NYSBA members fight for immigrant representation

NYSBA members fight for immigrant representation


By Jennifer Andrus

The New York State Bar Association strives to promote equal access to justice for all, and NYSBA members’ zealous advocacy on behalf of immigrants is the work of two-way lawyers. unique to achieve this ideal.

Shayna Kessler and Steve Yale-Loehr, co-chairs of NYSBA’s Immigration Advocacy Committee, focus on education and advocacy to improve the lot of immigrants. The committee hosted several CLE webinars in 2021 and 2022 to educate NYSBA members on the fundamentals of immigration law.

“We are trying to encourage more members to volunteer for immigrants, and Shayna has been especially active in trying to work on funding issues and legislative issues to facilitate immigrant representation in New York State,” says Yale-Loehr, who is a professor at Cornell Law School. “Immigrants are not guaranteed to have a lawyer. More than half of all immigrants do not have a lawyer, and immigration law is one of the most complex areas of law in the country. For asylum seekers, this can be a life or death decision.

Law school clinics fill the void

Immigration work is one of the areas highlighted in this year’s NYSBA pro bono awards. Albany Law School’s Immigration Law Pro Bono Society is one of the recipients of the 2022 President’s Pro Bono Service Awards. The group is recognized for its innovative clinical program in collaboration with the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) and Immigrant-ARC.

Jake Mantey, Albany Law School ’22 recruited and trained more than three dozen student volunteers to help with the immigration clinic this year. Working with the USCRI legal team, law students conducted more than 200 legal checks of Afghan refugees who resettled in the capital region.

Mantey says he is drawn to immigration law to help those who are often scapegoated. “I think this is an important area where you can have a lot of tangible impact and it means a lot to disadvantaged people.”

NYSBA members Sarah Rogerson and Lauren DesRosiers, Albany law professors, support student clinical work on behalf of immigrants. “There’s something deeply rewarding about helping groups of individuals who are constantly pushed aside by the political winds on both sides of political ideology,” Rogerson says. “Immigrants are consistently ignored in national politics and consistently demonized after 9/11. I saw this very clearly as a law student.

DesRosiers was thrilled to join the Albany Law School Immigration Clinic’s Justice Center to work alongside Rogerson.

“I saw it as a great opportunity to work with students, get them excited about doing immigration work and, at the same time, be able to serve clients in the community,” she says.

Yale-Loehr says his best days are when former students contact him about pro bono immigration work, having learned those skills at Cornell’s immigration law clinics.

“It keeps me going,” he says.

Recognize secondary trauma

Immigrants and asylum seekers are often victims of torture and abuse and hearing their stories can cause secondary trauma for lawyers. Recognizing impact is central to the clinical work of students at both Albany Law and Cornell.

“There are recognized techniques that psychologists and psychiatrists use not only in the context of immigration, but in all traumatic situations such as terrorism, domestic violence cases or criminal cases. All of these sensitive cases can raise secondary trauma issues and now they are increasingly integrated into the program,” says Yale-Loehr.

Mantey focused on community care during the work of Albany Law’s Immigration Law Pro Bono Society. It provided time and space for student volunteers to talk about their shared experiences. “We are looking out for everyone’s mental health because doing this kind of stuff is very taxing. A lot of people don’t want to be involved in such horrible stories,” Mantey says.

Earlier this year, the NYSBA and the Immigration Advocacy Committee hosted a free event on Recognizing Secondary Trauma. You can view the event here.

Legislative Action on Immigrant Representation Rights

The right to immigrant representation is one of the NYSBA’s legislative priorities for 2022. The NYSBA scored a victory this month with the Legislature’s approval of a $16 legal services funding increase. at $20 million. Kessler hopes the funding will boost momentum to support mandatory legal representation for immigrants in New York.

“We can model an immigration policy that is welcoming and centered on human dignity, which ensures that immigrants, who face federal immigration enforcement, have the support of their state,” she says.

Kessler and Yale-Loehr believe that the plight of immigrants must be taken into account for the recovery from the COVID 19 pandemic to be equitable.

“The enormous amount of danger, the lack of security and the lack of health precautions for people in custody is terrifying,” says Kessler. “We see immigrants who are disproportionately essential workers continue to face a year of family separation, detention and deportation even as they work on the front lines of the pandemic.”

NYSBA involvement is a lifeline

Rogerson says membership in the New York State Bar Association is a key component of Albany Law’s clinical success. “The State Bar provides us with a network and a platform to collaborate more effectively. NYSBA has been instrumental in these pop-up clinics – getting the word out to volunteers and channeling the power of people,” she says.

DesRosiers agrees, saying the association excels at building community. “Having a network of truly knowledgeable, engaged attorneys is so essential, and NYSBA is so great at growing and supporting that network.”

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