Legal Aid Society


Q&A: Ashley Lecaro, Social Worker, Immigration Law Unit

Ashley Lecaro, LMSW, is part of The Legal Aid Society’s Civil Practice’s Immigration Law Unit. As a passionate advocate for human rights and social justice, Ashley plays a crucial role in assisting our clients, navigating complex barriers, and achieving victories like a recent successful asylum case, showcasing our unwavering commitment to ensuring a dignified life for low-income New Yorkers.

Why did you decide to become a social worker?

I have always been more of a big picture person, and it has helped me throughout my career because it is my perspective that we are all greater than just the sum of our parts. The barriers and issues that our clients face don’t just exist on an individual level but are greatly impacted by the communities, systems, and worldviews we live in. I became a social worker because I want to advocate for human rights, social justice, and more goodness in the world. To me, that looks like working with people and helping them at all the intersections of their lives as they try to live a dignified and worthy life.

What strategies do you employ to address the emotional and psychological needs of your clients during legal proceedings?

When clients are preparing for their Asylum hearings or working on their Affidavits for SIJS (Special Immigrant Juvenile Status), U-visa, or T-visa cases, they are being asked to recount some of their worst memories and experiences in order to pursue immigration relief. As this process can be deeply retraumatizing, I support clients by bringing a trauma-informed lens, which prioritizes and honors their choice, safety, and collaboration in our work together. I want to always affirm our clients’ narratives and enhance their coping skills as they learn to open up and talk about what they have been through.

Can you share a specific case where your role as a social worker had a significant impact on a client’s life or the outcome of the case?

In the Immigration Law Unit, cases can extend for years because of the extreme backlog in Immigration Court. What this means for us is that we may carry cases for several years before our clients even have their day in Court. For our clients, they are unfortunately stuck in limbo, and it can impact their eligibility for certain resources and services. I began working with a family in July 2019 of a mother and daughter who had applied for Asylum. Their initial Asylum hearing was set for a date in 2020. This family lived in a shelter until the mother’s mental health began declining. Having fled her home country because of death threats and violence towards her family for her political involvement, she continued to feel unsafe everywhere she went. Mother and daughter were homeless on and off for several years, having moved around to even different states until they eventually returned to NYC during the height of COVID-19. In 2020, their Asylum hearing was adjourned for October 2023.

I consistently kept in touch with this family while they were adrift until they returned to NYC. It was hard to bear witness to the toll their mental health was impacting their sense of safety and stability. Over the years I provided supportive counseling, case management, crisis intervention, and psychoeducation on PTSD (Post‑Traumatic Stress Disorder). I also advocated with various systems on numerous occasions to ensure this family was obtaining all the benefits and support they were entitled to have. This family could have easily fallen through the cracks, but I believe that my rapport with this mother and daughter over the years helped keep them connected to much needed resources, information, and services that they needed to restart their lives and eventually, to work on their legal case. In 2022, the family was able to finally leave shelter and move into the apartment they obtained through the CityFHEPS voucher. In October 2023, they won their Asylum case! The family is currently working on applying for their green cards.