our removal defense representation. ILU also assists criminal defendants and their criminal defense attorneys to fashion favorable pleas that avoid deportation or allow clients to apply for discretionary relief from deportation.
In one recent case, LAS represented Thomas, a citizen of Morocco who entered the U.S. as a legal permanent resident (LPR) twenty years ago. In 2004, he was arrested and convicted of a misdemeanor assault. Five years later, he was again arrested for not paying his fare on the subway and pled guilty to theft of services. Thomas has worked continuously as a chef since coming to the U.S., and he has also recently married his longtime girlfriend, a U.S. citizen with two disabled children whom Thomas helps to care for.
In 2013, upon returning from a trip abroad to Morocco to visit his mother, Thomas was put in proceedings to be removed from the United States. He appeared alone on his case many times before he was referred to The Legal Aid Society in late 2017. Upon investigation, it became clear that the government had failed to meet their burden to prove that Thomas was removable from the United States. In an effort to substantiate their case, the government submitted evidence that was insufficient to prove their charges; however, Thomas would not have been able to determine this on his own, without an immigration attorney. LAS filed a motion to terminate proceedings on his behalf, which was granted in December 2018. Now, Thomas can continue to build his life with his new wife and children, travel to Morocco to see his ailing mother and is eligible to apply for citizenship.
*All client names and certain other personally identifying details have been altered to protect clients’ confidentiality.