Never before in the history of our organization has police accountability been so prominently an issue of popular national importance. Just four years ago drag-net Stop & Frisk was being defended as an essential policing tactic, responsible for saving tens of thousands of lives despite research that questioned this causality and obvious constitutional concerns. While we welcome the national, progressive attention on these issues, to which our clients are often at the receiving end, we must acknowledge how we got here: long-standing police abuses coming into the light due to lawsuits, civilian documentation and protest. The deaths of Eric Garner and Ramarley Graham at the hands of the New York Police Department, and the public’s perception of a lack of accountability for the officers involved, especially as compared to the extensive punishment regimes for civilians in criminal court, have driven a significant interest in this topic both locally, nationally, and even internationally. More
On June 9th, BDS’ Nyasa Hickey was on a panel with the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) as part of their “Stronger Together” Know Your Rights training. As a response to recent ICE home raids that have hit Black immigrants in New York City particularly hard, BDS joined BAJI and other immigrant advocates at Mt. Zion Church of God 7th Day in Brooklyn to provide information on immigrant rights and answer community member questions.
BDS JOINED THREE-QUARTER HOUSING TENANTS AT RALLY AND PRESS CONFERENCE TO CALL ON CITY COUNCIL TO PASS PROPOSED BILLS TO PROTECT THEIR RIGHTS
Brooklyn Defender Services joined tenant activists and MFY Legal Services on the steps of New York City Hall to call for the passage of a package of bills that would better regulate “three-quarter housing,” temporary housing for people dealing with mental illness or issues related to drugs. “Three-quarter houses” – named as such because they are considered something between “halfway houses” and permanent residences – have been under scrutiny recently because of revelations that they are largely unregulated, allowing landlords to take advantage of their residents putting them in cramped, rat and roach-infested apartment sometimes with several people in one room. A New York Times investigation additionally uncovered the practice of requiring tenants to attend support groups at particular substance-abuse treatment centers paid for by federal funds and for which they received kickbacks from the providers.
“This housing has really been the warehousing of people so a few landlords could rake in money,” New York City Council Member Corey Johnson said at the press conference. “The real solution is getting them into supportive transitional housing.”
The package of bills in the City Council, sponsored by Johnson, Donovan Richards Jr., Ritchie Torres, and Jumaane D. Williams, would increase transparency about the locations and standards of the housing and prohibit landlords from interfering with tenants’ medical treatment.
Join BDS and the Brownsville Community Justice Center for a community forum marking the first annual National Reentry Week. Last month, the Department of Justice declared April 24 to April 30 “National Reentry Week” to call attention to the obstacles that people leaving prison face returning to their communities. Joining the effort, BDS attorneys and staff will be leading conversations on various topics related to reentry including cleaning RAP sheets of employment-debilitating errors, obtaining certificates of relief and good conduct, finding housing, finding primary care providers, the Fair Chance Act, and the NYCHA Family Re-Entry Pilot Program. Representatives from NYCHA, Brooklyn Bail Fund, Drive Change, Housing Works, and other organizations will also be present.
Join us at 444 Thomas S. Boyland Street between 12 and 4 p.m. on April 28. There will be a free raffle and refreshments.
BDS HOSTS EVENT ON PARTICIPATORY DEFENSE WITH SILICON VALLEY DE-BUG AND MONTGOMERY COUNTY, PA, PUBLIC DEFENSE HEADS
Last week, BDS hosted organizers from Silicon Valley De-Bug and heads of the Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, Public Defender’s office. They discussed ways in which the family of someone charged with a crime and their community can help defense attorneys with potentially useful information that might otherwise fly under the radar.
At a rally on Sunday, activists called on the city to establish a program that would allow riders below the federal poverty level to purchase half-fare MetroCards.
A new report from Community Service Society of New York, a research and advocacy organization, “The Transit Affordability Crisis,” found that over a quarter of low-income New Yorkers were often unable to afford the subway or bus in the past year, limiting many New Yorkers’ opportunities to get good jobs and affordable housing and, in many cases, forcing them to choose between transit and other necessities. The consequences were especially severe for low-income working age blacks and Latinos, with 31 percent of African-Americans and 43 percent of Latinos reporting that the cost of MTA fares kept them from looking for or taking a job further from the neighborhoods where they live.
BDS Executive Director Lisa Schreibersdorf was quoted in the Gothamist saying BDS sees thousands of clients annually who have been arrested for fare beating. “The vast majority of people arrested for this offense are Black or Latino,” she said. “Many are detained on Rikers Island at a cost of about $500 per day simply because they might not be able to afford a $2.75 subway fare.”
— VOCAL-NY (@VOCALNewYork) April 10, 2016
— Riders Alliance (@RidersNY) April 8, 2016
Nyasa Hickey – Immigration Attorney
BROOKLYN DEFENDER SERVICES
The New York City Council Committee on Immigration Hearing
on Resolution 928A-2015
April 5, 2016
My name is Nyasa Hickey. I am a practicing immigration attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS). BDS provides innovative, multi-disciplinary, and client-centered criminal, family, and immigration defense, as well as civil legal services, social work support and advocacy, for over 40,000 clients in Brooklyn every year. I thank the City Council Committee on Immigration for the opportunity to testify today about BDS’s support for Resolution 928A-2015 and the impact that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the new Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program would have on the communities that BDS serves.
United States v. Texas
It is critical that the United States Supreme Court issue a decision in United States v. Texas that overturns the Fifth Circuit’s ruling in Texas v. United States and upholds the implementation of President Obama’s expanded DACA and DAPA programs. Not only will this expand the benefits and protections of the existing DACA program to millions more immigrants nationwide, it will set a precedent encouraging the continuation of this program until comprehensive immigration reform occurs. BDS is deeply concerned about the hundreds of young New Yorkers that we assisted in requesting DACA relief in the original program who, by applying for DACA, exposed themselves and their families to the Department of Homeland Security for future deportation if subsequent administrations choose to terminate the DACA program and order ICE to roundup and deport former DACA recipients.
We ask the Committee on Immigration to pass Resolution 928A-2015 urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the implementation of expanded DACA and DAPA. New York City and the Council have already demonstrated their deep support for President Obama’s programs by creating and funding Action NYC, a critical new initiative that is already facilitating the City’s response to DACA/DAPA by connecting New Yorkers to free or low-cost immigration legal services. We hope that when a favorable decision comes down, the City Council will work with the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and Action NYC to ensure that legal services providers are funded to assist with complex DACA/DAPA requests, not just the simple ones.
BDS’s Provision of DACA/DAPA Services
Since 2009, BDS has counseled, advised or represented more than 6,500 immigrant clients. In 2015 alone, we handled more than 1,500 immigration matters across a full spectrum of services. BDS’ vibrant Immigration Practice is composed of 17 full-time immigration attorneys, five paralegals, and four legal assistants. We are a Board of Immigration Appeals-recognized legal service provider. We defend detained clients facing deportation, clients identified through our criminal and family defense dockets, and clients referred from our community partners or who connected with us through community outreach clinics.
BDS recently completed a contract with the Division of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) to provide DACA services. Through that contract we established ourselves as a well-known DACA provider in Brooklyn, and we continue to receive DACA and other immigration referrals from community-based organizations and literacy providers, as well as from former DACA clients referring their friends and family members to us. While many New Yorkers with “simple” expanded DACA/DAPA cases can be helped by community based organizations and programs like Action NYC, we stand ready to help those with cases made more complicated by interactions with the criminal justice system and/or immigration enforcement.
Indeed, BDS and other public defender offices like ours are in a unique position to provide complex immigration legal services for clients who may not otherwise seek immigration assistance but come to us by way of the criminal and family court systems.
We estimate that at least 1,000 and up to 4,000 of the 40,000 clients that BDS represents every year could be eligible for expanded DACA or DAPA. We also represent a significant number of U.S. born children of immigrant parents who we are in a unique place to identify and advise about DAPA.
To give you an example, I work in BDS’s Padilla practice, meaning that I work with criminal defense lawyers to advise BDS clients facing criminal charges on the ramifications of any plea or conviction on their immigration status. Often when I screen clients through our Padilla practice I am able to identify family members of our clients who are eligible for DACA/expanded DACA/DAPA. Consequently, even if the clients who we represent in our criminal defense/family defense cases are ineligible for DACA/DAPA themselves (either because of a pending case, past criminal history or because they already have status), I am able to flag for clients that their family members are eligible and may call our office for an intake. Other times, once I start speaking with the client about his or her immigration status, the client will ask if they can send their family members to us for help, too. Thus, through our robust Padilla representation, BDS attorneys earn the trust of our clients who may then actually confide in us to help their family members come out of the shadows and apply for DACA/DAPA.
The City should provide funding for BDS and other defender offices to do screenings of all of our clients for DACA/DAPA eligibility–and through those screenings we may also obtain access to our clients’ family members. Right now we only have the capacity to do intakes of those clients who are facing potential immigration consequences from their family/criminal defense case. If we had more funding we could set up a “refer all” policy at BDS to refer all undocumented clients (as well as LPR or USC clients who have undocumented family members) to BDS attorneys for a DAPA/DACA screening of themselves and their families.
Our office is perfectly situated to assist our clients in-house with expanded DACA and DAPA requests that are more complicated than cases that will be handled by other City providers. Unfortunately, our clients’ justice involvement complicates otherwise straightforward DACA, expanded DACA or DAPA requests. Also, DAPA, which is a form of relief for parents of U.S. citizens, are older than the young people formerly eligible for original DACA, and consequently many have backgrounds that involve criminal and family court issues. Smaller legal service providers do not have the resources or criminal law expertise and familiarity with family and criminal courts that public defender offices have that allow us to efficiently handle these cases in-house.
We look forward to working with the City to ensure that our clients with former or pending criminal justice-involvement are not left behind when these programs finally roll out so that all immigrant New Yorkers have access to the quality immigration legal services that define our City.
 One of our paralegals is fully accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). The other four paralegals on our Immigration Practice Team are partially accredited by the BIA.
 It is our understanding that future RFPs related to DACA/DAPA services will be made through the Mayor’s Office of Immigration Affairs and/or Action NYC.
 In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Padilla v. Kentucky that the Sixth Amendment requires defense counsel to provide affirmative, competent advice to a noncitizen defendant regarding the immigration consequences of a guilty plea. Absent such advice, a noncitizen may raise a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. See Padilla v. Commonwealth of Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356 (2010).
Nyasa Hickey – Immigration Attorney
BROOKLYN DEFENDER SERVICES
The New York City Council Committee on Immigration
Budget Hearing on
March 28, 2016
My name is Nyasa Hickey. I am a practicing immigration attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS). BDS provides innovative, multi-disciplinary, and client-centered criminal, family, and immigration defense, as well as civil legal services, social work support and advocacy, for over 40,000 clients in Brooklyn every year. I thank the City Council Committee on Immigration for the opportunity to testify today about the important work that immigration legal service providers do for New York City’s diverse residents.
We cannot express enough how thankful we are to this City Council and this City for its visionary investment in legal service programs that have made New York the nation’s leader in promoting access to justice and opportunity for its immigrant communities. BDS remains honored to work with this City Council to serve as a legal service provider under one of these programs—the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP). NYIFUP, as the nation’s first public defender system for detained immigrants facing deportation, promotes family unity and a more fair and just process for our immigrant New Yorkers.
My written testimony today will provide the Committee with updates about some of the innovative immigration legal work that City-funded service providers have accomplished in the last year. I will also identify additional ways that City Council, service providers, and the community can work together to better serve New York’s immigrant communities. Most critically, this includes continuing to fund organizations like BDS and other members of immigrant service provider coalitions to provide complex immigration services.
II. Current Immigration Legal Services Landscape in New York City
New York City is the nation’s leader in supporting immigrant communities, in large part because of the advocacy and funding provided by the City Council. The Council currently funds NYIFUP, which is among its most ground-breaking immigrant legal service initiatives and is described in greater detail below. The Council has also funded the Immigrant Children Advocates Relief Effort (ICARE), in partnership with private funders, to assist unaccompanied children in removal proceedings and on the priority dockets of the New York immigration court. A third City initiative, ActionNYC, is funded through the Executive Budget and in partnership with the City Council, and is the nation’s largest investment by a municipality to prepare for executive action. Action NYC has created a city-wide system rooted in immigrant community organizations to provide quality immigration-related information and affirmative immigration benefit support—at least for simple applications such as DACA, TPS, I-130 petitions, straightforward I-485 adjustment of status applications, greencard renewals, FOIAs, and work authorization applications—to thousands of New Yorkers. Finally, our understanding is that the City’s Immigrant Opportunities Initiative (IOI) will remain an additional source of funding for the provision of immigration legal services, although current and prospective providers under the IOI await further clarification from the City as to when and how IOI funding will be allocated in coming years.
The need for all this funding has never been more acute. The years 2009 to 2016 have brought more immigration enforcement than this country has previously ever seen. Nationally, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials reported early this year that they intend to continue the raids, hoping to send a signal and prevent a repeat of the surge in illegal border crossings. Although the numbers dipped last spring, a new spike saw more than 10,000 children reach the border in October and November alone. Immigrant families across the country and in New York City experienced widespread panic in the wake of DHS’s announcement. Fear of detention led to children staying home from school and parents not reporting to work and contributed to distrust of all law enforcement. Although “surge”-related DHS arrests have not been confirmed yet in New York City, just over the past year we have seen a dramatic increase in the rates of home arrests where ICE apprehends New Yorkers at home, often in pre-dawn hours, sometimes with misleading pretenses to locate targeted individuals. ICE has also arrested clients in the courts as well as in sensitive locations such as homeless shelters. Long-time and new residents of our city alike are facing deportation in high numbers.
Furthermore, over the past several decades, the immigration detention and deportation laws have become increasingly intricate and complex. These laws are extremely harsh, often mandating deportation and detention for individuals with the most minimal criminal records. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for immigrants and their families to navigate on their own in most deportation cases. Not until New York City launched NYIFUP in 2013 was any city resident ensured the right to assigned counsel in her deportation defense if she could not afford one.
III. The need for additional funding for complex immigration cases
As described above, New York City’s current funding landscape for immigration legal services includes resources to protect the due process rights of detained immigrants in deportation proceedings (through NYIFUP) and non-detained unaccompanied minors and adults with children on the “surge” dockets at 26 Federal Plaza (though ICARE). It also includes (through Action NYC) resources to help thousands of immigrant New Yorkers to identify what options they may have to obtain lawful immigration status and to provide them with affirmative immigration application assistance for simple cases such as DACA, TPS, I-130 petitions, straightforward I-485 adjustment of status applications, greencard renewals, FOIAs, and work authorization applications.
There is a very noticeable gap in funding, however, for immigrant New Yorkers to access quality legal services for other, more complex immigration cases.
Action NYC educates undocumented communities about immigration options and provides navigators to assist with straightforward immigration applications. Everywhere they go, these navigators are finding immigrants with complex cases who need legal representation.
Action NYC is a great start, but with existing immigrant legal services programs at capacity, thousands lack the representation needed to retain or obtain lawful status given the complexity of their legal issues.
These more complex immigration cases that require competent counsel include but may not be limited to:
- Affirmative benefits cases that routinely involve more substantial attorney or BIA-accredited representative work, such as Special Immigrant Juvenile cases; U visas, S visas, and T visas; VAWA self-petitions; I-485 adjustment of status applications that also require I-601 waivers (of unlawful presence or criminal inadmissibility bars) or I-212 waivers (for prior deportation/removal cases) or other waivers; and Asylum;
- Non-detained removal defense cases (other than those on the “surge dockets” that may obtain counsel through ICARE);
- Cases involving appeals to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO), or state or federal courts where necessary or appropriate, such as an appeal to a higher state court upon the denial of a family court guardianship petition, or a federal habeas petition or Petition for Review;
- Immigrant workers’ rights cases; and
- Other complex affirmative immigration benefits cases, including those that may otherwise be more straightforward applications but that present complications such as evidentiary issues or criminal histories.
The City should fill this gap by increasing funding for non-profit immigration legal service providers like BDS across the city to provide this immigration assistance in these complex cases.
