New York—With the federal government failing to produce comprehensive immigration reform and with thousands of unaccompanied minors facing deportation, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Robin Hood Foundation and New York Community Trust announced the Unaccompanied Minor Children Initiative today – a $1.9 million public-private partnership that will provide key funding to legal organizations to support a coordinated response to the overwhelming need for high quality, free legal representation and access to social, mental health, and medical services for more than a thousand unaccompanied minor children appearing on the Juvenile and Surge Dockets at the New York Immigration Court. Like adults facing deportation, children are not provided government-appointed counsel to represent them in immigration court. Despite the fact that many of these children have legitimate claims to relief, without legal representation, these young people will be sent back to their home countries, where they will likely encounter abuse, persecution, gang violence or possible death.

The New York City Council funding comes from $1 million in Council funds earmarked for legal services, which was already in the FY 2015 budget. In addition, Robin Hood – New York’s largest poverty-fighting organization — helped match the Council’s funding with a donation of $550,000. The New York Community Trust—which has funded the city’s nonprofits for 90 years— matched with a $360,000 donation.

“The New York City Council will not stand by as this humanitarian crisis unfolds – we will take action,” said Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “This innovative initiative will go a long way towards alleviating the overflow at the surge docket while also providing quality representation to thousands of children. This partnership between the New York City Council, Robin Hood, and New York Community Trust sends a clear message that New York City will step up where the federal government has fallen short and that we will leverage every option we have to help these children.”

“In 2014, more than 2,500 children will flee violence in Central America on their own and settle in New York City,” said Eric Weingartner, managing director of Robin Hood. “Of those 2,500, approximately 60 percent won’t have a lawyer to help them claim asylum; without legal representation, these children are four times as likely to be sent back to the dangerous countries they fled. Their claims for status need to be heard, and through this partnership with the City and New York Community Trust, we will ensure they get the best representation for their day in court.”

“The Trust is proud to show New York leading the nation with government and nonprofits working together for children who are seeking a better life,” said Shawn Morehead, program officer of The New York Community Trust.

Council Member Carlos Menchaca said: “We are in the middle of a humanitarian crisis, and we have a duty as a City to respond, particularly in the absence of Congressional action. I am firmly committed to making sure that all of our immigrants, but particularly these vulnerable children, have access to legal services. As we have learned, a large percentage of these children are legally entitled to remain in the United States. I’m proud that the New York City Council has leveraged its own funding with private philanthropic support to ensure that these children are able to access the legal services that they need and deserve.”

Funding for this initiative will focus primarily on increasing access to counsel for children in removal proceedings – the most critical and urgent need. Through this partnership, the organizations funded will be able to build on their current model of direct representation, leverage high quality pro bono representation, and integrate social services to lessen the growing backlog of children appearing on the Juvenile and Surge Dockets. These services will ensure due process for minors who are struggling to navigate the immigration system alone. The partner agencies will utilize different models of representation.

-The Legal Aid Society and The Door will each accept cases for direct representation and also co‐counsel cases with pro bono lawyers from select New York City law firms.
-Catholic Charities Community Services will provide direct representation through staff attorneys and law student interns under strict staff supervision.
-The Safe Passage Project will place cases pro bono with alumni of New York Law School as well as pro bono associates from New York‐area law firms.
-Make the Road NY will accept cases for direct representation and accept referrals from the Juvenile and Surge dockets.
-Central American Legal Assistance, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) and Atlas: DIY, (Developing Immigrant Youth) will accept referrals from the Juvenile and Surge dockets for direct representation.

Since 2011, the United States has experienced an increase in the number of unaccompanied immigrant and refugee minor children arriving at the southern border seeking protection. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, between October 1, 2013, and July 31, 2014, the Department of Homeland Security has apprehended over 63,000 unaccompanied children fleeing human rights abuses, violent gangs, domestic violence, drug traffickers, human trafficking, and economic deprivation at the southern border. With the majority hailing from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador—a region of Central America known as the “Northern Triangle” — gang or cartel violence has been cited as prime motivation for migrating. In addition to fleeing harsh conditions, many are also coming to be reunited with family members already living in the United States.

On August 13, 2014, the New York Immigration Court launched a daily Surge Docket for this vulnerable population to appear before an immigration judge. The surge docket hearings are an initiative of the federal government to help expedite the legal proceedings for the recent surge. The court, which typically sees less than 100 minor cases per month, is now taking at least 30 cases per day.

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