Hofstra Law’s Youth Advocacy Clinic: Social Justice Lawyering by Students in Family and Immigration Courts

 In Family Law, Spring 2018

Since 2004 students in Hofstra Law ’s Youth Advocacy Clinic (YAC) have advocated on behalf of one of the most vulnerable segments of our society — immigrant children and youth in dire need of effective legal advocacy. YAC clients typically come to the United States to escape abusive home environments, maltreatment by adults they trusted and separation from parents and homes they love. They are subjected to violence and extreme poverty.

YAC students advocate vigorously for their clients in family court and immigration court to ensure the children’s safe and stable placements, to defend them from deportation and to obtain lawful immigration status on their behalf. YAC students typically spend 20-25 hours per week engaging in all aspects of the practice, including client counseling, fact investigation, legal research, motion practice, court appearances and conducting hearings, all under supervision.

This past year YAC represented immigrant children in the face of historically harsh anti-immigrant policies. Students worked on behalf of Haitian children orphaned after the devastating 2010 earthquake who will lose their temporary protected status due to the planned revocation of that protection; they assisted LGBTQ youth escaping countries where their sexuality is a crime, and who now encounter an administration that is rolling back LGBTQ protections; and they represented scores of survivors of physical and sexual abuse whose potential guardians are far more reluctant to come forward in the current anti-immigrant atmosphere.

Although most of our young clients have been through harrowing experiences simply to make it to the United States, the level of anxiety and fear we see today in them and their families is unprecedented. Their fears are understandable. Under the Trump administration, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has called for criminal prosecution and removal from the U.S. of family members who pay a guide to bring a child into the U.S., regardless of the danger from which the child is escaping; DHS officials have stated publicly that they are considering separating immigrant children from their parents at the border, placing the parents in detention facilities and the children in foster care; and ICE enforcement presence in communities and even in state courts has increased dramatically since President Trump took office.

With that backdrop, YAC students advocate for their young clients in New York’s family courts, appellate courts and federal immigration courts to achieve two overarching goals: to promote our clients’ safety, stability and permanency by establishing formal legal guardianship arrangements between them and their primary caretakers; and to ensure that our clients do not have to return to countries where they endured violence, abject poverty and other traumatic experiences by pursuing humanitarian relief on their behalf.

YAC’s young clients all reside on Long Island, which has become one of the top three destinations in the United States for the recent influx of immigrant youth escaping violence and extreme poverty in Central America. These children are reuniting with relatives or family friends who have already settled in one of Long Island’s vibrant immigrant communities. And while many of them have strong grounds of eligibility for immigration relief, because there is no right to counsel in deportation proceedings, they are unable to articulate those grounds without a lawyer and are frequently sent back to the violence they tried to escape. In fact, of the tens of thousands of children who appear without counsel, over 80 percent are deported; for those lucky enough to get a lawyer, only 16 percent are forced to return to their home country.

YAC students not only meet regularly with clients and conduct hearings in family court and immigration court on behalf of children threatened with deportation, they also intercede on clients’ behalf outside of court to obtain educational services, therapeutic interventions and health and other financial benefits to which clients are legally entitled. This past year, students gained the practical experience of learning how to “lawyer” effectively, and the inspiring experience of social justice lawyering, on behalf of over 50 young clients.

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