We respectfully submit that, in doing so, the City should be mindful of the fact that complex immigration cases often take years and are resource-intensive. Ensuring continuity of quality representation means, ideally, funding multi-year contracts with experienced legal services providers and paying a case rate commensurate with the work involved. This investment will pay off. Every deportation prevented or Green Card obtained means tens of thousands of dollars in wages, taxes, and federal benefits that will flow into and through our communities. These cases save lives, as people fleeing violence abroad, or vulnerable to exploitation here, are granted a safe harbor and a new beginning.
BDS is a proud member of LEAP, a diverse coalition of direct civil legal services providers. LEAP members work collaboratively to increase the availability and quality of civil legal services for low-income persons in NYC, and view representation as a continuum, connecting people to benefits and services to maximize their long-term stability in addition to providing them the legal services assistance they need. BDS currently provides complex immigration services through our NYIFUP and Immigrant Youth and Communities Projects. More details about these projects and our criminal-immigration Padilla practice are located in the sections below.
IV. BDS Provision of Immigration Legal Services
Since 2009, BDS has counseled, advised or represented more than 6,500 immigrant clients. In 2015 alone, we handled more than 1,500 immigration matters across a full spectrum of services. BDS’ vibrant Immigration Practice is composed of 17 full-time immigration attorneys, five paralegals, and four legal assistants. We are a Board of Immigration Appeals-recognized legal service provider. We defend detained clients facing deportation, clients identified through our criminal and family defense dockets, and clients referred from our community partners or who connected with us through community outreach clinics. The following section outlines how BDS uses current funding to defend our clients and promote stability for immigrant communities.
a. New York Immigrant Family Unity Project
The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) is New York City’s groundbreaking, first-in-the nation program providing quality counsel to immigrant New Yorkers who are detained and facing deportation and separation from their families and communities. BDS is proud to be a NYIFUP provider, along with The Bronx Defenders (BXD) and The Legal Aid Society (LAS).
In its first three years, NYIFUP has shown remarkable success and served as a model for access to justice. The following numbers were provided to us from the Vera Institute of Justice based on a preliminary and ongoing analysis of NYIFUP.
Record of Success.
- Outcomes: NYIFUP has obtained relief, termination, or administrative closure for 154 clients, who may now remain in the United States. NYIFUP attorneys have won approximately 70% of their trials.
- Clients Released from Detention: Counting these 154 successful outcomes, NYIFUP has secured release from custody for 452 clients. Thus, 31% of NYIFUP’s clients have been released from detention thus far and have been reunited with their families.
- Ancillary Proceedings: NYIFUP has initiated 153 ancillary proceedings—proceedings in other courts or with USCIS that are critical to obtaining successful outcomes or release from detention in the deportation proceedings.
- Voluntary Departures: NYIFUP has negotiated 102 voluntary departures so that individuals could avoid the onus and legal consequences of a deportation orders
- Families Across the City: NYIFUP has represented clients living in 49 out of 51 City Council districts.
- Spurring Replication Across New York State: Inspired by New York City’s leadership, the New York State Assembly provided funding in FY 2015 for a small pilot program at the Batavia Immigration Court in upstate New York, which has shown great success reuniting detained immigrants with their families. In FY 2016, the State Assembly has doubled this funding, expanding the reach of NYIFUP pilot programs upstate.
- Inspiring Efforts Across the Country: NYIFUP has been the subject of national press and inquiry from jurisdictions across the country. In 2015, a NYIFUP-inspired universal representation program opened its doors in New Jersey, and cities including San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston have convened formal “study groups” to issue reports on access to counsel and develop programs like NYIFUP in their jurisdictions.
We are proud that NYIFUP has accomplished so much in such a short time. For FY 2017—we are requesting—together with the other NYIFUP providers—additional resources to continue this ground-breaking program and ensure that it addresses the needs of this population of immigrants in ICE detention.
Continued High-Quality Legal Services
NYIFUP’s primary goal is to preserve the unity of families, but it also aims to keep New York City’s vibrant immigrant communities strong. As documented by The Center for Popular Democracy, keeping families together saves New York government and employers significant sums, offsetting much of the cost of representing each NYIFUP client.
NYIFUP teams, including experienced immigration attorneys, BIA-accredited representatives, and social workers, provide culturally competent representation for our clients in highly complex cases:
- NYIFUP provides representation in immigration court at master calendar hearings, bond hearings, mental competency hearings, and merits hearings.
- NYIFUP handles appeals at the Board of Immigration Appeals and federal circuit courts of appeals.
- A NYIFUP case at the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Lora vs. Shanahan, established for the first time our clients’ right to an individualized bond hearing after six months of detention, even for those who are subject to mandatory detention.
- NYIFUP provides representation in family court to obtain Special Findings Orders, which allow abused, neglected and abandoned children to file Special Immigrant Juvenile Status Petitions and become LPRs.
- NYIFUP attorneys assist in criminal court to resolve open cases, and to obtain vacaturs or other post-conviction relief that allow New Yorkers to remain with their families.
- NYIFUP attorneys assist in federal district court when collateral proceedings – such as habeas corpus petitions or requests for declaratory judgment – are necessary for their immigration cases.
- NYIFUP social workers provide social work services to detainees to support and assist them to obtain appropriate programs related to psychological assistance, drug/alcohol addiction and job services.
- NYIFUP has increased awareness of detention issues through work with other legal services providers, community based organization and through media advocacy.
- NYIFUP attorneys have raised the level of practice in the immigration courts by providing high quality legal services.
The following two BDS NYIFUP client stories demonstrate how NYIFUP makes a difference in comparison to study results that have shown that 95 percent of detained unrepresented immigrants do not make a claim that would entitle them to stay in the country and 97 percent of detained unrepresented immigrants lose their cases. Without representation, these two immigrants would virtually certainly have been deported.
Simon (a pseudonym) immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic as a Lawful Permanent Resident (green card holder) in 1992. At that time, he joined his mother and sister in Brooklyn, who were operating two bodegas in Crown Heights. Simon inherited one of the stores after his mother died in 1994, and managed it for the next seven years. Thereafter, he worked a number of jobs, most recently as a medical equipment deliveryman. He has not been able to work since 2010, however, when he suffered a debilitating on-the-job injury, slipping off his truck and sustaining severe back injuries. He has had two back operations and suffers from chronic pain that needs to be managed through regular medication and therapy.
Simon was arrested in an ICE home raid in 2014 based on a 1999 misdemeanor drug possession conviction, for which he received a conditional discharge and no jail time. His BDS NYIFUP lawyer argued that he was eligible for bond, but the judge ruled that the law precluded release. Thereafter, NYIFUP counsel filed an application for cancellation of removal in immigration court, and a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court, arguing for a bond hearing. Before the application for habeas corpus was ruled upon, the immigration court granted the application for cancellation of removal based upon his strong family and community ties, entitling Simon to be reunited with his wife and sons and to remain permanently in the United States.
After successfully resolving his deportation case, Simon, with the help of BDS NYIFUP, applied for U.S. citizenship. His application was approved and, on August 19, 2015, at the age of 49, Simon was sworn in as a U.S. citizen at federal court in Brooklyn, becoming one of the first NYIFUP clients to obtain citizenship after winning his deportation case. Simon’s naturalization automatically made his one son who was still under 18 a U.S. citizen as well.
Christian (a pseudonym) was a long-time LPR from Panama who moved to the United States at 18 years old to join his mother in the United States. Christian never knew his father, an African-American serviceman stationed at Fort Davis in the Panama Canal Zone. In New York, Christian worked as a refrigerator and air conditioning repairman, as well as in construction. He also became father to five children of his own. His youngest daughter, Layla, is only two years old. Prior to Christian’s detention by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”), he, Layla, and her mother, Victoria, lived together in uptown Manhattan.
On April 30, 2014, Christian was arrested by ICE while making a routine court appearance in Kings County Criminal Court. He was detained and placed in removal proceedings. Christian was detained in New Jersey for nearly six months and appeared pro se before an Immigration Judge three times. Immigration officials said he was deportable based on misdemeanor convictions. Christian informed the judge that his father was a United States citizen in the hope that he would be spared from deportation. However, he struggled to fight his case alone and from detention. Eventually, in the middle of October 2014, after over five months in detention, Christian obtained counsel through NYIFUP. His BDS NYIFUP lawyer told ICE officers that Christian had a citizenship claim through his USC father, and that he should never have been placed in detention. Christian was subsequently released on October 20, 2014. His BDS NYIFUP attorney then briefed arguments that Christian’s proceedings should be terminated on the grounds that the government had not met its burden to prove alienage and that Christian had acquired citizenship at birth through his USC father. The DHS trial attorney agreed with the latter argument, and filed his own motion to terminate on that ground. Christian’s case was terminated with prejudice on September 11, 2015, nearly a year after his release from detention. He has applied for proof of citizenship with USCIS, and reunited with his partner, his children, and his extended family in the United States.
These are just two of the stories of the more than 1,000 New Yorkers that NYIFUP attorneys represented last year. In FY 2016, NYIFUP is well on-track to serve over 1,200 New Yorkers.
|Projected Intake – TOTALS FOR ALL 3 NYIFUP PROVIDERS|
|FY 15||FY 16||FY 17|
|Clients Served||1,003||1,200||Approximately 1,400|
ASK: For FY 2017, the NYIFUP providers are requesting that the City fund $2.37 million per legal service provider, for a total of $7.11 million for legal and social services.
This amount will cover comprehensive legal services for 1,476 people facing deportation. This increase will allow us to represent more detained New Yorkers in need, as well as continue to provide high-quality representation in multiple forums for all of our clients.
b. Padilla -support for BDS’s criminal defense clients
While our NYIFUP clients involve a large portion of our immigration practice resources because of the complex nature of those cases, BDS serves an even larger number of immigrant clients through our Padilla practice team.
In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Padilla v. Kentucky that the Sixth Amendment requires defense counsel to provide affirmative, competent advice to a noncitizen defendant regarding the immigration consequences of a guilty plea. Absent such advice, a noncitizen may raise a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.
The consequences of the Padilla ruling for public defender offices like BDS have been nothing short of a sea change. BDS hired its first immigration attorney in 2009, before the Padilla decision came down, to help advise BDS’s criminal defense attorneys and their noncitizen clients on the immigration consequences of guilty pleas and avoid or minimize the negative immigration consequences to the fullest extent possible. Since Padilla, our Padilla practice team has grown to five full-time equivalent immigration attorneys who provide this critical Padilla support to our noncitizen clients facing criminal charges. Still, with a criminal defense practice that represents around 40,000 Brooklyn residents every year, BDS requires additional resources to grow our Padilla practice team to meet the full extent of need.
About 23% of BDS’s annual 40,000 criminal defense clients are foreign-born, roughly half of whom are not naturalized citizens and therefore at risk of deportation or loss of opportunity to obtain lawful immigration status as a result of their criminal case. On average, our Padilla team is called at least once in each arraignment shift to advise on the ramification of a plea offer at arraignment, and they provide support and expertise on about 5% of the cases that survive arraignment. The Padilla practice attorneys frequently go to court to explain the law and/or clarify issues for the prosecutor and judge in specific cases. They also work with BDS criminal defense attorneys on pre-pleading memoranda and to review prior convictions (identifying potential post-conviction relief options for clients) when that could mitigate the immigration consequences of the criminal case. The Padilla team writes travel letters for our noncitizen clients, explaining the facts of the current case to facilitate their re-entry into the U.S. without problems. Finally, because their Padilla consultations often require full immigration history interviews with clients, the team identifies available options for these clients to obtain lawful immigration status, advising them of those opportunities and either making internal referrals to our Immigrant Youth and Communities Project, described below, or external referrals when our Immigrant Youth and Communities Project has insufficient capacity.
The following two Padilla Team client stories illustrate how critical Padilla immigration legal support can be for our noncitizen criminal defense clients:
Sonia (a pseudonym). Toward the end of 2013, in the midst of unprecedented levels of violence in her home country of Honduras, Sonia began receiving threats from the same gang members who had killed her father, sister, and uncle. Fearing for her life, she and her young daughter left their remaining family behind and traveled to the United States, where they hoped to live with a cousin. Nearly a year after arriving, Sonia was arrested for improperly disciplining her daughter (she had been using methods that were common and acceptable in Honduras), and she was charged with endangering the welfare of a child. When Sonia’s public defender learned that Sonia did not have lawful status in the United States, she referred the case to a BDS Padilla attorney. Upon hearing her story of persecution in Honduras, the BDS Padilla attorney, working with our Immigrant Youth & Communities Project (below), filed an asylum application on her behalf, narrowly avoiding the statutory bar for applications filed more than one year after a noncitizen’s entry to the United States. He also identified the possibility of Special Immigrant Juvenile Status for the daughter, who had been abandoned at birth by her father. BDS is now working on obtaining SIJS for Sonia’s daughter.
Claudia (a pseudonym). Claudia married the man she hoped would be the love of her life. Within two months, however, she learned that he was having an affair. When she confronted him, he began a cycle of physical and mental abuse against her, apparently with the goal of convincing her to stay with him. The abuse continued even after she ended their relationship and he would frequently show up to her home and place of work to berate her. Claudia eventually went to a center for survivors of domestic violence where she was connected with a pro bono attorney. She then filed a petition for permanent residence under the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”). She was awaiting a decision from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service when her ex-husband again forced his way into her home. When he saw that she was wearing a jacket he had bought her, he grabbed a knife and attempted to cut it off of her. In the process, he ended up cutting himself. He called the police and stated that she had assaulted him with a knife. Claudia was arrested and charged with a number of misdemeanor offenses, a conviction of some of which could have taken away her only defense to deportation. Due to the ex-husband’s injury, which required stitches, the Kings County District Attorney’s Office was not initially sympathetic to Claudia’s self-defense claim. The BDS defense team including the assigned Padilla attorney, submitted a letter to the DA explaining the client’s history of abuse, her impressive career goals (she was enrolled in nursing school), and the potentially drastic immigration consequences a conviction would have. The Assistant DA was moved by the letter and agreed to an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, an outcome that carries no immigration consequences. Claudia’s application for permanent residence was approved soon thereafter.
Ask: We are requesting that the City Council support our request to the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice for supplemental funding to cover increasing criminal defense costs, including Padilla costs.
c. BDS’s Immigrant Youth and Communities Project—Quality Representation for both Simple and Complex Immigration Cases
In addition to our advocacy work with LEAP (described above), BDS has applied separately for funds from the City Council’s Immigrant Opportunities Initiative (IOI) to provide a broad range of immigration legal services to Brooklyn’s low-income immigrant youth and families. IOI funding would help fund BDS’s Immigrant Youth and Communities Project. Since launching the project in 2012, BDS has represented thousands of Brooklyn immigrants in their applications for lawful immigration status and in defending against deportation in non-detained removal proceedings. Highlights of our work include assisting more than 320 young clients in their pursuit of Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), Adjustment of Status, U visas, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and other immigration benefits or removal defense, and assisting more than 1,000 Haitian New Yorkers with their applications for Temporary Protected Status, work authorization, and other immigration benefits or removal defense.
Our Immigrant Youth and Communities Project seeks to strengthen Brooklyn’s immigrant communities by procuring or retaining lawful immigration status for its immigrant youth and adults, bringing them out of the shadows and securing their meaningful access to justice and opportunity. With IOI funding, BDS can maintain and grow our Project staff to provide community education, legal screening, advice and full representation to low-income Brooklyn immigrant youth and adults borough-wide, in their pursuit of affirmative immigration benefits such as citizenship, lawful permanent residence, asylum, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, special trafficking and victims’ visas, VAWA relief, TPS, and DACA, and in their defense against deportation in non-detained deportation proceedings.
Although BDS’s Immigrant Youth and Communities Project includes application assistance in simple cases such as DACA and TPS, we have extensive expertise in the delivery of quality legal representation in much more complex immigration cases.
- Cases involving appeals to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO), or state or federal courts where necessary or appropriate, such as an appeal to a higher state court upon the denial of a family court guardianship petition, or a federal habeas petition or Petition for Review. BDS’s Immigration Practice has considerable experience litigating complex immigration cases at the appellate levels.
