Immigration Legal Services Now Offered in NYC Schools

Posted on May 3, 2016 by Alice Kenny  |  Share

Moves Youth Out of Shadows & Into Bright Futures

By Maryann Tharappel

The Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs in partnership with Catholic Charities and the Office of Community Schools just launched a far-reaching, innovative program this March 2016 that locates immigration legal services in selected New York City public schools.  Under the umbrella of ActionNYC this citywide initiative by the Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs and the City University of New York partners with community organizations and legal service providers like Catholic Charities to bring comprehensive immigration services directly into the immigration community.  By making this move into public schools we expect to remove barriers students and families face accessing immigration legal services.

“I did not know I was undocumented till my guidance counselor talked to me about applying for college,” Maria said as she choked back tears. “I felt hopeless till meeting you today.”

Maria qualifies for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status that will not only put her on a pathway to lawful permanent residence but also open doors for her to qualify for financial aid – an otherwise often insurmountable financial hurdle undocumented youth face.

  • Vulnerable immigrants like Maria are often unaware of their own immigration status, or lack thereof, until they apply for college. They come from families with mixed legal status along with a slew of issues including health,  education and housing needs. The majority, fearful and impoverished, never spoke before to an attorney.
  • So this new program brings Catholic Charities attorneys and a team of migration counselors into schools where students are comfortable and familiar.  Approximately 25 youth and their families receive immigration legal screenings per visit. Through outreach by trusted school staff, we are able to offer children and families access to free immigration legal services, drastically alleviating obstacles they would otherwise face.
  • The diversity of the population served is far-reaching as are their potential options for immigration relief.  Students include those recently arrived and those who have called New York City home for years.

Already, in under a month, Action NYC in Schools Legal Team that includes Catholic Charities attorneys held four school-based legal service events. They served over 60 individuals from 15 countries and accepted 20 clients for potential representation to upgrade status from lawful permanent residence to naturalization or apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status as well as a host of other potential options.

This innovative program enables one of New York City’s most needy populations, immigrant youth, to access key services. Through this partnership, we are broadening the scope of the community-based model, creating new environments for immigration legal assistance, and empowering young immigrant New Yorkers to forge ahead, moving them out of the shadows and into bright futures.

Maryann Tharappel is a Special Projects Attorney with Catholic Charities Community Services, where she leads ActionNYC programs and conducts deportation defense for immigrant children.

Read this in Spanish in El Diario

Learn more about Catholic Charities legal services for immigrant youth.

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