Sanctuary ED Speaks at “Protect Our Courts” Rally, Urges Bill Passage

Sanctuary Executive Director, Hon. Judy H. Kluger, recently joined advocates for the introduction of State legislation that would limit I.C.E.’s ability to make arrests in and around New York courthouses. Read her remarks.

According to a recent report by the Immigrant Defense Project, I.C.E. arrests inside and around New York courthouses increased by 1700% between 2016 and 2018. Threats of arrest and deportation have deterred an untold number of gender violence survivors from reporting abuse, seeking services, or serving as witnesses in cases.

Sanctuary’s Executive Director, Hon. Judy H. Kluger spoke at a press conference celebrating the introduction of the Protect Our Courts Act — a bill that would make it unlawful for I.C.E. to make a civil arrest while a person is going to, attending, or leaving court unless the officer presents a valid judicial warrant or court order. Read her remarks below:

Thank you, Assemblywoman Solages and State Senator Hoylman, for reintroducing the Protect Our Courts Act.   In the toxic national environment where important legal safeguards for victims of gender violence are being dismantled, New York State has an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen the laws and systems that protect thousands of survivors of domestic violence and sex trafficking who live here.

At Sanctuary for Families, 75% of the gender violence survivors we serve are immigrants who rely on the courts for orders of protection, child custody and support. Some are witnesses in criminal cases against their abusers.

The threat of being arrested by ICE in a courthouse forces immigrant victims of gender violence to make the tough choice between their safety and the chance of deportation.  This spreads fear, not justice, and discourages many of our clients from seeking the protections they rightfully deserve.

Recently, one of our clients, originally from Mexico, became terrified of appearing in Bronx Family Court – where she had filed for custody and visitation of her children and two violations of an order of protection against her abusive ex-partner.

She had seen a flyer on the subway warning that ICE agents may be in the courthouse.  First, she had feared her abuser.  Now she feared ICE detaining her in the very place where she was supposed to find safety.

The deputy director of our legal center ended up going with her to every court date.  Because our client testified, her ex-partner received eight weeks in prison. If we had not been able to go with her, she never would have appeared in court, and he would never have been brought to justice.

We cannot let distrust in law enforcement and in our judicial system become the norm. We urge the New York State legislature and Governor Cuomo to make sure the Protect Our Courts Act becomes law in this session and restore the sanctity of our courtrooms as a place where justice can be sought by all without fear.

We also urge the Office of the Court Administration to move forward a rule that would require a federal warrant for immigration agents to arrest undocumented immigrants in state courthouses, adding another layer of protection to our judicial system.

As a former judge, I know the importance of courts as safe havens for all who seek its remedies.  The fair administration of justice depends on it. The threat of ICE interference undermines it.

Read more about what was said here.

Wachtell Team Works Tirelessly to Stop Client’s Deportation

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring two Wachtell attorneys, John Savarese and Courtney Heavey, for their tireless representation of Michael, a green card holder from Liberia who battled removal proceedings for four years.

Michelle Miao is a corporate associate in the New York office of Kirkland & Ellis LLP, and a member of Sanctuary for Families Pro Bono Council.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring two Wachtell attorneys, John Savarese and Courtney Heavey, for their tireless representation of Michael, a green card holder from Liberia who battled removal proceedings for four years.  John and Courtney successfully secured cancellation of removal for Michael, enabling him to return to the life he had built prior to his nightmarish ordeal.

Facing deportation to a country he barely knew

Born in Liberia right before the outbreak of the First Liberian Civil War, Michael lived through some of the war’s worst atrocities before his family fled to a refugee camp in Ghana when Michael was just four years old.  After six years living in and around the refugee camp, Michael immigrated to the United States with his father and siblings as derivative asylees under his mother’s asylum status.

In the summer of 2012, Michael left the United States briefly to attend the funeral of a family friend in West Africa. Upon his return to the United States, immigration authorities took his green card and placed him in deportation proceedings. Thus began four long years wherein Michael faced the possibility of being deported from the United States, where he had lived with his family and friends for 16 years, and of being returned to a country where he had last lived when he was little more than a toddler.

Wachtell took on the case two years after removal proceedings were originally initiated against Michael, not knowing their client’s ordeal would drag on for another two years, that scheduled hearings would not materialize, or that immigration authorities would decide along the way that their client should be detained.  When Courtney first became involved in the case, a hearing for the Immigration Court to consider cancelling Michael’s deportation was on the horizon. When the hearing was pushed back, the Wachtell team delved into further preparations and collected additional statements of support from Michael’s family members and friends.

The stakes get even higher

In the midst of case preparation, and less than a month before the rescheduled date of the cancellation of removal proceedings hearing, Michael was picked up by ICE and taken to a detention facility in Buffalo, NY ICE simultaneously proposed to transfer Michael’s case from New York City to Buffalo, NY, a Court where there was little chance Michael would be granted clemency.  John and Courtney leapt to submit emergency papers to oppose the transfer and, against all odds, won the motion.

John and Courtney then worked on getting Michael transferred from the detention facility in Buffalo, NY, where ICE had warehoused their client, to a facility closer to New York City and Michael’s family. They ultimately succeeded in securing Michael’s transfer to a detention center in New Jersey. The relationship of trust that John and Courtney had built with Michael and his family remained unassailable in the face of these dire unanticipated events.  Courtney, who spoke to her client each week throughout the case and visited him countless times while in detention, recalls how grateful she was that throughout this nightmare situation Michael remained positive, calm, and full of faith in his legal team.  Over the course of seven months of inhumane detention, during which Michael was never allowed even a bond hearing, Michael’s confidence in John and Courtney never wavered.

Michael’s confidence was well-placed. After two years of motion practice and a long and arduous merits hearing, which included calling numerous witnesses, John and Courtney won a ruling from the bench granting their client relief: Michael was reissued lawful permanent residence. The next morning, after Courtney received a call confirming that the government would not appeal the ruling, Michael was allowed to go home. Upon receiving the good news, Courtney raced to the detention center to pick up her client and finally bring him home to his family.

Reflecting on a successful outcome

In describing his experience, Michael said,

“words cannot express my gratitude of what Courtney did for me. She went above and beyond what many attorneys would do. I spent 8 stressful months in ICE custody not knowing my fate.  There were many sleepless nights worrying about potentially being deported, to a place I barely knew-a place I had left at the age of 5 in fear for my life.  During this difficult time, Courtney visited me often, providing emotional support to lift my spirits, as well as, provide essential legal assistance . . . I will forever be grateful for the diligent work that she, and the law firm have done for my family and me.” 

 Fortunately for Michael, he had many people in his life who supported him throughout his multi-year ordeal. His close-knit family helped maintain his apartment during his months in detention and his former boss welcomed him back as well. Thus, on the day Courtney escorted Michael out from the New Jersey detention center, Michael was not only able to recover his legal status, but also resume his life much as it had been before the immigration authorities had upended it. Reflecting on the case, Courtney stated,

“helping Michael remain in this country where he worked so hard to build a life for himself and keeping him united with his family was an incredibly rewarding experience and I am so thankful to have been a part of this case.”

John and Courtney are enormously grateful to Carmen Rey from Sanctuary for Families, whose tireless dedication to this case played a critical role in the successful outcome.

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on October 17, 2017 at the Highline Ballroom as we honor John and Courtney’s outstanding pro bono work.  You can buy tickets here.

If you can’t join us, but would like to support Sanctuary for Family’s work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.