- We have represented clients in 35 BIA and AAO appeals in the last two years, primarily in the removal defense context whether we pursued the appeals on behalf of our clients or defended our clients against appeals brought by the government to challenge immigration judges’ decisions in favor of our clients;
- We have represented clients in 29 federal habeas petitions in the last two years, challenging our detained immigrant clients’ being held subject to mandatory detention without the opportunity to seek release on bond.
- Non-detained removal defense cases. BDS represents hundreds of detained immigrant New Yorkers each year through NYIFUP. Consequently, our removal defense expertise is deep and ongoing. BDS’s representation of immigrants in non-detained removal proceedings that are not covered by NYIFUP, however, remains currently unfunded, and our request to the City Council for FY 2017 IOI funding would allow us to continue and grow this aspect of our work.
- Affirmative benefits cases that routinely involve more substantial attorney or BIA-accredited representative work, such as Special Immigrant Juvenile cases; U visas, S visas, and T visas; VAWA self-petitions; I-485 adjustment of status applications that also require I-601 waivers (of unlawful presence or criminal inadmissibility bars) or I-212 waivers (for prior deportation/removal cases) or other waivers; and Asylum. Our Immigration Practice handles many of these more complex affirmative benefits cases. For example, we undertook 93 SIJS cases and 23 U visa cases in the last two years alone. And in both affirmative and defensive cases, we have engaged in 133 cases involving I-589 asylum and related persecution-based claims on behalf of clients.
- Other affirmative benefits cases (including those that may otherwise be more straightforward applications but that present complications such as evidentiary issues or criminal histories). As an Immigration Practice that is integrated into a larger public defender office, BDS is expert in representing criminal justice-involved immigrants—a population generally underserved by other immigrant legal service providers and an extremely complicated area of law. As just one example of this type of complex case we are well-suited to serve, a participant who may be eligible for Adjustment of Status may have a criminal arrest record that requires gathering of criminal court records, careful analysis thereof, and—if the participant is indeed adjustment-eligible— full representation in the preparation of a more substantial adjustment application complete with evidence of rehabilitation and other equities such as to enhance likely USCIS approval.
The following are just a few examples of the very complex immigration cases BDS works on:
- SIJS case made further complicated by a necessary appeal – We handled a successful appeal of a denial by a family court judge in a case involving Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) client Alicia (name is a pseudonym). Following appeal to the 2nd Department Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court, the case was remanded to the family court and was ultimately granted by the family court judge. Alicia’s application for SIJS has since been approved and her removal proceedings terminated, and she hopes to receive her green card in the next several months.
- Case involving prior removal order – BDS has represented numerous children and adults in reopening prior orders of removal, allowing them to pursue benefits such as Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, asylum, and family-based petitions. Carlos (a pseudonym) is eight years old and a client of BDS. Carlos failed to attend an immigration court hearing because his father got into a car accident while taking him to court. BDS filed a motion to reopen Carlos’ case, arguing that the car accident, combined with the child’s young age and dependency on his father, constituted “exceptional circumstances” warranting reopening of the case. The immigration court reopened Carlos’ case, and he is now in the process of seeking Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, with our legal representation, based on severe neglect by his mother in Honduras.
- Case of Crim-Imm, Removal Defense, and Complex Adjustment of Status – Michael (a pseudonym), age 32, is from Haiti, and has lived in the U.S. since he was only seven years old. He does not know how or with whom he entered the U.S. When Michael was still a teenager, his father, a U.S. citizen, applied to sponsor Michael for a green card, but their private attorney failed to respond to requests for evidence from the former Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS), and he never received his green card. Years later, in 2009, he was arrested and charged with sale of a controlled substance. He initially pled guilty to possession of a controlled substance, rendering him ineligible for most immigration benefits including a green card. Michael was subsequently transferred to immigration (ICE) custody and placed into removal (deportation) proceedings, and BDS recruited pro bono counsel to represent him in these proceedings. BDS mentored pro bono counsel who assisted Michael in applying for a range of possible remedies against deportation, including Temporary Protected Status for Haitian nationals and protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT). While his removal case was pending, BDS attorneys also advocated on Michael’s behalf in criminal court, asking the judge to allow Michael to withdraw his guilty plea, and to allow him to participate in a drug treatment program so that his case could later be dismissed. Once Michael’s plea was vacated, Michael was released on bond from immigration detention. After Michael’s criminal case was successfully dismissed, BDS attorneys were able to secure termination of his removal case, and to finally help him apply once more for his green card, this time under a complex provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act known as 245(i). BDS counsel accompanied Michael to his green card interview in February 2016, and the immigration officer indicated that he intends to recommend Michael’s case for approval.
Ask: BDS requires substantial funding from Immigrant Opportunities Initiative (IOI), through the City Council, and/or an HRA RFP to continue serving Brooklyn’s immigrant youth and communities with high-quality immigration legal services.
Thank you again for this opportunity to share with you the life-changing impact that City Council funds have had on the thousands of immigrant clients that BDS represents every year. I trust that the testimony you hear from BDS and other service providers underscores for you the tremendous importance that City Council funding plays in protecting our immigrant New Yorkers, keeping their families united, and keeping our communities stronger. The next several months will continue to be times of political uncertainty and fear, as presidential candidates campaign on anti-immigrant platforms and we await the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the DACA case. The election in November will certainly have a dramatic impact on this climate of fear and uncertainty one way or another, and may dramatically impact enforcement trends. It is vital that the City of New York be poised to react to whatever political fallout results from the election. BDS looks forward to collaborating with City Council, city agencies, other service providers and community groups through our coalition work to ensure that New York City continues to provide immigrant families, employers and communities with the legal services we need to ensure success and growth for all.
 Liz Robbins, “Rumors of Immigration Raids Stoke Fear in New York,” New York Times, Jan. 6, 2016.
 Pamela Constable, “Deportation raids to continue, despite outcry,” The Washington Post, Jan. 8, 2016.
 See Kirk Semple, “Advocates Seek to Make Courthouses Off Limits to Immigration Officials,” New York Times, May 26, 2014; see also Max Rivlin-Nadler, “Why Are the Feds Stalking Immigrants at Courthouses in New York?,” Vice, Dec. 9, 2015.
 See The Center for Popular Democracy, The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project: Good for Families, Good for Employers and Good for All New Yorkers, available at http://populardemocracy.org/sites/default/files/immgrant_family_unity_project_print_layout.pdf
 One of our paralegals is fully accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). The other four paralegals on our Immigration Practice Team are partially accredited by the BIA.
 The Center for Popular Democracy, The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project: Good for Families, Good for Employers and Good for All New Yorkers, available at http://populardemocracy.org/sites/default/files/immgrant_family_unity_project_print_layout.pdf
 Batya Ungar-Sargon, “Immigrants’ fates depend on access to lawyers,” City Limits, Dec. 17, 2015, available at http://citylimits.org/2015/12/17/immigrants-fates-depend-on-access-to-lawyers/.
 While our carry-over docket has built up over the past two years, we anticipate it plateauing in FY 2017 as more of our non-detained carryover cases from FY 2105 are resolved. Starting with FY 2017, we believe our carry-over non-detained caseload will level out due to increased resources at 26 Federal Plaza and the natural catching up of our trial dates.
 Padilla v. Commonwealth of Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356 (2010).
TESTIMONIO DE SAMUEL DAVID FLORES MURILLO – NY CITY COUNCIL IMMIGRATION COMMITTEE BUDGET AND NYIFUP HEARING (SPANISH)
NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL – IMMIGRATION COMMITTEE
BUDGET & NYIFUP HEARING
MARCH 28, 2016, 2 P.M.
TESTIMONIO DE SAMUEL DAVID FLORES MURILLO
Mi nombre es Samuel David Flores Murillo. Yo doy gracias a la ciudad de Nueva York que apoyo este programa de NYIUP que a mí me permitió tener mi caso antes de un corte con un representante legal, mientras tanto estaba detenido.
Soy hijo de Margarita Murillo, una defensora de derechos humanos y derechos de los campesinos en Honduras durante toda su vida. Inmigré a los estados unidos en el anos 2005 por el motivo de persecución política que me ponía en peligro, como resultado del trabajo de mama. En el año 2006 fui arrestado por inmigración. Fui deportado porque no tenía alguien que me representara en mi caso. Nada más me presentaron frente al juez, no entendí mucho, fui muy joven para entender los procedimientos, y no hubo traductor. Yo entendí que me iban a deportar por haber entrado ilegal, y me hicieron firmar un papel y ya. Yo regresé a los Estados Unidos un año después, por la misma razon, y me deportaron otra vez en 2009. Durante todos esos años, seguía la persecución de mi mama y mi familia debido al trabajo de mi madre por su trabajo político u por luchar por los derechos de la gente.
Dos meses después de haber regresado a Honduras en 2009, hubo el golpe del estado de Honduras, en que el ejército de Honduras secuestró al presidente Manuel Zelaya Rosales y lo sacó del país. Estaba muy “caliente” o peligroso en estos días porque el pueblo rechazó las acciones de las fuerzas armadas. Como dos semanas después del golpe del estado, yo fui secuestrado por media noche de mi casa por personas desconocidos, armadas, durante casi un mes. En ese tiempo, mis captores me interrogaron sobre mi madre y sus acciones políticas. Cuando no cooperé con ellos, me torturaron. Finalmente, llevaron mi cuerpo al interpedie del campo. Casi había perdido la conciencia por todos los heridos que tenía. Me botaron y me dejaron por muerto, hasta que escuche que uno de ellos dio, ‘Dale un balazo en la cabeza para más asegurarse que estuviera muerto’ y el otro respondió ‘que no, ya está muerto.’
Gracias a Dios, sobreviví al intentado a asesinarme. Escapé, recuperé y regresé a los EEUU, pero viviendo como indocumentado. En Julio de 2014 caí otra vez en las manos de migración. Me detuvieron y me iban a deportar; esta vez, asistí a una presentación de “conocer sus derechos” y me informaron de la defensa que existe para las personas que son víctimas de la persecución. Entonces, escribí una carta a mi oficial de migración pidiendo que no me deportaran porque tenía miedo de regresar a mi país por razones políticas. Después de rechazar mi carta varias veces, finalmente me mandaron una contestación e hicieron cita con una oficial de asilo.
Mientras tanto eso estaba pasando, yo estaba en el teléfono marcando a muchas organizaciones de abogados pidiendo que me representaron, pero ninguno de ellos aceptaron mi caso. Además, en los días que estaba esperando a la cita con asilo, me enteré de las noticias terribles de que habían asesinado a mi madre en Honduras. Sentí completamente impotente para responder; y sentía aun más presión para defenderme solo con las noticias de su asesinato.
Llegando a la corte, me encontré con los abogados de Brooklyn Defender Services, y gracias a Dios tomaron mi caso. Me pusieron en manos de la abogada Tracy Lawson. Con su dedicación su entrega, y su buena representación, salimos adelante en mi caso, contado las suficientes pruebas.
La diferencia entre tener abogado y no tener abogado es una diferencia enorme. La fiscal en mi caso trataba de que me deportaran de la manera que fuera posible, no me ayudó mucho. Ella rechazó y contestó todo lo que decía, trataba de alagar y alagar y alagar el caso. Creo que lo hizo para que yo me desesperara; y no fui elegible para una fianza, entonces cada demora que ella hizo costó muchos meses más de detención. Ella nos hizo hacer trámites que ya se habían hecho, pero que ella no aceptó.
Con abogada, entendí los procedimientos y el trabajo necesario para poder tener éxito. Sin abogada, no hubiera tenido la confianza de poder ganar mi caso; al contrario, yo sólo hubiera desesperado con tantas demoras, que firmara mi deportación. Lo hubiera hecho aunque sabía que solo me quedara la muerte, porque hubiera seguido el trabajo de mi mama en Honduras.
La abogada pudo comunicar con muchas personas afuera – mi familia y conocidos en Honduras; los defensores de derechos humanos de parte de Honduras que me apoyaron aquí en Nueva York, y quienes vinieron a apoyarme en la corte. Sin abogado, no hubiera podido saber que es que necesitaba de pruebas y documentos; aún más, cuando un es detenido uno no puede llamar a muchas personas; las llamadas son muy caros, aun mas si son internacionales. No tiene libertad de buscar las pruebas y hacer los trámites necesarios para apoyar a su caso. Aun mas, la abogada consiguió una experta que dio testimonio a la situación grave en Honduras, y ajunto muchos reportes de los medios tal nacionales que internacionales, acerca del asesinato de mi madre y la situación política en Honduras. No hubiera podido hacer eso yo solo.
Yo puedo decir con 100% de certeza de que si no tenía abogada en ese caso, yo creo ciertamente que hubiera muerto en Honduras ahora.
Después de casi un año de estar detenido por inmigración, finalmente la fiscal concedió que habíamos probado nuestro caso, y el juez paro mi deportación. Desde entonces, mi abogada me ha estado ayudando con otros asuntos también, como buscar servicios médicos, conseguir el permiso de trabajo, y muchas cosas más. También ella ayudo a mi familia obtener representación legal ambos a mi hermana y sobrina quien recién llegaron a los estado unidos, y a mi hermano quien también está en procedimientos de deportación. Entonces, el apoyo que me da mi abogada extiende más allá de su trabajo en corte sino que ayudarme en varios aspectos de mi vida después de ganar mi caso.
Casi todos mis compañeros detenido que tenían abogados del programa ganaron sus casos o salieron de detención bajo fianza. Todos dependen mucho del programa. Aún más pueden confiar en el trabajo bueno de ellos, porque algunos abogados privados toman el dinero del inmigrante y después no hacen un buen trabajo, y puede perder su caso y perder mucho dinero también.
En conclusión, Yo, Samuel David Flores Murillo, viva, sana, y con poder de vivir no como indocumentado sino que como un residente reconocido por la ciudad de Nueva York, respetuosamente y sinceramente pido a la que POR FAVOR sigue apoyando al proyecto y al Brooklyn Defenders y del programa de NYIFUP para el beneficio de todos los migrantes detenidos, y no detenidos, que necesitan defender a sus casos.
TESTIMONY OF SAMUEL DAVID FLORES MURILLO AT NY CITY COUNCIL IMMIGRATION COMMITTEE BUDGET AND NYIFUP HEARING (ENGLISH)
NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL – IMMIGRATION COMMITTEE
BUDGET & NYIFUP HEARING
MARCH 28, 2016, 2 P.M.
TESTIMONY OF SAMUEL FLORES DAVID MURILLO
My name is Samuel David Flores Murillo. I would like to thank the New York City Counsel for supporting the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, a project which allowed me to have a legal representative with me while I was detained during my Immigration Court case and ultimately saved my life by winning my case for me to stay in the United States.
I am the son of Margarita Murillo, who fought for the rights of farmers and for human rights in Honduras. I immigrated to the United States in 2005 to escape the political persecution I was facing due to my mother’s work. In 2006, I was arrested by immigration. I was deported, because I didn’t have anyone to represent me in that case. All that they did was put me in a room with a judge; I didn’t understand much, I was too young to understand what was going on, and there was not a translator. I only understood that they were going to deport me because I had entered illegally; they made me sign a paper and that was it. Later I returned to the U.S. for the same reason, and I was deported again in 2009. During all of those years, the persecution against my mother and my family continued, because of her political activism and her work fighting for the rights of the people.
Two months after I was deported to Honduras in 2009, there was the coup d’état, where the military of Honduras kidnapped President Manuel Zelaya Rosales, and took him out of the country. The country was very volatile and dangerous during those days because the people rejected the actions of the armed forces. About two weeks after the coup, some unknown men kidnapped me from my house at gunpoint during the middle of the night, and they kept me captive for about a month. They interrogated me about my mother’s work. When I didn’t cooperate with them, they tortured me. After they tortured me, they took my body and dumped it in the countryside. I had nearly lost consciousness because of all of the injuries I sustained. They tossed me away and left me, believing that I was dead – I even heard one of them say, “Give him a bullet in the head to make sure he’s dead,” and the other one replied, “he’s already dead.”
Thank God, I survived this assassination attempt. I escaped, recovered, and returned to the United States, but I was living in the shadows because I was undocumented. In July of 2014, once again I fell into the hands of immigration. They detained me and were planning to deport me again; but this time I went to a “Know Your Rights” presentation and I learned about the legal defense available to people who are victims of persecution in their countries. I wrote a letter to my deportation officer and, after being rejected a few times, they scheduled an interview with an asylum officer.
