City Bar Justice Center Gets First Client Win in Varick III Project
Earlier this month, a Jewish refugee from Ukraine who has been in this country as a lawful permanent resident since 1995, walked out of the Monmouth County Correctional Institution and headed back to his home in Brooklyn after 10 months in detention. Vladimir Vasilevich had faced removal back to Ukraine, where he has no family and where there is continued anti-Semitism, because of a minor drug conviction in 2008. Vladimir was represented by Alice Morey of the City Bar Justice Center (with help from volunteer attorney Dana Rundloff), who took the case to test the efficacy of having a non-immigration expert handle this common but complicated cancellation remedy. Using her skills as an attorney, and with support from the mentors from the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), Alice was able to study the narrow area of law, develop a theory of the case and gather the evidence necessary to support that theory, including a lengthy affidavit from an expert on Ukrainian/Jewish relationships. She spent significant time preparing her client for the hearing, after which an immigration judge ruled in the client’s favor from the bench, ending Vladimir’s stay in immigration jail, reuniting him with his disabled mother and saving him from banishment and further persecution in Ukraine. Varick III grew out of the NYC Know Your Rights Project, a collaboration of the City Bar Justice Center, The Legal Aid Society and the NYC chapter of AILA, through which pro bono attorneys provided brief advice to immigrants detained at the Varick Street detention facility in lower Manhattan and facing deportation (or “removal”). Phase II of the project began when the Department of Homeland Security closed Varick last year and moved detainees to other facilities outside the city; however, attempts to have the detainees bused into the city for meetings with lawyers were less successful due to scheduling issues. Under the Varick III model, the NYC Know Your Rights Project is being reshaped into a full representation project focusing on the rapidly growing number of lawful permanent residents with criminal convictions who are facing removal. While the Justice Center’s goal is to build this area into a pro bono practice area like its asylum area, Varick III is beginning as a small pilot project with a limited number of cases in order to ensure that the cases are appropriate for pro bono attorneys. Each Varick III case will be screened by The Legal Aid Society, coordinated by the City Bar Justice Center and mentored by an expert volunteer from the NYC Chapter of AILA.