Legal Aid Society

Projects, Units & Initiatives

Immigration Law Unit

The Legal Aid Society is a recognized community leader in providing comprehensive, high-quality immigration assistance to low-income New Yorkers. Our Immigration Law Unit (ILU) provides direct legal representation in a variety of relevant matters and engages in affirmative litigation that creates large-scale, positive outcomes for immigrant communities. The Unit has a proven track record of identifying new trends and emerging issues​ and quickly responding to policy changes to preserve family integrity.

Supporting New Arrivals

Legal Aid’s Immigration Law Unit has responded to the influx of new arrivals from our southern border with a series of Know Your Rights materials specifically aimed at helping our new neighbors navigate the U.S. legal system. We have developed resources in English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Wolof and Russian.  We have also developed video resources to share information about their rights and immigration processes in this country.

Our Work

Removal Defense
ILU represents immigrants before the Department of Homeland Security, in Immigration Court proceedings, and on appeals to the Board of Immigration Appeals.  The need for non-detained removal defense has grown dramatically in recent years, leading LAS to increase our focus on advocacy for clients who are at risk of deportation.

New York Immigrant Family Unit Project
The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) is the nation’s first universal representation program for immigrants detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and is a collaboration between Legal Aid, Brooklyn Defender Services, and The Bronx Defenders. Our NYIFUP team represents individuals in federal immigration detention who are at imminent risk of being deported and have been separated from their families here in New York. 

Immigration Youth Project
Our Immigrant Youth Project represents unaccompanied children and youth in New York to obtain Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), asylum, T and U visas, and other immigration benefits. 

Domestic Violence and Gender Violence
The Domestic Violence Immigration Project represents survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking, and other forms of gender-based violence and their families to obtain legal status through Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petitions, battered spouse waivers, U and T visas, asylum and other immigration benefits.

Affirmative Benefits
ILU’s Affirmative Benefits team represents immigrants before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) with a wide variety of applications such as citizenship, green cards, family-based petitions, consular processing, Temporary Protected Status, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).  

Federal Litigation
ILU’s federal litigation team is at the forefront of immigration litigation in federal court—all the way from the district courts to the United States Supreme Court. The team regularly files habeas corpus cases challenging our clients’ arbitrary and often prolonged incarceration by ICE.  In addition, we collaborate with Legal Aid’s Civil Law Reform Unit and pro bono partners to bring class action and other impact litigation to enjoin some of the government’s most pernicious and destructive policies, such as the arbitrary denial of relief to young immigrants; the restriction of family-based immigration by individuals who receive means-tested benefits; and ICE’s abduction of noncitizens from New York state courts, without judicial warrants.

A Holistic Approach

The Legal Aid Society is committed to providing holistic immigration services to our clients, whether they originate in our Criminal Defense Practice, Juvenile Rights Practice, or other units within our Civil Practice.

  • Within Legal Aid’s Criminal Defense Practice, we have a mighty team of attorneys who are experts on the intersection of criminal and immigration laws. As enshrined in Padilla v. Commonwealth of Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356 (2010), criminal defense attorneys have the constitutional duty to advise non-citizens of the immigration consequences of a guilty plea. At Legal Aid, our criminal-immigration specialists provide the critical immigration legal analysis for the criminal defense work we do. These attorneys also provide post-conviction relief for non-citizen clients, with a focus on those who face disproportionately harsh and unjust immigration consequences due to marijuana convictions and other low-level arrests.
  • We provide immigration legal representation for Juvenile Rights Practice (JRP) clients who are in the foster care system and regularly train and consult with JRP about immigration legal options.
  • We provide immigration legal representation and consultation to our Civil Practice colleagues about immigration legal options, including for clients who are also receiving Legal Aid assistance with their housing and benefits.

Our Impact

ILU represents New Yorkers with a wide variety of complex immigration legal matters.

R is one of our clients.  A citizen of the Dominican Republic, R has been a lawful permanent resident in this country for almost 40 years. After a brief trip to his home country, R was detained by immigration officials due to a 2005 conviction for criminal possession of a controlled substance.  Immigration Court removal proceedings were initiated against R because of this almost 20 year old conviction and he was facing loss of his lawful permanent residency and deportation to the Dominican Republic.  

R was deeply ashamed of his arrest and conviction and was the only member of his family that had ever been in trouble with the law. There were many compelling factors that allowed R to apply for “cancellation of removal,” so that he could maintain his lawful permanent residency and avoid deportation.  R had significant family ties in this country, including his own United States citizen children, a 95 year old United States citizen mother, and four United States citizen siblings. Before he had passed away, R’s father had been a lawful permanent resident himself. Further, R was the caretaker for his 95 year old mother, and he provided her daily care and support.  

As R’s cancellation of removal application was so compelling and well-documented, the Department of Homeland Security prosecutor in Immigration Court stipulated to R’s application without any testimony needed. R was granted cancellation of removal relief. 

M is another client of ours.  M is a 16 year old Guatemalan boy who fled horrific abuse in his home country.  Growing up, M’s alcoholic father violently beat him and his mother on a regular basis. At 10 years old, M was forced to work in dangerous conditions to support his family, including working with harsh chemicals and machetes, which caused him significant physical injuries.  

After fleeing to the United States, M found refuge with an uncle in New York City.  His uncle provided him a safe and stable environment, the first M had ever had in his life.  ILU represented M in Family Court to help his uncle obtain legal guardianship over him and to obtain the requisite orders to apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). ILU was able to secure the dismissal of M’s Immigration Court removal proceedings and, later, obtain SIJS and lawful permanent residency for M.  

*All client names and certain other personally identifying details have been altered to protect clients’ confidentiality.

Additional Resources