While this was happening, I was trying to call around to many different legal organizations, asking for someone to take my case and represent me, but none of them accepted my case. Then, while I was waiting for the date of my interview with the asylum officer, I learned the terrible news that my mother, Margarita Murillo, was assassinated in Honduras. I was devastated; felt completely powerless to respond; and I felt even more pressure about trying to defend myself with the news of her assassination.
Arriving in court, I found an attorney from Brooklyn Defender Services. Thank God they took my case. They put me into the hands of Tracy Lawson. With her dedication and service, her good representation, we got all of the evidence we needed and we prevailed in my case.
The difference between having an attorney and not having an attorney is enormous. The prosecutor in my case tried to make them deport me by any means necessary; she did not help in any way. She rejected our evidence and rejected my testimony; she found ways to delay and delay and delay the case. I believe she did that so that I would get desperate. Because I wasn’t eligible for a bond, each delay cost me many more months detained. She made us jump through hoops to get documents that we had already provided but that she wouldn’t accept.
With an attorney working on my case, I understood the proceedings and all the work necessary to be successful in the case. Without an attorney, I would not have had the confidence to be able to defend myself; on the contrary, alone, I would have become desperate with so many delays, that I am sure I would have signed out and let them deport me. I would have done that even though I knew that the only thing that waited for me in Honduras was death, because I would have taken up my mother’s cause in Honduras.
During my case, my attorney was able to communicate with many people on the outside – my family and acquaintances in Honduras, the human rights defenders supporting me and coming to court here in New York. Without an attorney, I would not have known what evidence and documents were needed, and I would not have been able to make calls to Honduras to get them. The calls from the jail are extremely expensive. A detained person does not have the ability to collect documents and evidence and to comply with all of the required procedures to support their case. What is more, the attorney found an expert that gave up-to-date testimony about the situation in Honduras and collected news reports, national and international, about the assassination of my mother and the situation in Honduras. I could not have done that if I were defending myself alone.
I can say, with 100% certainty, that if I did not have an attorney in my immigration case, I firmly believe that I would be dead in Honduras today.
After being detained nearly a year by immigration, the prosecutor finally conceded that we proved my case, and the judge stopped my deportation. Since then, my attorney has also been helping me with other matters as well; she helped me find medical services, she helped me get employment authorization, and many other things. She also helped my family – she helped my sister and niece, who came to the US recently, after our mother was assassinated, to find an attorney, and she helped my brother, who is in deportation proceedings, too, find an attorney. All of this is to say, that the work of my attorney extends far beyond her work in the courtroom and she has helped me in various aspects since we won my case.
Almost all of the other detained immigrants that I met during my year of detention had attorneys from the NYIFUP program; many of them either won their cases or got out on a bond. Everyone depends a lot on this program. What is more, we can trust the quality of their work, because even some private attorneys will take an immigrant’s money and they won’t do a good job, so then the immigrant loses their case and loses a lot of money, too.
In conclusion, I, Samuel David Flores Murillo – alive, healthy, and with the power to live not as an undocumented person, but as a resident recognized by the City of New York, respectfully and sincerely ask that, Please, continue to support the NYIFUP project and the Brooklyn Defender Services, for the benefit of all of the immigrants, detained and not detained, that need to defend their cases.
TESTIMONY OF LISA SCHREIBERSDORF AT NY CITY COUNCIL COMMITTEE ON COURTS AND LEGAL SERVICES PRELIMINARY BUDGET HEARING
Lisa Schreibersdorf – Executive Director
BROOKLYN DEFENDER SERVICES
The New York City Council
Committee on Courts and Legal Services
Preliminary Budget Hearing
March 23, 2016
My name is Lisa Schreibersdorf. I am the Executive Director of Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS). BDS provides innovative, multi-disciplinary, and client-centered criminal, family and immigration defense, as well as civil legal services, social work support and advocacy, for over 40,000 clients in Brooklyn every year. I thank the City Council Committee on Courts and Legal Services, and in particular Chair Lancman, for this opportunity to testify about the important work that we do and the need for increased funding for indigent defense providers in New York City.
Our clients are among the poorest people in New York City. Many of our clients are suffering from mental illness, struggle with drug addiction or are very young. All of our clients are deeply impoverished, including many who do not have enough food and way too many who live in overcrowded, squalid conditions. With the gentrification of Brooklyn, a large percentage of our clients are homeless or at risk of homelessness due to rising rent and increasing desirability of neighborhoods that only a few years ago were affordable.
The vast majority of our clients come from just five neighborhoods in Brooklyn: East New York, Brownsville, Crown Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Flatbush. It is no coincidence that those are also the five poorest neighborhoods in Brooklyn.
Map showing overlap of income and BDS clients
Increased funding to indigent defender offices like BDS will allow us to ensure that the poorest New Yorkers receive in-house, comprehensive, high-quality legal services to achieve their personal goals for success and fulfillment.
II. Criminal Defense
The Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution affords every person charged with a crime the right to an attorney. People who are unable to pay for an attorney are provided one free of charge. This is the primary function of Brooklyn Defender Services.
Last year, our more than 100 criminal defense attorneys at BDS represented 39,069 clients. In Brooklyn, there are approximately 100,000 arrests per year. BDS’s clients reflect the demographics of the criminal justice system in which a majority of those arrested are people of color. In 2015, our criminal defense attorneys represented around 5,000 clients who were NYCHA residents and another 2,000 homeless clients. A quarter of our clients – about 10,000 – are youth and young adults under 25 years of age. Twenty-four percent of our clients are foreign-born.
Many of our clients come to us with mental health and substance abuse issues, and/or are veterans, victims of domestic violence, or suffer from other trauma. Our many social workers and advocates help identify issues that brought the client into the system in the first instance and assist them with these issues whenever possible. Often, these interventions improve the outcome of the criminal case and serve the client well in his or her life.
a. Specialized Units
For many of BDS’s clients, poverty, trauma, mental illness, and alcohol or drug abuse are the driving forces behind their involvement in the criminal court system. In order to address the unique needs and barriers that many of our clients face, BDS has a number of dedicated and specialized units which provide targeted services to adolescents, clients with mental illness, victims of trafficking, veterans and clients with overlapping criminal, family court, and immigration issues.
1. Brooklyn Adolescent Representation Team
Within court systems and institutional defender organizations, juvenile justice involvement has long been addressed through a unique process, with specialized resources and partner organizations in the community. However, this approach has historically been applied only to those in delinquency proceedings – in New York State that means youth ages 16 and under. Importantly, social science literature and neuroscience research tells us that young people’s brains continue to develop until their mid-twenties, affecting their decision-making processes and culpability. The Brooklyn Adolescent Representation Team (BART) is a collaborative effort to provide comprehensive, high quality legal, advocacy and social work services to the criminal justice involved adolescents and young adults aged 16-21 whom we represent in criminal cases. BART consists of 15 dedicated, experienced, youth-focused criminal defense attorneys, three specialized adolescent social workers, and two youth advocates. BDS’s Education Advocacy Team also supports our adolescent clients’ access to education, providing advocacy and guidance regarding school discipline, special education, school reentry and alternative pathways to graduation.
The BART project serves approximately 6,500 adolescents ages 14 to 21 every year, including 1,350 who are 16 or 17. Nearly all are Black or Latino. All are indigent, and many are not otherwise connected with social service providers or educational institutions. Our adolescent clients come to us with many issues, including undiagnosed and untreated learning disabilities, emerging mental health problems, child welfare system involvement, abuse, neglect, sexual exploitation, gang involvement and substance abuse. BART is uniquely equipped to meet these young people on their own level, with specialized staff trained to address their needs, advocate for them in the courts, and help them navigate the system and focus on paths to success. Most of our BART clients come from one of a few neighborhoods in Brooklyn, including Brownsville, that are disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system.
The following cases (names changed to protect the clients’ anonymity) demonstrate the effectiveness of the BART to foster better outcomes for young clients:
Sixteen-year old Don was arrested for a non-violent felony. His BART attorney secured an alternative to incarceration program that, among other requirements, monitored his school attendance and completion. A special education student classified with a “Speech-Language Impairment,” Don struggled with school engagement. While his case was pending, Don’s grandmother passed away and Don became depressed. Don was at risk of not completing the program and facing a lengthy jail alternative. BDS’ Education Attorney, Social Worker and Youth Advocate joined together to support Don’s school engagement. The team worked with Don’s school to offer appropriate special education services and facilitate enrollment in a NYC DOE Young Adult Borough College. Don’s social worker also referred Don to grievance counseling. With the team’s support, Don completed his program mandate and earned his high school diploma. Although his case is complete, Don is still working with the Youth Team and is currently applying for vocational training.
Seventeen-year old Mario was working with a BART Team Attorney and Youth Social worker when his high school issued a Superintendent Suspension. After notifying his advocates, Mario was referred to BDS’ Education Attorney for representation. The Education Attorney met with Mario and diligently prepared for the Superintendent Suspension hearing, at which his school was requesting a 90-day suspension for a non-violent infraction. As a result of the Education Attorney’s advocacy, Mario received a 30-day suspension. The attorney also worked with Mario while he attended the Alternative Learning Center (ALC), where Mario was praised as a model student. The team then worked with Mario to transfer to a new school following his suspension, where he is now thriving, and ensure the credits he accrued at the ALC appropriately transferred. Drawing upon the team’s efforts, Mario’s BART attorney was able to secure a favorable disposition in the criminal matter.
2. Trafficking Team
Our Trafficking Team is made up of experienced criminal defense attorneys who specialize in understanding and identifying the complexities related to human trafficking. They represent close to two hundred BDS clients in Brooklyn’s Human Trafficking Intervention Part every year, and are skilled in identifying collateral social and legal service needs – including issues of immigration, safety and trauma. Working closely with dedicated social workers, immigration attorneys, interpreters and other service providers, our trafficking attorneys seek to minimize the punitive nature of criminal justice contact and provide meaningful services for victims of trafficking who find themselves facing criminal charges.
3. Mental Health Team
BDS represents many clients who suffer from both diagnosed and undiagnosed mental illness. Our Mental Health Team has two specialized criminal defense attorneys, as well as a dedicated mental health social worker and other specialized staff to address these clients’ unique needs, as well as those of their families. The specialized attorneys represent mentally ill clients at competency evaluations, hearings and other court appearances during the pendency of their case. It is also part of our mission to insure that these clients not only receive a fair and just disposition but also the best care and treatment possible.
Research has proven that clients with a mentally illness who are offered an opportunity to participate in mental health courts are significantly less likely to get re-arrested than similar offenders with mental illness who experience traditional court processing. BDS played an important role in the development and launch of the Brooklyn Mental Health Court over 10 years ago. This Court serves as the model for treatment courts all over the world.
Our expertise in the area of persons with mental illness is vast; in addition to our work in the criminal court system, our Family Defense Practice represents about 2,000 families at all times, of which half are at risk of losing their children solely because of their mental illness. Our team of licensed social workers and a full time jail-based client liaison provide logistical support for our clients during their legal cases and provide supportive counseling as well, which is particularly critical for clients with mental health issues who are spending time incarcerated. These team members communicate with Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) staff persons to assist in advocating for, accessing, and coordinating mental health treatment for detained BDS clients with serious mental illness and transitioning clients to the community upon discharge. Similar to the rest of our caseload, our mental health cases arise from a wide range of alleged criminal offenses ranging from trespass and drug possession to felony matters. We find that people who have a mental illness are unfortunately quite vulnerable to arrest and typically receive significantly worse outcomes at every step of the criminal legal process than other clients. Our Mental Health Team observes daily the tragic – and unnecessary – nexus between inadequate access to mental health care and involvement in the criminal justice system.
4. Padilla Team
In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Padilla v. Kentucky that the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires defense counsel to provide affirmative, competent advice to a noncitizen defendant regarding the immigration consequences of a guilty plea. Absent such advice, a noncitizen may raise a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel against their criminal defense attorney.
The consequences of the Padilla ruling for public defender offices like BDS have been nothing short of a sea change. BDS hired its first immigration attorney in 2009, before the Padilla decision came down, to help advise BDS’s criminal defense attorneys and their noncitizen clients on the immigration consequences of guilty pleas and avoid or minimize the negative immigration consequences to the fullest extent possible. Since the Court’s decision in 2010, our Padilla practice team has grown to five full-time equivalent immigration attorneys who provide this critical Padilla support to our noncitizen clients facing criminal charges. About a quarter of BDS’s criminal defense clients are foreign-born, roughly half of whom are not naturalized citizens and therefore at risk of deportation or loss of opportunity to obtain lawful immigration status as a result of their criminal case. With a criminal defense practice that represents around 40,000 Brooklyn residents every year, BDS needs additional resources to grow our Padilla practice team to meet the full extent of need.
On average, our Padilla team is called at least once, and often multiple times, in each arraignment shift to advise on the ramification of a plea offer at arraignment. Every year, they provide support and expertise on more than 1000 cases that survive arraignment involving non-citizen clients. The Padilla practice attorneys frequently go to court to explain the law and/or clarify issues for the prosecutor and judge in specific cases. They work with BDS criminal defense attorneys on pre-pleading memoranda and to review prior convictions (identifying potential post-conviction relief options for clients) when that could mitigate the immigration consequences of the criminal case. They also writes travel letters for our noncitizen clients, explaining the facts of the current case to facilitate their re-entry into the U.S. without problems. Finally, because their Padilla consultations often require full immigration history interviews with clients, the team identifies available options for these clients to obtain lawful immigration status, advising them of those opportunities and either making internal referrals to our Immigrant Youth and Communities Project, described in the section describing BDS’s immigration team, or external referrals when our Immigrant Youth and Communities Project has insufficient capacity.
The following Padilla Team client story illustrates how critical Padilla immigration legal support can be for our non-citizen criminal defense clients:
Toward the end of 2013, in the midst of unprecedented levels of violence in her home country of Honduras, Sonia (a pseudonym) began receiving threats from the same gang members who had killed her father, sister, and uncle. Fearing for her life, she and her young daughter left their remaining family behind and traveled to the United States, where they hoped to live with a cousin. Nearly a year after arriving, Sonia was arrested for improperly disciplining her daughter (she had been using methods that were common and acceptable in Honduras), and she was charged with endangering the welfare of a child. When Sonia’s public defender learned that Sonia did not have lawful status in the United States, she referred the case to a BDS Padilla attorney. Upon hearing her story of persecution in Honduras, the BDS Padilla attorney, working with BDS’s Immigrant Youth & Communities Project, filed an asylum application on her behalf, narrowly avoiding the statutory bar for applications filed more than one year after a noncitizen’s entry to the United States. He also identified the possibility of Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) for the daughter, who had been abandoned at birth by her father. BDS is now working on obtaining SIJS for Sonia’s daughter.
b. The need for increased funding
BDS made a FY17 request to the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ) for supplementary funding to cover the cost of maintaining case caps at current and projected case intake. In addition, the nature of our criminal caseload has changed since we negotiated our current contract with MOCJ six years ago. We have a higher percentage of felony cases, duration of felony cases has increased, and every one of our costs have increased, most notably fringe costs including health care and rising rents in downtown Brooklyn.
Ask: We are requesting that the City Council support our request to the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice to increase our budget for FY17. We are specifically asking that the City Council assure that additional monies are allocated in the indigent defense budget so that the Mayor can provide us with the supplemental funding we need to properly do our job.
III. Family Defense
BDS’s continuum of services includes representation of respondents in abuse and neglect proceedings in Brooklyn Family Court. Ninety percent of these cases charge parents with neglect (not abuse) and most of these cases are poverty-related involving mental illness, intellectual disabilities, substance abuse, lack of child care or services, homelessness, and domestic violence. Our family defense clients live primarily in the low-income neighborhoods of East New York, Brownsville and Bedford Stuyvesant.
Our family defense practice is interdisciplinary. Teams of attorneys and social workers advocate for keeping children at home with their families or safely reunifying them as quickly as possible by helping clients access needed services and overcome obstacles outside of court. Our family defense practice began in 2007 when the Criminal Justice Coordinator awarded it the first contract in Brooklyn to provide interdisciplinary parent representation. At that time, there were over 16,000 children in foster care. Today there are fewer than 10,000 children in care.
