The Proskauer corporate social responsibility and pro bono blog

Guiding Hospitals in Providing Ethical Health Care to Intersex Patients

Today, an increasing number of medical practitioners are recognizing the importance of providing appropriate, non-discriminatory, and patient-centered health care to people born with intersex traits.  “Intersex” is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of inborn variations in sex characteristics that do not seem to fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies. Considered a sex and gender minority by the National Institutes of Health, between 0.05 percent and 1.7 percent of the population is born with intersex traits.

Care of intersex individuals, particularly children, demands special attention to avoid biases based on outdated understandings of sex and gender. To assist hospitals in offering intersex-affirming health care, pro bono attorneys at Proskauer teamed up with nonprofit legal organizations interACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth and Lambda Legal to create an educational policy guide designed to better educate hospitals about the unique needs of intersex patients and address the bias and insensitivity intersex patients and their families all too often face in a health care setting. Continue Reading

Hunger in New York City and How We Can Help

On a daily basis we are inundated with news and information from all over the world. My morning paper, evening news, and daily smartphone alerts are primarily focused on the United States’ political climate, natural disasters, violence, and other harrowing stories of people in need. Our newsfeed can seem to create a barrier between us and those we could help. I often feel it seems that those most in need are furthest from our reach. Yet it is important to remember how much work there is to be done right outside our own doors.

Prior to joining the Corporate Social Responsibility team at Proskauer this spring, I spent three years working in fundraising and development at Citymeals on Wheels. While the projects I worked on varied, I always took pride in knowing that my work supported Citymeals’ mission of providing nutritious meals to homebound seniors in need. People are often surprised by the scale of Citymeals’ work. The organization delivers to more than 18,000 elderly New Yorkers, resulting in over 2 million meals every year. And while these numbers are truly staggering, Citymeals’ recipients only account for a small percentage of New Yorkers who face the growing struggles of food insecurity. Continue Reading

New USCIS Policy Threatens Public Safety

A recent change in immigration policy is adversely impacting a vulnerable population, and is likely to have a chilling effect on immigrants reporting crime and cooperating with law enforcement. Undocumented immigrant victims of domestic abuse, who prior to the updated guidance could freely file petitions for U Nonimmigrant status or Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petitions without fear of bringing on deportation proceedings, now may suffer the very real repercussions of an unfavorable petition or application.  If unsuccessful, they now face a mandated issuance of a Notice to Appear (NTA), which is the charging document that initiates removal proceedings.

In a letter dated June 28, 2018, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued “Updated Guidance for the Referral of Cases and Issuance of Notices to Appear (NTAs) in Cases Involving Inadmissible and Deportable Aliens.” Policy Memorandum 602-0050.1, in pertinent part, provides updated guidelines regarding USCIS’s issuances of NTAs in Immigration Court. The new guidelines serve to ensure conformity with Executive Order 13768, and replaced, in its entirety, Policy Memorandum 602-00550 published in November 2011.

The previous Policy Memorandum established guidelines for NTA issuance “in a manner that promotes the sound use of the resources of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ)…” Accordingly, NTAs were issued in a manner consistent with the “Government’s overall removal priorities.” This meant that USCIS was only mandated to issue an NTA when required by statute or regulation, and when fraud was substantiated by a Statement of Findings on the record in petitions or applications by an undocumented immigrant. In instances where an undocumented immigrant was under investigation, arrested, or convicted of any serious crime—defined as “Egregious Public Safety (EPS) Cases” in the Policy Memorandum—USCIS was required to refer the case to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) but was not mandated to issue an NTA. This, among other things, has been changed by the June 28, 2018 letter.

In the updated guidance, USCIS will now be mandated to issue an NTA in instances where an undocumented immigrant has an “unfavorable decision on an application, petition, or benefit request.” This far-reaching guidance would, for instance, encompass vulnerable undocumented immigrants of domestic abuse who are denied Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petitions and U Nonimmigrant status.  A U Visa application provides immigration relief to victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and are helpful to law enforcement or government officials in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity.  Thus, the law creates an incentive for immigrants to report crime and cooperate with law enforcement, which benefits everyone.

While the ramifications of USCIS’s updated NTA issuance policy remains uncertain, this sweeping change raises immediate concerns. Importantly, this new policy may exacerbate the already increasing Immigration Court backlog and overburden DHS resources with hearings at the expense of those who should be prioritized. The policy also has the effect of discouraging undocumented immigrants from reporting domestic violence, and cooperating with authorities, which thereby threatens public safety. Further, the updated guidance may make undocumented immigrants hesitant to file a petition for U Nonimmigrant status or a VAWA self-petition for fear that denial will lead to deportation.  Of course, for lawyers representing this vulnerable population, it is crucial that the potential consequences are discussed with clients before moving forward with applications of any kind.

Update: As of August 2, 2018, the Notice to Appear Policy Memorandum 602-0050.1 has not yet gone into effect. USCIS has announced that it will postpone implementation of this policy until it has issued new “operational guidance” as required by the policy.

Public Service and Summer Associates: A Q&A with Caroline Menes, Legal Recruiting Officer

Wendy Dessy, Manager of Corporate Social Responsibility: What role does public service play in Proskauer’s summer program?

