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Volunteer Lawyers hold CLE to help lawyers represent kids in immigration proceedings

August 20, 2018 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Kaavya Viswanathan, pro bono managing attorney at The Door's Legal Services Center, with Sarah Burrows, pro bono manager at the Brooklyn Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project. Eagle photo by Rob Abruzzese

The Brooklyn Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP) hosted a continuing legal education (CLE) seminar with an attorney from the Door’s Legal Services Center at Abrams Fensterman in Downtown Brooklyn on Wednesday in order to prepare lawyers to represent children in immigration proceedings.

The immigration training seminar is not something the VLP normally handles, but they often will invite attorneys from outside organizations to conduct CLEs on topics it thinks may interest its members.

“We are a nonprofit in Brooklyn that works with low-income residents in a number of different civil, legal practice areas including bankruptcy, family law, foreclosure and elder law,” said Sarah Burrows, pro bono manager at VLP. “We also partner with other organizations throughout the city to offer our volunteers opportunities outside of the scope of what we normally do.

“Attorneys who are interested in taking on a case through The Door, they are looking for volunteer attorneys to work with children throughout their case, and also opportunities and a need for volunteers to work with children just in family court.”

Attorney Kaavya Viswanathan, who has presented CLEs in conjunction with the VLP in the past, represented The Door and broke down everything that the nonprofit covers. The Door serves approximately 10,000 young people every year and the Legal Services Center helps nearly 1,200 kids annually.

“Our mission is to provide holistic services for young people ages 12-24,” Viswanathan said. “We really try to be a one-stop shop for everything a young person may need in their lives. The legal need is just one part.

“We have a health center on site, we have counseling services, we have career and education services,” Viswanathan continued. “They can come in and get a meal. The idea is that we serve the whole person and we acknowledge that even if your legal case is going well you still need support in other parts of your life.”

Viswanathan pointed out that there is no right to counsel in immigration proceedings even when it comes to children and said that there are real concerns for their rights to due process as a result. Children without representation are five times more likely to be deported, according to The Door.

“There really are stories and instances where a case worker has carried a two- or three-year-old into immigration court, who either doesn’t speak or doesn’t speak English,” she said. “So, there are a lot of concerns about due process when children are involved in immigration court proceedings and it’s one of the reasons why getting pro bono counsel in these cases is so critical. If a child doesn’t speak English, it is impossible for them to defend themselves.”

The training covered common forms of legal relief available to children, such as the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status and asylum. Viswanathan explained how to pursue relief before state family court, immigration court and also during the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Attorneys who attended Wednesday’s CLE and agreed to take on a case pro bono received two free credits. Visit BrooklynVLP.org for more information on this or future pro bono and CLE opportunities through the Volunteer Lawyers Project.

 

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