Since its inception in 2007, the practice has represented almost 7,500 clients and has helped over 8,000 children leave foster care and safely reunite with their family. Over 1,800 children have either returned home or remained with their families as a result of emergency hearings alone. We represent the vast majority of parents in abuse and neglect cases in family court, putting us in a unique position to advocate for improvements to the family court and child welfare systems.
Our existing case load of clients is presently over 2,000. These cases are resource intensive and last an average of three years. Twenty percent of our clients have related criminal cases and by providing joint representation to clients in both criminal and family court we can provide much more efficient and effective services to our clients. Recently we created an integrated unit in which the same attorney represents clients in both criminal and family court. In addition to our collaboration with criminal attorneys, our family defense clients greatly benefit from on-site assistance in immigration, housing, benefits and educational matters which are at the heart of many of our cases.
The following three cases illustrate the impact that City funding for family defense work has on our clients’ lives. All of the clients have been given a pseudonym to protect their identities.
Our family defense project conducts numerous emergency hearings to get children out of foster care as quickly as possible. For example, in one recent case our Creole-speaking client’s children were removed from the only home they had ever known when our client brought her 23-month-old daughter to the hospital after she had fallen while playing. At an emergency hearing, the treating doctors conceded on cross examination that the injury was consistent with an accident, and that language barriers had prevented them from communicating sufficiently with Ms. T about how the reported accident occurred. In the face of this evidence, the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) agreed to return Ms. T’s children to her and her husband. A few weeks later, ACS withdrew the case against Ms. T.
Many of our clients are homeless and living in the shelter system. For example, after working with Ms. D for several months, we were able to have her reunited with her three children, aged twelve, ten, and nine. However, Ms. D had lived in the shelter system of five years and could not find permanent housing. Ms. D had the opportunity to move her family into her grandmother’s five bedroom home for an affordable price in Pennsylvania. Ms. D visited their new schools, found new service providers for therapy sessions, and got her children all the proper physical examinations and immunizations necessary to enroll them in a new school. Much of Ms. D’s family lived in the area and could act as a support system. Ms. D, through her attorney, petitioned the Court to allow her to relocate to Pennsylvania while her case was still pending. She agreed to come back to Brooklyn and be present at every upcoming court appearance if she was allowed to relocate. The Judge allowed Ms. D to relocate to Pennsylvania, but the following day, ACS appealed the Judge’s decision and was granted a temporary stay of the decision, prohibiting Ms. D from relocating. Eventually, ACS withdrew their appeal and allowed Ms. D to move and resolved her case with an ultimate dismissal. Ms. D has since been happily residing in Pennsylvania with her three children.
Our Family Defense Practice represents many young parents, some of whom are in foster care themselves. Sarah first encountered the foster care system at age seven, when she and her sister were taken from their mother and placed with relatives. Four years ago, Sarah and her sister went to live with a foster family. When she turned 18, she opted to stay in foster care. While attending college and working part time, Sarah realized she was pregnant. She took a break from school to prepare for baby Caleb. When Caleb was three weeks old, ACS filed a case against Sarah accusing her of neglecting Caleb because Sarah was not receiving mental health treatment as recommended by psychologists from her foster care agency. ACS alleged that Sarah was ”overwhelmed” by caring for her newborn, that Sarah’s foster mother would not allow her and baby Caleb to continue to live in the foster home, and that there was no alternative to foster care for Caleb. ACS was asking to immediately remove baby Caleb from Sarah’s care.
When the BFDP attorney/social worker team met Sarah in court they were able to immediately ascertain that Sarah was displaying no symptoms of a mental health disorder, that her childhood diagnosis had not been recently assessed and that her foster mother – an infant nurse by profession – continued to be a source of support for her and the baby and thought that Sarah was taking great care of the baby. At the beginning of the emergency hearing, Sarah’s BFDP attorney showed that Caleb was clearly a well-cared for and healthy child who was well-bonded with his mother. She also argued that ACS had to offer Sarah services to address concerns before trying to remove her newborn. The judge agreed and told ACS to reconsider removing Caleb from Sarah’s care. ACS finally relented.
Since Sarah won the right to keep her baby at home, she has been working with her attorney and her social worker to transition from foster care to living on her own with Caleb. She was able to find her first apartment, is working to re-enroll in college, and is looking forward to starting an independent life together with her son.
BDS also made a FY17 request to MOCJ for supplementary funding for the family defense practice to maintain our current staffing levels to take into account a 10 percent increase in intake and larger pending caseload. As with our criminal practice, every one of our costs have increased, most notably fringe costs including health care and rising rents in downtown Brooklyn.
Ask: We are requesting that the City Council support our request to the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice to increase our budget for FY17. We are specifically asking that the City Council assure that additional monies are allocated in the indigent defense budget so that the Mayor can provide us with the supplemental funding we need to properly do our job.
At BDS, we have long recognized the value of providing on-staff immigration legal services to our clients. In recent years, as the immigration landscape has become less flexible and more complex, immigration legal services have become even more vital both for zealous criminal defense and advocacy for our clients and to promote their best interests in other respects. Today, BDS’ vibrant Immigration Practice is composed of 17 full-time immigration attorneys, five paralegals (one of whom is accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals), and four legal assistants. We are a Board of Immigration Appeals-recognized legal service provider.
a. New York Immigrant Family Unity Project
The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) is New York City’s groundbreaking, first-in-the nation program providing quality counsel to immigrant New Yorkers who are detained and facing deportation and separation from their families and communities. BDS is proud to be a NYIFUP provider, along with The Bronx Defenders (BXD) and The Legal Aid Society (LAS).
In its first three years, NYIFUP has shown remarkable success and served as a model for access to justice across the state and country.
Record of Success:
- NYC Clients: From the start of the NYIFUP pilot in November 2013 through December 2015, NYIFUP has represented more than 1,500 clients in New York City.
- Families Across the City: NYIFUP has represented clients living in 49 out of 51 City Council districts.
- Clients Released from Detention: As of December 2015, 63 clients from the pilot phase have been released pending the ultimate resolution of their cases. An additional 35 clients have won the right to remain in the United States.
- Outcomes: As of December 2015, 52 percent of pilot clients have been reunited with their families. NYIFUP attorneys have won 71 percent of their trials. NYIFUP is projected to increase the percentage of immigrants who will win the right to remain in the United States by 1,000 percent, compared with prior success rates for detained, unrepresented immigrants.
BDS is proud that NYIFUP has accomplished so much in such a short time. For FY 2017—we are requesting—together with the other NYIFUP providers—additional resources to continue this ground-breaking program and ensure that it addresses the needs of this population of immigrants in ICE detention. We also ask that your support our request that the Administration baseline NYIFUP funding for future years.
b. BDS’s Immigrant Youth and Communities Project
Since launching our Immigrant Youth and Communities Project in 2012, BDS has represented thousands of Brooklyn immigrants in their applications for lawful immigration status and in defending against deportation in non-detained removal proceedings. Highlights of our work include assisting more than 320 young clients in their pursuit of Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), Adjustment of Status, U visas, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and other immigration benefits or removal defense, and assisting more than 1,000 Haitian New Yorkers with their applications for Temporary Protected Status, work authorization, and other immigration benefits or removal defense. Our Immigrant Youth and Communities Project seeks to strengthen Brooklyn’s immigrant communities by procuring or retaining lawful immigration status for its immigrant youth and adults, bringing them out of the shadows and securing their meaningful access to justice and opportunity.
Because we are one of Brooklyn’s largest legal service providers with in-house immigration expertise, we are well-poised to deliver our immigrant legal services to other underserved Brooklyn immigrants. Since 2010, BDS has held more than 70 community law clinics, recruited and trained more than 360 volunteer attorneys and provided immigration legal advice and assistance to more than 2,700 New Yorkers. To maximize our reach and the services afforded to our clients, we work closely with other community based groups, elected officials, churches, and social service providers.
Ask 1: NYIFUP is funded solely through City Council funds. For FY 2017, the three NYIFUP providers have requested that the Council fund $2.37 million per legal service provider, for a total of $7.11 million for legal and social services.
Ask 2: Another important initiative funded by City Council is the Immigrant Opportunities Initiative (IOI). We ask that the Council continue to support immigrant youth and communities with high-quality immigration legal services by funding this program.
V. Civil Justice Practice
BDS’s Civil Justice Practice aims to reduce the civil collateral consequences for low-income people who have had interaction with the criminal, family or immigration systems. Through legal advocacy in court and at various agencies, we assist people in remaining in their homes, maintaining their public benefits, staying in school, keeping their jobs, and protecting their consumer rights. In order to achieve these ends, we practice in almost all of New York City’s courts at every level from trial to appeals. We also assist criminal defense attorneys and their clients by identifying potential civil ramifications of guilty pleas and strategizing ways to minimize the risk of eviction, loss of employment, and professional consequences as a result of a criminal conviction. Finally, in addition to our in-house work, we engage with the community and hold external educational clinics in close partnership with community-based organizations and elected officials.
The need for our Civil Justice Practice is clear. When your constituents call with problems obtaining Medicaid, SCRIE and DRIE, or other forms of assistance, you and your staff stop at nothing to resolve their cases. Unfortunately, as you probably know, most people—including many of the most vulnerable New Yorkers—do not reach out to their elected officials for any reason. This is especially true with people who have been involved with the criminal, family or immigration systems, and who might see the entire government as the enemy. Our clientele includes a broad swath of the most marginalized Brooklyn residents. We represent thousands of clients and families who would not otherwise seek civil legal assistance or who may not be eligible for such services, making us a unique point of access for people in Brooklyn. Additionally, because clients are served in more than one practice area, BDS’ model is efficient—clients do not have to undergo multiple screenings for indigence or eligibility and social work and other services do not need to be repeated.
A new and promising area of our Civil Justice Practice is re-entry. The American Bar Association has identified over 38,000 penalties that can impact people long after they complete their criminal sentence. These consequences include barriers to housing, education, employment, voting rights, citizenship and public benefits—civil penalties that are rarely considered during the criminal court process. Life-long banishment from employment is not part of any court sentence, yet remains a reality for many of our clients due to persistent discrimination in the workforce. Our goal is to help clients with re-entry issues as they arise. We also work to change these systems by challenging their legality and advocating for changes in the law. For example, we recently supported and advocated for the Fair Chance Act. The law, passed last year by City Council, prevents prospective employers from throwing out qualified candidates in the initial stages of the application process solely based on the presence of a typically irrelevant criminal history. We are now working with the Administration to ensure that the bill continues to serve its purpose now that it is law.
This year, BDS has submitted a funding request through the Civil Legal Services Speaker’s Initiative. Funding will allow the Civil Justice Practice to expand its reach to include pre-entry and re-entry advocates and social workers, providing a continuum of care that includes advocacy, supportive services, and education to help people prepare for re-entering communities and remove barriers to success.
The following cases from FY 2015 demonstrates how BDS’s comprehensive legal service model impacts the outcomes of our clients:
Mr. J was arrested for a non-violent drug offense in the public housing development where he lives. In consultation with a housing attorney from our Civil Justice Practice, the criminal defense attorneys assigned to Mr. J’s case secured a disposition with as little adverse housing impacts as possible. Specifically, the offense was downgraded to a violation, and the attorney was able to get the record sealed. When the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) filed an eviction proceeding against Mr. J based on the offense, our housing attorney persuaded the Authority to spare the client eviction because he was not convicted of any crime and his record was sealed. This is good news for the client and the city, which otherwise might have had to pay for emergency shelter housing and other costs to address the adverse outcomes associated with homelessness.
Ms. G had ongoing criminal and family court cases with BDS attorneys when she voiced concerns about her housing situation. Her criminal defense attorney immediately referred her to our Civil Justice unit, which conducted an intake and explored available options for addressing her rental arrears. The civil unit determined that she had been receiving FEPS, a rental subsidy that is only available to households with minor children, until her daughter was placed in foster care. As a result, the New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA) discontinued her FEPS enrollment and reduced her overall public assistance. The reduction left her unable to pay her full rent and the numerous programs and services mandated by the criminal and family courts did not allow her time to find addition income. The reality was she would be evicted and homeless if we could not restore FEPS eligibility. Our civil attorney coordinated with Family Defense about the status of Ms. G’s family court case and determined that the absence of Ms. G’s daughter could be defined as “temporary” given the permanency planning goal in the family court matter, namely, to reunite the family. The civil attorney determined that under applicable social service law and regulation, once eligibility for benefits is established, including FEPS, a temporary absence does not interrupt eligibility. He was then able to persuade HRA to reinstate FEPS for Ms. G, ensuring that her daughter would have a home to return to. Ms. G, a single mother who is working hard to regain custody of her daughter, was entirely unaware that she could seek civil legal assistance until she was referred internally, has called BDS’s wraparound service model “the Dream Team.”
Ask: BDS requests that the New York City Council support our Citywide Civil Legal Services Speaker’s Initiative request for re-entry and jail-based services through our Civil Justice Project.
BDS is a leader in the fight for justice for all Brooklyn residents. Funding from the New York City Council has allowed us to expand and diversify our capacity to provide comprehensive, wraparound services to those in acute need.
Renewed support from the Council will enable us to continue to ensure the best possible outcomes for individuals and their families. For that reason, we are asking the Council to support our FY17 requests for supplemental funding to MOCJ for our criminal defense and family defense budgets, renewed NYIFUP funding for all three NYIFUP providers, continued support of BDS’s Immigrant Youth and Communities Project through the Immigrant Opportunities Initiatives, and our request to the Citywide Civil Legal Services Speaker’s Initiative for funding for re-entry and jail services for BDS clients.
Under the leadership of Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Council is moving towards systemic reforms in our fundamentally unfair justice system. Indeed, there is a growing national consensus that mass incarceration is a disaster, and that inequality in access to justice is an urgent priority. However, even with the best intentions, reforms can have unintended consequences, or miss the deeper issues at the root of the problems. To understand the full weight and impact of any proposed solutions to overcriminalization and its collateral consequences, it is critical that you work with our City’s public defense organizations, whose multi-disciplinary staffs see first-hand every day the effects of City, State, and Federal policies on real humans. BDS stands ready to assist in informing, implementing, and executing real reform. Together, we can truly meet the needs of the most vulnerable New Yorkers.
 Padilla v. Commonwealth of Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356 (2010).
 Michelle Natividad Rodriguez and Maurice Emsellem, 65 Million Need Not Apply: The Case for Reforming Criminal Background Checks for Employment, The National Employment Law Project (New York, NY, 2011).
On Friday, March 18, Brooklyn Defender Services and the Legal Aid Society joined the National Association of Public Defenders to help commemorate the first ever National Public Defense Day. Friday marked the 53rd anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright which created the national public defender system by guaranteeing quality legal representation to everyone who could not afford it.
BDS’ Debora Silberman appeared on Regional News Network’s Richard French Live to discuss the so-called Brownsville Five in a follow up to Debora’s New York Times op-ed on New York’s woefully inadequate discovery and sealing laws that result in permanent damage to the reputations of innocent people, particularly adolescents. Check out the segment below.
BDS’ Debora Silberman wrote an op-ed for The New York Times tackling how a lack of discovery and expungement laws result in permanent damage to the reputations of innocent people including adolescents.
While charges were dismissed, “the dismissal of charges does not undo the damage to the reputations of the so-called Brownsville Five, teenagers ages 14 to 18, including one who is my client. Because they were tried in adult court, their names were made public and were reported widely in the news media, smearing them for the rest of their lives.”
Debora points out that the prosecution held on to exculpatory evidence that would have cleared them in the beginning.
“In my client’s case, the district attorney’s office and other law enforcement agencies had gathered videos from the boys who were arrested and statements from the woman and her father, who was also in the park just before the incident, and witnesses in the neighborhood, all of which cast serious doubt as to the veracity of the allegations,” she writes. “But New York law does not require the prosecutor to provide any police reports or other evidence to a person who has been arrested or that person’s attorney until a trial actually starts — often a year or more after the arrest.”
