Projects, Units & Initiatives
Immigration Law Unit – Youth Project
Since 2003, our Immigrant Youth Representation Project (Youth Project) has provided free, comprehensive screenings, advice, and direct representation to undocumented immigrant youth and unaccompanied minors in New York. The Youth Project defends unaccompanied youth in removal proceedings before the Immigration Court and assists undocumented youth who are in foster care or under adoption or guardianship to obtain Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), asylum, T and U visas, and other immigration benefits. This legal representation is essential: only 20% of cases are won by children without a lawyer, compared to success in over 90% of cases with a lawyer. To promote the safety and well-being of our children clients, the Project implements a multidisciplinary legal and social work approach; this involves internal referrals to other practice groups at LAS as well as external referrals to leading community-based organizations for educational, health, and mental health support the young clients we represent.
The Legal Aid Society’s Youth Project is part of the Immigrant Children Advocates’ Relief Effort (ICARE), a coalition formed in response to the surge of unaccompanied minor children arriving in 2014. ICARE met this need for highly competent legal representation, and LAS and our ICARE partners – Catholic Charities, Central American Legal Assistance, The Door, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), Make the Road New York, and Safe Passage Project – have been extremely successful in our advocacy on behalf of children and families at risk of deportation. Since the start of ICARE, The Legal Aid Society has represented more than 350 children and families, helping our clients win their cases in a complex and dynamic legal environment.
In addition to providing direct legal services, our Youth Project provides regular training to immigrant-serving advocates from community-based organizations, State and local agencies, and judicial and legislative staff. Partnerships with other non-profit organizations and coordination of a successful pro bono program with almost 30 participating law firms also enhance our ability to meet the persistently high demand for youth representation.
Our Youth Project clients have often experienced trauma that requires both legal and supportive services to ensure that their needs are comprehensively addressed. In one such case we represented Christine, who left El Salvador seeking better opportunities in the United States. She was around 17 years old when LAS started working on her asylum claim due to a pedophile that had stalked and harassed her in El Salvador. Christine eventually confided in her high school counselor that she was being sex trafficked by a family member and that all of her earnings went to this individual – and further, that the same family member had solicited and arranged for Christine to be raped by a cab driver.
As a mandated reporter, the school counselor reported the sex trafficking to the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), who eventually contacted our office. With the tremendous assistance of our social worker, we were able to provide critical support and services to address our client’s complex mental health needs. We filed a T nonimmigrant visa petition on Christine’s behalf before the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), as a victim of human trafficking. The T visa was granted within two years of filing given the exceptionally compelling facts, and Christine was then able to obtain derivative T visas for her mother and siblings so they are able to join her in the United States. She is also now in a stable relationship, and she and her partner are raising their one-year-old son.
*All client names and certain other personally identifying details have been altered to protect clients’ confidentiality.