Staff Commentary:
Immigration Legal Program (ILP) Staff Visits the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, GA

From June 25-30, three staff members from LSSNY’s Immigration Legal Program visited the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, GA. A dedicated group of legal experts, here’s what Priya Patel, a staff member who went, said about what motivated them to make the trip, what they saw while they were there and why the trip is important to their day-to-day work on behalf of immigrants across New York City and beyond…

Why did you decide to go to the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, GA?

“We went to the Center because it has the highest deportation rate in the country. This isn’t because it houses the highest concentration of criminals—on the contrary, many of the clients we worked with there were individuals who would have been released had they been sent to any other detention center, and had high likelihoods of success in obtaining asylum or other humanitarian-based immigration relief. Instead, at Stewart, detainees are likely to be deported simply because they lack access to representation, because the judges who preside over the immigration courts happen to have the lowest grant rates in the country, and because the conditions at Stewart are so horrible that many detainees even elect to take deportations to countries where they fear persecution in lieu of fighting their case. When we learned about the Southeast Immigrants Freedom Initiative (SIFI), a project that brings attorneys from around the country to volunteer on a rotating basis at Stewart, we signed up to volunteer that very day. Setenay Akdag, Marisa Carey and I stayed at the Center from June 25-30, and we continue to provide support on cases from our offices in New York.”

What kind of help did you provide during your visit?

“We helped prepare bond motions and asylum applications, and orally argued at a bond hearing. For example, one of the clients we helped was Daniel*, an 18-year-old Honduran national who fled Honduras when he was 16, to escape domestic violence and sexual assault. He was also targeted by members of a transnational criminal organization that attempted to recruit him. With nowhere to turn, Daniel fled Honduras and came to the United States. He was apprehended by immigration agents after crossing the U.S.–Mexico border and released to live with his mother (who resided in Gainesville, Georgia, and had been sending money to Daniel in Honduras) while attending removal proceedings at the Atlanta Immigration Court. One day at school, he pulled a fire alarm as part of a school prank, which resulted in him spending five days in jail. A minor at the time, he was unaware that he needed to be present for a mandatory court hearing, and when he didn’t attend, a warrant for his arrest was issued. The local police arrested him at school and called ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], who took him into custody and transferred him to the Stewart Detention Center. He has been detained since March.

We assisted in preparing a Bond Motion, or a request for the judge to hold a hearing to determine whether Daniel should be released from detention so he can continue his removal case at the Atlanta Immigration Court. Part of our argument was that Daniel was not a flight risk, because he was already attending removal hearings at the Atlanta Immigration Court and because he is an asylum seeker. We also argued that he was not a danger to his community, as he did not have any criminal history (his criminal charges were dismissed) and has never exhibited any dangerous behavior.

We met with Daniel several times during our week in Lumpkin and found him to be markedly depressed and traumatized, yet peaceful and calm. We were extremely affected by this case simply because had Daniel been detained in New York, he would have been released after just a few days and would have been a strong candidate for asylum and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, both avenues to stop deportation and obtain permanent residency status in the United States.”

Why is this type of outreach, so far from NYC, important to the team? How does it contribute to the important work of the ILP?

“It’s important to us because we consider ourselves social justice lawyers—the plight and injustice of immigrants anywhere in the country is a concern to us. It serves as a form of training for the ILP staff, as we don’t normally work with immigrants in detention centers. Therefore, the experience gives us greater insight into the technical issues and procedural mechanisms available to challenge detention, as well as the difficulties and arbitrariness that geography can play in the immigration system.”

Any future trips to the detention center planned?

“Yes, we all intend to return, because the work is so important and assistance is so greatly needed. We all continue to provide support on several cases that we began while at the Stewart Detention Center, including the release application of a man who is married to one of our current clients in New York.”

*Name was changed to protect client confidentiality.

You can read more about the conditions at the Stewart Detention Center here: https://www.themarshallproject.org/2016/12/12/america-s-toughest-immigration-court#.xhPV9c4kg.

The New LIFE School Congratulates the Graduating Class of 2017

“Some of you will go on to college, some to work. You have a path to follow and doors will open. You will meet challenges, but you are willing and more than ready—you are our future.” –Matthew Tucker (Assistant Principal, TNLS)

Friday, August 4th, was a joyful day for The New LIFE School (TNLS) as Rachel Kornfeld, Principal and Executive Director of Education Services, congratulated the graduating class of 2017. With tears in her eyes, Ms. Kornfeld addressed the seven graduates—some of who had been students at the school for 10 years. She spoke about what the graduates meant to the school. “I want to make clear today, it is not just what we have given to you, but what you have done for us. Each of you has helped to shape and mold us, has helped the staff to be better at what we do in order to help you and your peers become successful in your post-graduate lives.”

The impact that these seven students had on the school community was evident as one-by-one, Ms. Kornfeld mentioned the attributes she admired in each of them. Whether it was their maturity and growing sense of independence, their participation in the school’s Career Development and Occupational Studies’ barbering program, the art work they produced or the leadership skills they demonstrated, it was clear that each of them had made a mark on the school, making it better through their presence.

Many of the graduates had struggles too—some struggled to get to school on time, some struggled to build the confidence to try new things, and some struggled with challenging academics and the Regents exams. But each of them made it, and as Damyn Kelly, LSSNY’s President & CEO, said in his address, he knew the graduates would go on to have an impact on the world. “Your future is bright. You did it, so I know that you can.”