Read all of Debora’s op-ed at the New York Times.
BDS Supervising Attorney Yung-Mi Lee testified before the New York City Council Committee on Courts and Legal Services yesterday. In her testimony, Lee presented several recommendations along with client stories to support justice reform beneficial to both clients and the justice system generally.
Yung-Mi argued that discovery reform is one way to cut down how long trials can take.
“In my experience, delays in turning over discovery to the defense greatly increase the length of my cases in Brooklyn,” she told the Council.
Yung-Mi also pointed out that cases are that much more difficult to investigate and argue when the defendant is incarcerated and, therefore, the Council should also look closer at bail reform.
“Oftentimes, we have not had enough time to thoroughly investigate a case or had time to obtain complete discovery,” she said. “Oftentimes, our lawyers are discouraged by our jailed clients’ unwillingness to fight the case for a longer period of time to get the right results.”
Click here to read Yung-Mi’s testimony.
BDS Reentry Specialist Wesley Caines joined a February 23 panel sponsored by Beacon Prison Action (BPA), a community organization formed in the wake of the death of Samuel Harrell who died in confines of Fishkill Correctional Facility last April. You can read about the discussion and more about conditions at Fishkill in an article posted by the local news source, Philipstown.info.
Wesley discussed his own experiences at Fishkill and what the local community can do to help ensure that incidents such as the one that resulte din Harrell’s death do not occur again in the future. He argued that the system of using force in American prisons does not encourage healthy rehabilitation of inmates and, in fact, dehumanizes people who are incarcerated increasing the likelihood of recidivism.
“We need to find out what created them,” he said. “What created that lifestyle? If you humanize them, they will humanize you, and that can only help the system.”
Reentry Specialist Wesley Caines is joining a panel discussion at SUNY Empire State College which will focus on the importance of educating individuals who are incarcerated in US prisons and the effects of education and recidivism. Topics include the school to prison pipeline, banning the box in higher education, reinstating TAP and Pell for incarcerated individual, and fighting racism in higher education.
Other panelists include Cory Greene, an organizer for H.O.L.L.A! and the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions; Kennth Innis, a counselor at Fortune Society; Edward-Yemil Rosaria, consultant at Prison Reform and Abolition; Afi Tuner, career development specialist at Strive NY; and Ato Williams, family support specialist at Fortune Society.
This workshop for teens and their families will help you navigate through New York’s legal system and the support services available for parents and caregivers of young adults with disabilities. Discussion will be presented by resented by BDS’ Brenda Zubay, Aminie Woolworth, and Keren Farkas and will end with a Q + A session with an education attorney.
Spanish interpretation provided and ASL interpretation available with advance request. For more information, please call 718-253-4948
BDS reentry specialist Wesley Caines will join a panel hosted by Beacon Prison Action Tuesday tomorrow (Tuesday) evening at 7 p.m. in Beacon. Wesley will discuss his own experiences in Fishkill Correctional Facility as well as his work at BDS which includes efforts to improve conditions at prisons around the state and help people leaving prison safely reintegrate back into population.
Beacon Prison Action is an alliance of people in the Beacon area who became concerned about the conditions at the local prison after 30-year old Sam Harrell was beaten to death by corrections officers at Fishkill. This event is organized in partnership with the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC), which holds actions on the 23rd of every month to recognize the 23 hours each day that a person in solitary confinement is isolated.
Wesley will be joining Johnny Perez, a non-attorney advocate at the Urban Justice Center Mental Health Project (MHP), a civil legal services firm that provides legal and social work services to people with serious mental illness; Scott Paltrowitz, Associate Director of the Prison Visiting Project of the Correctional Association of New York (CA) and a member of the NY Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC); and Isaac Scott, a graphic designer and fine artist who served 7 years, 8 months and 16 days of a 9-year sentence in the New York State Prison system during which he worked as an Inmate Grievance Representative (IGR) at several facilities including Fishkill Correctional.
The event will be held at Howland Cultural Center, 477 Main Street, Beacon, NY, at 7 p.m., Tuesday, February 22, 2016.
JUDGE BETTY STATON HONORED AT KINGS COUNTY CRIMINAL COURT MLK JR. DAY MEMORIAL CELEBRATION LED BY BDS’ JAMIE BURKE
On Friday, BDS’ Jamie Burke hosted the 2016 Kings County Criminal Court’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day memorial celebration for which the Hon. Judge Betty Staton gave the keynote speech and was honored for her service. Judge Staton is currently the president of Bedfod Stuyvesant Community legal Services, Brooklyn Branch Legal Services and South Brooklyn Legal Services. In 1987, she became a founding partner in the law firm of Boyd, Staton & Cave, the first African-American female law firm in the State of new York. She also served on the New York State Family Court.
The audience was treated to the music of Schency Augustine, Chavonie cooper, Erica Gilchrist, Gregg McCann, Je-anessa Walker and the Kings County Court Choir.
Click “More” for photos.
BDS joined other public defenders questioning a new gun court part introduced by the City in an article on Politico Pro (Capital New York). The new gun part is intended to be used to expedite gun possession cases through the court system. However, public defenders foresee a number of challenges in the court including due-process questions, the quality of justice defendants will receive and whether the gun courts will actually speed up or even increase the time spent on these specific cases.
“This is transparently punitive in scope,” BDS criminal defense attorney Scott Hechinger told Politico. “None of us are for guns on the street. What we’re for are smart solutions that will ultimately reduce violence. These gun courts are not going to do that.”
Read more at Capital New York (Subscription required).
In other news, BDS’ Nyasa Hickey spoke out on raids by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
ICE is raiding homes and detaining immigrants under its recently implemented Priority Enforcement Program (PEP). New York has “detainer laws” intended to limit ICE’s access to potential deportees but they appear to be getting circumvented.
As The Indypendent writes, “While the detainer laws disrupted the jail-to-detention-center pipeline, they did little to curb the data sharing and surveillance mechanisms that allow ICE to flag and find potential targets. ICE still receives fingerprint information when an arrest happens, has access to the DMV database and court hearing schedules, talks to people’s neighbors, school personnel and postal workers, and more.”
“It’s very disruptive and scary,” Nyasa, an immigration attorney, told the Indypendent. “Unfortunately stopping ICE transfers and some information sharing is just not sufficient to really protect our communities and keep the families of New York City safe.”
Read more at The Indypendent.
BDS, BLS STUDENTS HOST TRAINING ON CLEANING UP RAP SHEETS TO HELP ELIMINATE OBSTACLES TO JOBS AND HOUSING
On Monday evening, BDS’ Amanda Jack and Wesley Caines led a primer on how to read public arrest records – RAP sheets – in the state of New York at Brooklyn Law School. More than a dozen law students attended the training where they learned to spot errors in RAP sheets that can lead to years – or even decades – of hardship for New Yorkers who don’t deserve it.
The training was part of BDS and BLS’ Criminal and Police Records Accuracy Project, led by Wesley. CP-RAP volunteers help “clean up” those errors for clients, eliminating unjust and arbitrary hurdles that stand in the way of applying for jobs and housing and which can also negatively impact future contacts with the criminal justice system.
Brooklyn Law School 2L Liana Goff and 1L and CP-RAP volunteer Ken Zwerin organized the training to get more classmates involved.
“There are consequences for these errors when someone’s RAP sheet looks worse than it should,” Ken says. “We’re trying to ameliorate the challenges that the formerly incarcerated – or even those who are just arrested – have as they apply for jobs or face immigration issues. It’s also important to remember that future sentencing and bail decisions are based on those records.”
At the training, Ken and his classmates learned about what cases shouldn’t be included in the records – such as misdemeanors committed by underage defendants or arrests that were never prosecuted. They also learn how to get them removed and, if that’s not possible, to get courts to issue Certificates of Good Conduct which can also mitigate some of the effects of a “bad rap.”
Ken noted that the real world practice he gets through the project significantly complements his law school training.
“It really helped me apply real life experience to what we are learning in the class room,” he says. “We get to see the reality of what’s happening on the ground, how the criminal justice system actually works. But it also motivates me to go home and study the 50 or 100-year-old cases we are assigned in school because it inspires me all the more to become a practicing attorney.”
Can you help? Contact Wesley Caines at 718-254-0700 ext. 380 or firstname.lastname@example.org
BDS Youth Advocate Dorell Smallwood accompanied several of his BDS mentees to Assemblymember Walter Mosley’s 3rd annual job fair. There, they were able to discuss career opportunities with representatives from several organizations including the New York City Housing Authority and the US Coast Guard. They also participated in resume writing workshops, interviewing skills seminars, and financial literacy training.
“It’s a great opportunity for young people to access important information they probably wouldn’t be exposed to otherwise,” Dorell says.
Dorell adds that it makes sense for BDS to be involved as yet another way the organization is proactive in the community which is serves.
“There’s a correlation between employment and recidivism,” he explains. “If kids find jobs, they don’t find criminal mischief.”
But, Dorell also has his own personal reasons for being involved.
“It’s very satisfying for me because I get to see them get excited about being exposed to the opportunities that are out there,” he says. “We take these things for granted but, for a young person who doesn’t know that these things exist, the possibility of getting a job and being a productive member of their community is very appealing.”
Our Zoey Jones appeared NPR’s Morning Edition today to discuss U visas and the NYPD’s proposed rules for handling certification requests by immigrants who are assisting in the investigation of certain crimes. Listen below. Previously, Zoey was interviewed by NY1 Noticias. Watch here.
CONGRATULATIONS TO EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, LISA SCHREIBERSDORF, ON BECOMING PRESIDENT OF THE CHIEF DEFENDERS ASSOCIATION OF NEW YORK!
The Chief Defenders Association of New York is an association of public defender chiefs who lead indigent defense organizations across New York State.
BDS IN CITY LIMITS AND ON THE BRIAN LEHRER SHOW DISCUSSING CHALLENGES AND SUCCESSES IN DEPORTATION DEFENSE
A series of articles published in City Limits recently, followed up on by the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC today, offers the perfect example of the difference well-resourced attorneys can make in our justice system and how attorneys, social workers, investigators and other staff at a public defense office can positively impact the lives of those brought into the system.
In 2013, our own Talia Peleg was assigned the case of Alex Lora as part of a project spearheaded by the New York City Council to assure no immigrant is detained and deported without legal counsel. Mr. Lora spent months in immigration detention without a bond hearing because of draconian “mandatory detention” laws. BDS and the NYU Immigrant Rights Clinic argued against this treatment leading to a decision by the federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals which limited how long someone can be detained without a hearing. Now, as a result, no fellow New Yorker placed in mandatory detention, sometimes for arrests that were decades in the past, will be deprived of the opportunity to be heard by a judge and go home to their families.
As City Limits notes, if Lora, “had been arrested in any other city in the U.S., he would never have met a person like Peleg. He would in all likelihood have represented himself, and he would have faced a 97 percent chance of deportation.”
BDS is the first legal services provider to help immigrants in detention who cannot afford an attorney.
SUPPLEMENTAL BDS TESTIMONY BEFORE BOARD OF CORRECTION OPPOSING JAIL VISITING RESTRICTIONS & ROLLBACK OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT REFORMS
November 6, 2015
New York City Board of Correction
1 Centre Street
New York, NY 10007
Dear Chair Brezenoff and Members of the Board,
Brooklyn Defender Services appreciates your consideration of the comments below as part of the record related to rulemaking regarding visiting, solitary confinement, packages, and Enhanced Supervision Housing. This letter intends to respond to the prepared testimony of Commissioner Ponte dated October 16, 2015, but not made public until after the public comment period had closed. This letter does not reflect a complete record of our concerns and should be considered supplemental to our previous testimony.
In the interest of brevity, this letter will not reiterate in detail the concerns raised by the Legal Aid Society and the Jails Action Coalition in their letters dated October 27, 2015 and November 2, 2015 respectively. We share the serious concerns raised in those letters regarding the grave implications for civil liberties, the procedural barriers for adequate public comment, as well as the detailed concerns regarding the proposed rule changes themselves. We would like to focus our comments on the important role of the Board of Correction in our city, and ask you to remember this role as you consider the proposed rule changes.
New York City is fortunate to have the Board of Correction to oversee its jails. In most jurisdictions, jails and prisons operate without oversight, and people suffer. With unfettered access to the jails and authority to establish Minimum Standards independently of the Department of Correction, the Board plays a critical role in mitigating the harm suffered by people who are incarcerated in New York City. New Yorkers should benefit from a Board who champions its independence and prioritizes the rights of incarcerated New Yorkers and their families. The Board was established in the shadow of Attica to help our city be more humane, more just, and more democratic – to move our jail system closer in line with the values which define our city.
For the first time in history, criminal justice, incarceration, and Rikers Island in particular, are the subject of unprecedented public scrutiny. At this moment, your independence is crucial. Earlier this year, the Board took major steps to recognize the dignity of the people held in New York City Jails by acknowledging the harm of solitary confinement and limiting its use in our city. We urge you to continue in the right direction, toward an approach to violence reduction which prioritizes the dignity and rights of New Yorkers as foundational.
Throughout the rulemaking process, the Department has described their view of visiting and packages in comforting terms, noting how important visits are, and how they plan to deliver essential items to people through the uniform system. But the Department’s actions have fallen far short of their promises, to detriment of the people in their care and their families. Our office has submitted several complaints to the Board regarding the rollout of uniforms including about clients coming to court without warm clothing, being deprived of medically-ordered shoes, being denied trial clothing, being forced to wash their clothing in sinks, and about many people returning to the community in their uniforms. Each and every time someone is deprived of such a fundamental need, their dignity is violated.
Our Jail Services Social worker is a part of the Visit Committee, and has described to you in a recent letter and prior testimony how the Department has taken no concrete action to improve visiting, or provide the Committee with data. As a result of the lack of urgency on the part of the Department to address the horrifying conditions for visitors, families and children who visit the jails continue to be humiliated by invasive searches, intimidating dogs, rude staff, and interminable waits in order to see their loved ones. This process is devoid of dignity for the tens of thousands of people who visit the jails each year – innocent New Yorkers just like you.
As we have stated many times, we are deeply concerned about violence in the jails, and the safety of our clients as well as correctional staff. Conditions in city jails which are contrary to human dignity foment resentment and violence. We believe that the solution to violence is founded on restoring respect for the human dignity of the people held in our jails and their families. The Board should invest its resources in monitoring compliance with existing minimum standards as a first step to preserve basic human dignity. We urge you to push our jails to reflect the values we share, and resist any movement in the opposite direction. Thank you for your consideration of our supplemental comments.
Riley Doyle Evans
Jail Services Coordinator
Brooklyn Defender Services
Natasha Suelflow joined BDS’ Family Defense Practice as a Staff Attorney in 2015, focusing on custody and visitation. Natasha is from rural Minnesota and holds a B.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies with a minor in Legal Studies from Macalester College and a J.D. from the University of San Francisco.
While in law school, Natasha received a Public Interest Law Foundation Grant to work with clients of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Clean Slate Unit on expunging and reducing their criminal records, and was an editor of the Journal of Law and Social Challenges and a Zief Scholar. Prior to law school, Natasha worked with clients of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota on family reunification petitions, deportation defense, and status adjustments. Natasha is happy to call Brooklyn home since 2010 and is committed to advocating for Brooklyn parents affected by the child welfare system as they endeavor to maintain their family integrity.
OP-ED BY WESLEY CAINES, BDS’ REENTRY SPECIALIST: “CLOSE FISHKILL AND END THE CULTURE OF ABUSE IN NEW YORK’S PRISONS”
Today, the Albany Times-Union published an op-ed by Wesley Caines, BDS’ Reentry Specialist, calling for an end to the abuse and killings of prisoners in New York State. The piece is timed to coincide with a hearing held by the NYS Assembly’s Correction Committee on oversight of the NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, and includes specific recommendations for legislators.
In the op-ed, Mr. Caines highlights the case of Samuel Harrell, who was allegedly brutally killed by the infamous “Beat Up Squad” in Fishkill Correctional Facility for non-violent behaviors related to his mental illness. Written from personal experience with incarceration at Fishkill, the op-ed calls for strict new measures of oversight and transparency, including mandatory public reporting of uses of force and greater facility access for the media. However, the piece also notes that the culture of Fishkill is beyond repair and calls for its closure, along with the closure of a number of other prisons rife with abuse, in the upcoming state budget.
You can find the entire op-ed below.
Wendy Cheng joined Brooklyn Defender Services, Family Defense Practice, as a Staff Attorney in 2015.
Prior to joining BDS, Wendy worked as the Carr Center Fellow at the Matrimonial & Family Law Unit at New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), where she represented victims of domestic violence in family offense petitions and custody, child support and divorce proceedings in family court and Supreme court in all five boroughs of New York City.
Wendy is a graduate of New York University School of Law. While in law school, she participated in the LGBT Rights Clinic and interned at the New York Asian Women’s Center (NYAWC), Immigration Equality, and the Immigration Unit of BDS. Wendy received her B.A. in International Relations from the University of Rochester.
Wendy is a native Mandarin speaker. She looks forward to providing parents with culturally and linguistically holistic representation in family court. She currently lives in Park Slope with her cat East Village.
On November 18, 2015, lawyers, judges, court staff and social service providers convened to celebrate the opening of the Brooklyn Misdemeanor Veterans Treatment Court (BMVTC). The court connects veterans charged in low-level misdemeanor cases to social service providers including the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. A veteran’s successful completion of treatment results in non-criminal dispositions and case dismissals.
BDS Staff Attorney and Veterans Defense Coordinator Cameron Mease, who testified recently on veterans in the criminal justice system, spoke at the event:
“Veterans, while strong, can still be vulnerable and while independent, are still deserving of our support. With greater numbers of veterans being identified and given special attention by the courts, BDS is accordingly expanding in-house services. Our team of social workers, paralegals, immigration attorneys and housing and benefits attorneys will continue to learn how we can best connect our veteran clients with the services they want and deserve.”
The point of diversion is public safety. Diversion programs, or prison alternatives, have successfully lowered prison and jail populations by addressing the root causes of criminal behavior. For two decades, Brooklyn Defender Services has worked to establish and support alternative-to-incarceration options and problem-solving courts in Kings County. Brooklyn diversion programs have been an enormous success: Arrests are down and fewer people are spending unnecessary time in jail or prison.
Executive Director Lisa Schreibersdorf published an opinion piece in the Gotham Gazette last week outlining the important role that diversion programs play in keeping New Yorkers safe. Her article comes in the wake of government backlash against diversion programs after the tragic death of NYPD Officer Randolph Holder. As we mourn and seek answers to this tragedy, we must not repeat the mistakes of past decades and allow retributive impulses to supersede evidence-based approaches to public safety.
BDS’ New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) team and the NYU School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic won a precedential ruling in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit last week. The Second Circuit’s decision in Lora v. Shanahan now assures a bond hearing and the chance at liberty for detained immigrants in proceedings in New York if detained for more than six months. The Court ruled last week that “mandatory detention for longer than six months without a bond hearing affronts due process.”
The New York Times wrote recently of the victory, noting the importance for many New York families:
The ruling applies to immigrants convicted of certain crimes that are considered removable offenses. Previously there had been no limit on how long they could be detained while awaiting an immigration hearing. The decision could affect hundreds of immigrants in the New York City area alone.
BDS’ Director of Family Defense Practice Lauren Shapiro joined the heads of six other family defense organizations on Wednesday morning in a joint statement expressing concern over the recent Elisa W Consent Decree. The statement, “The State Has Surrendered the Due Process Rights of Vulnerable Foster Care Children and Put Family Re-unification at Risk in its Settlement of the ACS Lawsuit“, can be read in full on the BDS website.
Representatives from each of the seven organizations that co-authored the statement held a press conference on October 21st to show solidarity in denouncing the decree .
POR: CRISTINA LOBOGUERRERO
19 OCTUBRE 2015
En la primavera del año pasado Clarence Threlkeld acudió a su segunda audiencia en la Corte Criminal de Brooklyn para resolver un caso por un delito menor y, de repente, fue arrestado por agentes del Servicio de Inmigración (ICE).
“Había ido a mi segunda cita en la corte y cuando fui a entrar escuché mi nombre, pensé que era mi abogado, el que se me había asignado. Pero eran dos hombres vestidos de civil que me informaron que había una orden de arresto de parte de Inmigración”, relató Threlkeld, quien es padre de cinco hijos. More
BDS TESTIFIES BEFORE NYC COUNCIL HEARING ON THE IMPACTS OF COURT OBSTACLES AND OVERCRIMINALIZATION ON IMMIGRANTS
On October 19, Sarah Vendzules, Supervising Attorney in BDS’ Immigration Practice, testified before a New York City Council oversight hearing on immigrants in the criminal justice system. The Council specifically asked BDS to address collateral consequences, access to justice, and services available to justice-involved immigrants and immigrants who are victims of crimes.
As Vendzules testified, “the term collateral consequences can imply subordination to criminal sentences, but in reality, ‘collateral’ consequences can be far more severe.” She highlighted a number of ways the system fails immigrant New Yorkers, and emphasized the need to end overcriminalization, as even minor offenses trigger detention and deportation. You can read her full testimony here (PDF ).
BDS client Clarence Threlkeld also testified at the hearing. BDS strongly believes that people with direct experience in the criminal justice system are best positioned to advocate for change. Threlkeld told the story of his courthouse arrest and subsequent detention by US Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), despite having a non-frivolous claim to U.S. citizenship. He called on the Council to do all it can to stop courthouse arrests and make sure nobody else faces the injustice that he endured.
On September 18, Brooklyn Defender Services was invited to testify at two New York City Council hearings – one examining the efficacy of Human Trafficking Intervention Courts (HTICs), and another considering legislation to create a task force to study veterans in the criminal justice system.
Jillian Modzeleski (pictured), who has served as BDS’ assigned attorney to Brooklyn’s HTIC since its inception, testified that “HTICs can be a critical tool to protect trafficking victims from many of the devastating consequences of involvement with New York’s criminal justice system, but only when District Attorneys and Judges use them for that purpose. In BDS’ experience, HTICs predominately function as prostitution courts with connections to overstretched service providers.” She further argued that treating victims of sex trafficking as criminal defendants is fundamentally inappropriate and that prosecutors’ use of the specter of punishment to persuade them to inform on their traffickers is ineffective and wrong. You can read the full testimony, which includes concrete recommendations to make HTICs more fair and effective, here.
Later that same day, Cameron Mease, BDS’ expert on Veterans Treatment Courts, told Council Members: “While veterans’ service, trauma and acute health needs might be unique, the facets of the criminal justice system that oppress them are not.” He explained that veterans—who face higher rates of PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury, mental illness and arrests—generally suffer the compounding trauma of contact with the criminal justice system without special consideration for their service or conditions, except for the minority who are granted access to Veterans Treatment Courts. He highlighted the case of Jerome Murdough, a homeless former Marine, who baked to death in a 101-degree cell on Rikers Island after being arrested for sleeping in a public housing stairwell on a cold night. Citing this and other cases, Mease argued for expanding the use of Veterans Courts and, more generally, ending the over-criminalization and mass incarceration that has torn apart vulnerable New Yorkers, including veterans, and underserved communities in our City for far too long. You can read his full testimony here.
Three BDS NYIFUP clients won federal habeas grants in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) at the end of August before Judge George Daniels, ensuring their right to bond hearings in immigration court and vastly increasing their chances of success in their merits cases. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) incarcerated these three clients without any bail hearing for periods ranging from 10 to 17 months, asserting that it is mandated to do so by Congress (under the “mandatory detention statute”).
BDS and pro bono counsel from Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP filed habeas petitions in the SDNY, seeking an order directing the immigration judges to hold prompt bond hearings in all three cases. Judge Daniels ruled that a plain reading of the “mandatory detention” statute limits its scope to those noncitizens who are transferred directly from state criminal custody to ICE. Because none of the three petitioners had been transferred directly to ICE, Judge Daniels granted the habeas petitions. The most egregious example of the three cases involved a BDS client who never spent a single day in jail following her lone conviction. ICE waited almost ten years after her conviction to lock her up in an attempt to deport her. With the help of NYIFUP, these clients can start preparing for bond hearings and will hopefully be released within the month!
These cases are three among many that BDS and pro bono counsel have been litigating, and the issues raised are currently under consideration at the Second Circuit in the lead case of Lora v. Shanahan, in which BDS co-counseled with NYU Law School’s Immigrant Rights Clinic. They also underscore the limits of the recent NYC laws prohibiting law enforcement officers from cooperating with ICE except in narrow circumstances. Since the detainer ordinances were enacted we have seen an increase in ICE enforcement actions in the community, and arrests (in homes and workplaces) of many immigrants who have rehabilitated and reintegrated into the community following old convictions.
In 2013 BDS Attorney Renee Seman argued a Mapp hearing on behalf of a client who was arrested for possession of a gun — a charge he vehemently denied. After hearing the Detective’s testimony on a Wednesday, Hon. Judge Guy J. Mangano criticized what was incredible testimony by the officer and stated he would be issuing his decision on suppression the following Monday. Prior to the Judge’s decision, the Kings County District Attorney’s Office came back to the client with an offer of time served; having already served a year in jail and away from his wife, the client understandably took the offer so that he could go back to the life he had before he was falsely arrested for a crime he didn’t commit.
Renee was devastated about the guilty plea, believing firmly that her client was innocent and the case continued to haunt her. Believing in her client- Renee continued to advocate on his behalf and after much effort and as a result of her phenomenal advocacy, today June 26, 2015, in front of Judge Mangano, the DA’s office vacated the plea and dismissed the indictment.
Since his release, our client has gotten his life back, working hard at a great job and is back with his wife. After his plea was vacated, he left the courtroom, turned to Renee and said “you always had my back.”
Ronald Schneider, BDS Social Work Team Leader for the Brooklyn Adolescent Representation Team, was honored on June 10, 2015 for his dedication and commitment to exalt and his unwavering dedication to youth.
exalt is a Brooklyn-based alternative to incarceration program that serves youth at all junctures along the spectrum of criminal justice involvement. The program aims to re-engage young people in their love for learning and, in helping them understand the urgency of taking action, to reverse their journey along the school-to-prison pipeline.
exalt Intern Liaison Kevin Williams, a former client of Ron’s, presented Ron with the award. Ron is a long-time supporter of exalt and the empowering programs that they provide for BDS’s clients.
Upon accepting his award, Ron spoke to the importance of the exalt program: “No child should be defined by the mistakes they are bound to make, but they should be nurtured and glorified for the unlimited potential for success that they all have.”
On May 21st, BDS hosted its 2015 Benefit Gala, honoring Congressmember Hakeem Jeffries, non-profit 826NYC, and Michael Baum, Esq.
BDS IMMIGRATION PRACTICE DIRECTOR MARIANNE YANG RECEIVES NYC BAR ASSOCIATION 2015 LEGAL SERVICES AWARD
On June 10th, Brooklyn Defender Services’ Immigration Director Marianne Yang received the New York City Bar Association‘s Legal Services Award, established to recognize the efforts of lawyers and non-lawyers who have directly provided free legal services to indigent clients on a full-time basis for an extended period of time.
Other 2015 Legal Services Award recipients include: Toby Golick, Cardozo Law School; Jim Provost, Manhattan Legal Services; Kim Susser, NYLAG; & Mohammed Sheriff, Bronx Defenders. Presenting the awards, on behalf of the NYC Bar Association, was the Honorable Sheila Abdus-Salaam, Judge of the New York Court of Appeals.
On May 7, Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director of BDS, delivered testimony before the New York State Assembly on the urgent need for real criminal justice reform. In her testimony, Ms. Schreibersdorf shared the stories of BDS clients who have suffered immensely at the hands of a vicious, unfair, and counterproductive system. Please see the testimony here.
TESTIMONY OF BDS JAIL SERVICES COORDINATOR RILEY DOYLE EVANS BEFORE THE NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL COMMITTEE ON FIRE AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE SERVICES
We support the efforts of the Council to improve transparency in our city jails through Legislation requiring reporting by the Departments of Correction and Health and Mental Hygiene. Transparency is an important step toward addressing the decades of neglect in our city’s jails, which we hope will be followed by the more important step of accountability and enforcement of the law. I would like to take this opportunity to raise an urgent issue which is not addressed in the proposed bills, but which demands our attention.
People with Developmental Disabilities and Intellectual Disabilities are one of the most vulnerable populations in jail and prison settings. They are frequently the targets of violence, sexual violence, extortion, and abuse from staff and other incarcerated people. However, in New York City, when these individuals enter the criminal justice system there is no meaningful mechanism to keep them safe, provide accommodations, or direct them to necessary services.
Neither the Department of Correction, nor the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene includes the identification of Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities as part of their intake screening process. Very often individuals with such needs have masked their disabilities during the course of their lives and may not feel safe or able to affirmatively offer up information about their needs. Even worse, they may have an impairment that has not been identified in the community, but which nonetheless necessitates accommodation and services.
Because there is no meaningful screening process, it is typically up to our office to identify for the Departments our clients who need accommodations for their cognitive deficits. Of course, lawyers are not often clinically trained to identify such conditions, and an arraignment interview is not the proper setting to do so. Therefore, we can only assume many of our clients with developmental disabilities pass through the system and are victimized not only by other individuals but by the system at large.
Currently people with developmental and intellectual impairments are placed in General Population housing units or in Mental Observation housing units with people who do not have the same needs. Almost without exception our clients with developmental and intellectual impairments are victimized while in these settings. Additionally, because certain disabilities make it difficult to follow instructions or obey jail rules, people with developmental and intellectual disabilities may be more likely to have altercations with staff and suffer placement in solitary confinement.
While we emphasize that the vast majority of people held in city jails are there unnecessarily – people with severe developmental and intellectual disabilities are a particularly egregious case. Once incarcerated, the lethargy of institutions charged with placing individuals into services in the community or to restore them to competence can leave people incarcerated for weeks and months for no good reason.
We would like to share the experiences of our clients which illustrate an all-too-common set of outcomes for individuals with cognitive impairments in the criminal justice system.
Mr. Spaulding suffers from moderate to severe mental retardation as well as mental illness. Despite multiple requests to the Department of Correction for Protective Custody, Mr. Spaulding bounced between several mental observation and general population settings. He was the victim of several beatings including a slashing attack to his stomach. Our office continued to request safe housing for Mr. Spaulding, but he continued to be victimized – he was again severely beaten, this time necessitating surgery to his face, and leaving his arm in a sling for several months. When Mr. Spaulding returned to population after hospitalization, his disability caused him to have trouble with jail rules – he did not understand why he was required to be strip searched and refused the traumatizing practice. In response, he was placed in solitary confinement in a contraband watch cell where he remained for several days, and where he was denied a counsel visit. In order to have him removed from these harmful conditions, our office provided DOHMH records regarding his intellectual disability. A five minute conversation with Mr. Spaulding is enough to raise serious red flags about his cognitive abilities. A meaningful intake screening process could have prevented repeated brutalization, months of pain in the hospital, and the suffering he endured in solitary confinement.
Mr. Williams suffers from a severe intellectual impairment and was charged with a misdemeanor. Mr. Williams was initially released on bail. However, when he was found to be too intellectually disabled to participate in his own defense, the judge, over vociferous objections, remanded him to city jail pending placement with the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD). It took OPWDD approximately two months to have Mr. Williams released from jail, only to refer him for outpatient services at the very same facility at which he had received services in the past. Because his charge was a misdemeanor, it was dismissed upon his placement in OPWDD. Effectively, Mr. Williams was incarcerated for two months on no charges, during which time he was assaulted in his housing unit, suffering blows to his head and eye. Mr. Williams was determined to be safe to live in the community by OPWDD, yet our criminal justice system found him so dangerous he was forced to live in a jail that could not keep him safe.
The City has a responsibility to people like those I’ve just described. We have a responsibility to ensure that our police officers are trained to engage these individuals safely and with care; that there are facilities in the community to address their needs before during and after police contact; that our judges release these individuals to services rather than incarcerate them from a position of misguided fear and misunderstanding; that our jails provide targeted services, meaningful safety and programming should they be held despite interventions along the way. BDS is eager to work with the council and city and state agencies toward a caring and just approach to serve our most vulnerable neighbors.