Throughout the ceremony, family, friends and teachers cheered, expressing their joy at hearing about the graduates’ accomplishments. These graduates had such an impact on the school community that even former staff members, including the former Assistant Principal, a music teacher and an algebra teacher, came to the graduation to express their love and commitment to the school and these students.

Demetri Gregory, the valedictorian of the 2017 class, said “I want to remind everyone that it’s not my day, it’s all of our day. It’s the beginning of the rest of our lives.” Three of the graduates received scholarships, ranging from $500–$1,500 to use toward tuition at the college of their choice. It’s clear that all of them will move on to a bright future, ready to take on the challenges ahead as they strive to meet their career and educational aspirations.

The staff of TNLS, and everyone at LSSNY, wish these graduates happiness and success in the years to come!

Long Island Congregations Give Generously to our Infant Layette Program 

The New LIFE Center—Long Island food pantry is a community-based program that is supported by many neighborhood congregations in Uniondale and the surrounding area. More than 45 Lutheran congregations work with the staff of the food pantry to feed, clothe and offer support to area residents who are food insecure. Clients, both individuals and families, can choose healthy food items to bring home to prepare nutritious meals.

One of the special programs at the food pantry is the Infant Layette Program, which provides diapers, formula, blankets, toys and baby clothes to new mothers so their newborns get a healthy start in life. The food pantry, and this beloved program, receive donations throughout the year, and volunteers from area churches help staff the food pantry. Since April, the pantry has received layette items from more than 10 baby showers held at local churches. We thank all of them for their caring, sharing and support. Here are some highlights that show the depth of their compassion:

In April, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church RVC (Rockville Centre, NY) hosted a baby shower; 75 people enjoyed games and raffles during a delightful buffet brunch. Thanks to the generosity of Holy Trinity, the Infant Layette Program received new baby clothes, diapers and baby accessories.

In May, the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection (Garden City, NY) hosted a beautiful baby shower; some 25 church members attended to support new mothers in need, donating baby clothes, diapers and baby accessories to include in layette gift packages distributed at the food pantry.

In July, St. David’s Evangelical Lutheran Church (Massapequa Park, NY) sponsored a six-week drive to collect baby shower gifts. Congregants created a beautiful bulletin board to display at church, so that members could choose items to shop for. The Infant Layette Program received diapers, formula, clothes and other baby essentials.

We are grateful for the blessings of our congregation partners—without them, we would not be able to serve so many Long Island families in need.

Meet Our Two Remarkable Summer Interns from South Korea

Thanks to our partnership with ICN Group, an organization that places Korean college students with corporate internships in the U.S., LSSNY is excited to have two young women, Karen Kim and Yoonhee Kim, as interns in our Advancement & Communications Department. Karen and Yoonhee attend the prestigious Sungkyunkwan University, a respected institution that’s more than 600 years old and one of the top three universities in South Korea. As interns within LSSNY’s Advancement & Communications Department, Karen and Yoonhee have contributed creative ideas during team discussions about marketing materials, including LSSNY’s website and annual report. Both said they were surprised that their viewpoints and ideas were valued in the meetings, as young women don’t typically contribute opinions, or present new ideas to leadership within the Korean business community. “It’s special to get the opportunity to participate in team meetings,” said Karen.

Karen is studying Global Business Administration and hopes to work in Strategic Management as an advisor to companies. She is currently writing an article with one of her professors as to how companies grow through social networks. She wants to understand more about how group dynamics and social networks influence business communication, performance and innovation.

Karen’s Favs
Favorite movie: Life is Beautiful
Favorite song: Give Love (K-pop duo, Akdong Musician-AKMU)
Favorite food: Andong-Jjimdak (braised spicy chicken with vegetables)
Admires: Elon Musk (Tesla, Inc. CEO)

Yoonhee has been interested in pursuing a career in psychology since she was in high school; she plans to earn a graduate degree in Clinical Psychology. During her trip to NYC, she is visiting New York neighborhoods that are featured in her favorite television shows, including Ugly Betty and 30 Rock. So far, she’s most impressed by the vast, green spaces of Central Park—where she saw a firefly for the first time—and the Cuban music and dancing she enjoyed on Coney Island’s boardwalk.

Yoonhee’s Favs
Favorite movie: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Favorite song: Let Her Go (Passenger)
Favorite food: Tuk Bok Ki (spicy rice and fish cake)
Admires: Oprah Winfrey

LSSNY’s Walking Challenge Champions!

Congratulations to the staff at the Muhlenberg Residence for winning the Second Annual LSSNY Walking Challenge. The Muhlenberg Goldbergs walked a total of 290,866 steps over the two-week period. They averaged 20,776 steps per day. Second place went to staff at our Safe Haven for Children program. In addition to health benefits (and bragging rights), the Muhlenberg Goldbergs won a gift card for a team lunch at a local restaurant that was donated by our CEO, Damyn Kelly!

Congratulations to the 12 teams that participated. LSSNY staff averaged 9,584 steps per day while on the challenge. Many staff members said they planned to keep walking long after the challenge was over!

LSSNY Welcomes Summer Youth!

For the last three years, LSSNY has welcomed summer youth as part of the Department of Youth and Community Development’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP). Since July, some 15 young men and women have worked as clerical aides in our Early LIFE childhood education centers and at our main office. Over the 7-week period, the youth will gain valuable office skills while supporting LSSNY staff in the provision of service to more than 7,000 New Yorkers each day.