TESTIMONY OF BDS SOCIAL WORKER KIMBERLY NASATIR BEFORE THE NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL COMMITTEE ON FIRE AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE SERVICES
My name is Kimberly Nasatir and I am a licensed master social worker at Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS). At BDS we represent over 45,000 justice-involved individuals each year, and of those individuals, about 6,000 are incarcerated in the custody of the Department of Corrections (DOC) during the pendency of their cases.
One of our BDS clients, now an advocate for the rights of incarcerated individuals as a result of her own experience at Rikers Island, brought to our attention a re-entry book called Connections: A guide for formerly incarcerated people in New York City published by the New York Public Library. We also learned, through a survey conducted throughout our office that less than 1% of our staff had ever heard of Connections or seen our detained clients in possession of this book. Few clients knew of it. This year marks 20th anniversary of the book’s publication.
BDS feels that a guide specifically targeted for individuals returning to their community, including basic steps to re-entry among additional resources in each of the five boroughs, should be in every individual’s hand during their time in custody. The New York City Department of Corrections (DOC), apparently agrees, listing in the “Inmate Handbook” that every person “should have been given [Connections] upon admission.” Yet, clients are processed through intake, and almost no one receives the book. We have also come to know that some of our clients do not receive their “Inmate Handbook,” the list of rules and regulations that someone who is detained must rely on to know their rights and obligations. Further, detained individuals are required, during intake, to sign for both books, even though they do not receive them. Everyone should be given both books without exception.
This issue is twofold: we know that when a client has some control of her future, with a resource re-entry guide that can either equip her to take steps immediately upon release towards self-help and self-promotion, she will be less likely to be re-arrested. We believe that NYPL has created a resource that speaks to prevention of recidivism that should not be ignored.
The second part of this issue is that the Inmate Handbook must be provided at intake as a protective mechanism. Often, we know that issues arise between DOC officers and detained individuals, and we believe that if both parties have a guide to be clear about rules and rights, this is one step closer to eliminating misunderstandings on the part of our clients and on the part of the DOC officers. We have heard stories that rules “have changed without notification” and this book offers detained clients and DOC a consistent set of guidelines that cannot be contested.
We believe these two books go hand in hand, and we ask that legislation be put into action that requires the DOC to fulfill their obligation during intake to provide the NYPL Connections re-entry guide and the “Inmate Handbook.” We further request a tracking mechanism to ensure these items are actually distributed.
City Council is considering new legislation today, a Bill of Rights to be read out loud and provided in writing to every individual during intake. This very important time for an individual in the process of being incarcerated can be more comprehensive and impactful if both Connections and the “Inmate Handbook” are part of this bill.
New York City has endless resources, many funded by the City, that go untapped and underutilized. Connections can be a linkage to strengthen individual ties to community resources that already exist, which we believe will ultimately result in reducing the number of people incarcerated in City jails.
I thank the New York City Council Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice, and particularly Chair Elizabeth Crowley and Councilmember Daniel Dromm for this opportunity to testify before you today.
Jared Chausow worked in the New York State Senate for a total of six years, first as a Legislative Aide for former New York State Senator Tom Duane and finally as a Deputy Chief of Staff and Press Secretary for his successor, New York State Senator Brad Hoylman. In the Senate, Jared learned the meaning of effective advocacy on behalf of New York’s marginalized individuals, families, and communities. His issue areas included reducing government corruption, improving access to health care, preserving and expanding New York’s subsidized and rent regulated housing stock, reforming state drug laws, and securing the community-centered adaptive reuse of Bayview Prison.
Despite certain victories in government, Jared knows that our city, state, and country continue to rely on over-policing and mass incarceration in lieu of effective policies and programs to address mental illness, poverty, addiction, homelessness, immigration, and widespread invidious discrimination. After serving as the voice of an elected official, he is excited to join BDS to help amplify the voices of those underrepresented in the political system.
Jared has galumphed across two subcontinents and played a guitar-slinging priest in the Golden Badger Award-winning film, ‘Loves of a Cyclops.’ He is a New York State-licensed marriage officiant, and offers his services for free.
Mayor de Blasio announced on Monday that the NYPD will no longer arrest people caught with small amounts of marijuana, issuing summonses instead. Advocates expressed cautious support.
NEW YORK CITY — The New York Police Department will no longer arrest people for low-level marijuana possession, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton announced in a press conference on Monday.
The NYPD will issue violation summonses to people caught with small amounts marijuana, instead of putting them in handcuffs and taking them to a precinct. The summonses will require people to appear in court at a later date and pay a fine.
The policy, which will go into effect on Nov. 19, will not protect people who are found with more than 25 grams of marijuana, those who are smoking in public, or those caught with the drug near schools or playgrounds, the officials said. People who have open warrants, are subject to an active investigation, or do do not have proper identification could also be arrested.
Speaking at the press conference, Mayor de Blasio said that the new policy is intended to refocus the attention of police officers away from petty offenses and toward more serious crimes.
“When an individual gets arrested for even the smallest quantity of marijuana it hurts their chances to get a good job, to get housing, to qualify for a student loan,” de Blasio said. “This policy will allow officers to continue on with their work and to put more time and energy into fighting more serious crime rather than get bogged down with an unproductive arrest.”
The new policy could bring about a sea change in the way the city is policed. Misdemeanor-level marijuana possession accounts for a large percentage of the city’s arrests, a vast majority of which happen to young black or Latino men living in poor neighborhoods.
“This is a huge improvement,” Lisa Schreibersdorf, executive director of Brooklyn Defender Services, told BuzzFeed News. “Summonses don’t get you fingerprinted. This will be better for people who are vulnerable to collateral consequences, like immigrants.”
Still, Schreibersdorf cautioned that the policy will not fulfill its goal unless the NYPD relaxes its identification requirements for summonses. Immigrants and teenagers often do not carry valid identification, she said, which often means that they cannot be processed for a summons. She added that the policy change does not address what she called the root cause of the problem — police officers in New York routinely stopping people without probable cause.
“Having summonses is an improvement for people who are already being stopped, but that doesn’t mean they should be stopped in the first place,” she said. “The problem, from my perspective, is that stopping people without cause is unconstitutional.”
We are encouraged that the New York City Council is discussing issues of brutality and neglect on Rikers Island and is seeking to hold accountable the public and private officials tasked with managing these facilities. It seems there is widespread agreement that the status quo in City jails is untenable. However, we are concerned efforts for reform will fall short if City Government continues to avoid addressing the primary driver of many of these problems – too many admissions to jails in the first place.
Read more on our Huffington Post Blog
Ali discovered her passion for indigent defense through a high school internship in the Juvenile Division of her local public defender office in Harford County, Maryland. Her commitment to social justice continued at The George Washington University where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology in 2011. During her time in Washington DC, Ali interned with the Superior Court of the District of Columbia studying newly implemented problem-solving courts and diversion programs.
Ali later received her Juris Doctor from the American University Washington College of Law in 2014 where she concentrated her studies on criminal defense and trial advocacy. Her scholarship focusing on race and the death penalty has been published by the American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy and the Law where she also served as the Executive Editor in her third year of law school. During law school, Ali also represented indigent clients in parole and probation revocation hearings in the District of Columbia and the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Jacqueline Caruana, originally from the State of Florida, graduated from Boston University in 2005 with a B.A. in Political Science and U.S. History. While interning for local officials, she developed in interest in public service, helping constituents obtain government assistance. Jacqueline attended law school at Mercer University in Georgia and graduated in 2008 with a Juris Doctorate.
After law school, Jacqueline started her own law practice handling appointed criminal cases on the State and Federal level. In 2009, she joined Scheer and Montgomery, P.C. in Savannah, Georgia as an associate, where she handled criminal and family law cases, and was appointed the Assistant City Attorney for the City of Pooler. From 2010 to 2013, Jacqueline was employed as an Assistant Public Defender in the Eastern Judicial Circuit in Savannah, Georgia. In addition to practicing law, Jacqueline was an instructor at Columbia College, teaching criminal justice classes on base to military members and their families. In 2013, Jacqueline joined the Attorney General’s office for the State of Georgia in the Civil Rights Division.
Throughout her career, public defense work has been Jacqueline’s passion. She is thrilled to join Brooklyn Defender Services.
Tracy Lawson is a Supervising Attorney in the Immigration Unit of Brooklyn Defender Services. She earned her law degree from the City University of New York (CUNY) Law School, where she participated in CUNY’s distinguished clinical programs, including the Economic Justice Project and the Immigrant and Refugee Rights Clinic. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa. Ms. Lawson’s legal career has focused in various capacities on advocating for the rights of immigrants and families, with an emphasis on serving low-income communities where criminal and immigration law intersect. She began her career as an associate at Bretz & Coven, LLP, where she focused on family-based immigration, asylum, and removal defense. At the Brooklyn Family Defense Project she advocated for low-income parents in child protection proceedings; later, she served immigrant mothers experiencing domestic violence in family court matters at Tubman in Minnesota. At Brooklyn Defender Services, Ms. Lawson served as a staff attorney in the city’s immigration assigned counsel program, New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP), and now works with criminal defenders to advise non-citizen clients of immigration consequences pursuant to the Supreme Court’s Decision in Padilla v. Kentucky. Ms. Lawson has been a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association since 2010 and serves on the New York Chapter’s ERO and EOIR committees.
What if Michael Brown’s story had ended differently?
A teenager. A misdemeanor. A cop. But then, instead of bullets, what if Mr. Brown had received a granola bar, a “safe space” to discuss concepts like choice, and an invitation to make a collage as part of a deal to erase the arrest from his record?
In Mr. Brown’s hometown of Ferguson, Mo., and beyond, American teenagers who are born poor and dark are routinely arrested for things that others get away with. Sometimes, guns fire and lives disappear. More often, the encounter can risk destroying a life more slowly. But in Brooklyn — which was infamous for crime before becoming known for artisanal whiskey — an experiment is testing whether these early police encounters can be reinvented as an opportunity: to reach out to troubled youth, get them help and bend their perception of the law.
Terrell, 17, was an apt candidate for bending. A high school graduate bound for community college, he had already endured two rounds of “stop-and-frisk,” a pre-emptive police tactic that a judge eventually found unconstitutional. Then this summer he was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor.
When he arrived for his court date, his public defender informed him of a new program for 16- and 17-year-old defendants: Instead of pleading guilty, performing community service, having a criminal record and being supervised for up to a year by probation officers, he could participate in something called Young New Yorkers that afternoon. If he did, his case would be dismissed and sealed — erased from public records. (The Times agreed not to publish his last name and details of his arrest in exchange for his cooperation.)
Surprised, Terrell took the deal.
The United States, which accounts for 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of its prisoners, is in the midst of a great rethinking of its criminal justice system, including changes in sentencing laws, more lenient marijuana policies and so-called restorative justice efforts.
The Brooklyn program is part of these changes. It is rooted in the belief that the criminal justice system often takes decent but mildly troubled young people and, instead of reforming them, turns an ephemeral circumstance — a crime — into an enduring identity: criminal.
“Theoretically, it’s supposed to be correctional,” said Judge George A. Grasso, who supervises the Brooklyn program. “But most people going through, it’s not correcting.”
Judge Grasso calls the program “collaborative justice.” Various parties — the judge, prosecutors, public defenders, probation officers, even the city’s Department of Education — work together to decide which program each defendant should enter (Young New Yorkers is one of a handful). Read More
Sixteen-year-old inmate Trevor Mobley was waiting in line for food on Rikers Island when a Correction officer ordered him to back up.
“I told him, ‘I’m next to get food,'” Mobley recalled. But the officer continued to demand that he move, eventually writing Mobley a rule violation for disobeying a direct order and verbal abuse. Mobley, who was awaiting trial for drug possession, was sentenced to 60 days in solitary confinement. It was his first month at Rikers Island.
In solitary (known as “the bing” on Rikers), people spend 23 to 24 hours a day inside a small cell with only a mattress and a toilet-sink combination. They are allowed one hour of recreation outside the cell in a small cage. Recreation is offered at 4 a.m., and to take advantage of it the person must be awake and standing by their cell door. Mobley never bothered.
On Friday, Staten Island resident Eric Garner’s death was officially ruled a homicide. For the last two weeks, New York City has been roiled by video of him gasping his last words—“I can’t breathe!”—after an NYPD officer put him in a choke-hold while arresting him on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes. At Garner’s funeral on July 23 at Bethel Baptist Church in Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill neighborhood, reporters and news crews swarmed the block, interviewing relatives, high-profile guests like the Reverend Al Sharpton, and other attendees.
What the local press didn’t see that evening, and what has gone unreported until now, is that police officers chose the funeral of a man whose death in police custody has put the NYPD on the defensive to make another, very public arrest of a guy who wasn’t doing anything illegal at the time.
Nella was struggling with an issue with her landlord, but had no idea how to go about handling it. Having moved not long ago from Houston, Texas, she doesn’t have a large network of people to call upon for help and her job at a non-profit doesn’t exactly pay her enough to hire a high-powered attorney. She didn’t know what to do.
Then, as she was walking down Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn, she was handed a flyer from somebody at the Brooklyn Defender Services.
“The timing really couldn’t have been better because I was going through this issue with my landlord and I didn’t know how I was going to handle it,” said Nella, who wanted her last name withheld due to said legal issues. “Coming here really helped because I got to speak with someone that understands what I’m going through and knows exactly what my rights are. I’m definitely feeling a lot better about my situation.”
The Brooklyn Defender Services, an organization that helps to provide criminal, family and immigration legal defense to over 40,000 people annually, hosted a Community Law Program Initiative at the Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant on Saturday
The event featured 15 different groups that provided everything from legal advice, to job training, to assistance finding a home, assistance for the drug addicted, domestic violence support and a lot more.
“Brooklyn Defender Services is a criminal defense organization, but often we deal with clients that are in need of other services as well,” said Jamie Burke, a Domestic Violence Case Supervisor at BDS who organized the event. “We might help someone facing criminal charges, but also needs drug treatment, a domestic violence shelter or even a parenting skills class and we constantly have to refer out for that.
“We thought that we could help a lot of people get the services that we need by inviting all of these organizations to come to this event so we had everything under one roof,” Burke said. More
BDS attorneys will be on-hand to answer legal questions about immigration and criminal court issues. Come on out!
BDS’s own Shijuade Kadree (Staff Attorney, Family Defense Practice) and Gittel Kagan-Follman (Director of Social Work) discuss foster care in Brooklyn on BK Live.
It’s time to eliminate the so-called collateral consequences of criminal convictions — the known and unknown penalties that follow people convicted of crimes, sometimes for the rest of their lives. The American Bar Association has compiled a national list of 38,000 collateral sanctions that people involved in various ways with the criminal legal system face on top of their court mandated sentences. There are more than 2,200 such penalties in New York state alone, extending to nearly every facet of daily life — employment, licensers, property rights, contracts, citizenship, education, voting, housing and family or domestic rights.
On May 8th, more than 300 guests celebrated the work and history of Brooklyn Defender Services at the organization’s first annual benefit at One Hanson Place –inside the historic Williamsburg Savings Bank building in Brooklyn. Martin Edelman, Esq. was honored with the 2014 Achievements in Justice Award for his work as Chairman of the Kings County Judicial Screening Committee of the Democratic Party; Marianne C. Yang, Esq. was honored with the 2014 Harvey Mandelcorn Award as the Director of the Immigration Unit at Brooklyn Defender Services, where she created BDS’s program to provide public defense representation for immigrants in deportation proceedings – the first program of its kind in the nation. Brooklyn Defender Services Founder and Executive Director Lisa Schreibersdorf MC-ed the evening, which also included brief remarks from new Kings County District Attorney Ken Thompson. Spoken word poetry about stop and frisk by Mahogany Brown & Co., and a performance piece about solitary confinement by Rachel Barnard and Joseph Williams punctuated the evening. In the event space were art installations by Brooklyn artists, including Lunar New Year.
Please join us on May 8th, 2014 for BDS’s inaugural event at the historic One Hanson Place in Brooklyn. Enjoy an evening of Brooklyn culture and entertainment and show your support of BDS’ commitment to providing exceptional legal services to the residents of Brooklyn.