Caroline: Proskauer has a longstanding tradition of public service, and I’m proud to call it a big part of our summer program.  After Hurricane Katrina, we sent summer associates from every office to New Orleans to help with the clean-up. We worked with Habitat for Humanity to build houses for those who lost their homes. Proskauer has an office in New Orleans. It was very important for us to support our colleagues and their surrounding community during that critical time, and we went back to New Orleans for three years.  That is just my favorite example, but every year all of our summer associates are encouraged to get involved in some form of public service.

Wendy: Do you provide pro bono opportunities for summer associates?

Caroline: Pro bono is an important part of Proskauer’s culture. Summer associates have advocated for domestic violence survivors seeking orders of protection in New York City family courts alongside attorneys from Sanctuary for Families, and they have drafted petitions to seal the decades-old criminal records of low-income New Yorkers as a means of removing barriers to employment and housing. One summer associate teamed up with a Proskauer attorney to help an immigrant survivor of domestic violence petition for her child to obtain a visa in the hope of reuniting in the United States after three years of separation. Another summer associate assisted in drafting a film production contract for the Universal Hip Hop Museum.

Wendy: Having public service coordinated by the firm provides the summer associates an opportunity to give back while receiving public interest experience. This sounds like a wonderful opportunity.

Caroline: As summer associates, their roles on matters or cases can be somewhat limited given the short length of time they are here. Through discrete pro bono matters, we are able to provide them with an opportunity to take on a greater role.  For example, in New York Family Court, law students can appear in court as long as they are with a supervising attorney.  This results in a great experience and close client contact with a profound impact.

Wendy: Tell me your thoughts about public service. Why is it important to you?

Caroline: As a child of immigrants, I feel incredibly fortunate that my parents were able to provide me with access to the best educational institutions in the country.  Education is an equalizer, and I work hard both in and out of the office to inform and enrich others who are less fortunate. It is my responsibility to make sure others are given similar access to the education I had. This drives my passion for giving back.

Wendy: Was there a turning point for you where you knew you were going to dial up your involvement with something/someone?

Caroline: Several years ago, you brought in Deo Niyizonkiza, the founder of Village Health Works, and our client, Jeff Kaplan, from Deerfield Capital. Jeff spoke about his role as a partner at Deerfield and how as a member of the Executive Committee of The Deerfield Foundation he was able to connect his work to his passion for philanthropy and giving back to vulnerable populations. Supporting healthcare services to underserved children and funding other charitable healthcare research and development was a game-changer for him. After the presentation, I spoke with him and he challenged me to find my passion and make a difference. He made me promise to let him know once I figured out what I wanted to do and a few months later, I did.

Wendy: What has been your most meaningful pro bono or volunteer experience at the firm and why?

Caroline: My time has been split between two key areas: gun safety and education. Gun violence is at the center of so many problems in this country. I joined the group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and I feel deep pride and camaraderie when working with them to help establish common sense gun reforms. I also participate on many career panels hosted at the firm for teens and college students from low-income communities. As a child of immigrants, I did not always know the simple rules of etiquette needed for success. I enjoy sharing best practices for interviewing so that students are not considered ‘rough around the edges’ or ‘unpolished’ and they can operate on a level playing field.

Building a Team and a Home with Habitat

For those of you who have not had the experience, allow me to share with you the magic of doing a “build” with Habitat for Humanity.  First, while most everyone has heard of this organization, many may not fully understand what it does and how it works.  In short, Habitat is a non-profit that helps families and improves places to call home. But this includes more than simply building new residences (both homes and town-houses), but also helping renovate homes for the disabled and those in need.

The scope and benefits that Habitat provides extend beyond the family living in the houses served, and include improving the surrounding communities.  I have seen this firsthand as a member of the board for the local Habitat chapter here in Los Angeles.

Three years ago Habitat built houses in a distressed area of Long Beach. Having the new homes, and owners that took good care of them, has really turned around that community.  Not only did we build new homes in Long Beach, we also made cosmetic and capital improvements to others in the surrounding areas, in houses where the owner was disabled, senior, or otherwise unable to do the work. This area now has playgrounds, parks and a sense of community. Continue Reading

Law Professors Take on Flawed USCIS Policy

Yesterday, 23 law professors represented by Proskauer were granted permission to participate as amici curiae in a class action lawsuit contesting a recent U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) policy change affecting minors in New York who seek Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS).  This policy change has resulted in SIJS denials for immigrant children who would otherwise qualify for SIJS based on well-established state and federal law.

SIJS is a form of immigration relief that provides unmarried children under age 21 with a path to citizenship if they can provide a determination from a state juvenile court that they are dependent on the court or are committed by the court to the custody of a State entity or an individual; that reunification with one or both parents is not viable due to abuse, neglect, abandonment, or a similar basis under state law; and that it is not in their “best interest” to return to their country of origin. Continue Reading

Pro Bono for Immigrant Families: My Client’s Day in Court

It was unlike any courtroom I had seen before. The Immigration Judge appeared on a video screen a little blurry but larger than life. My client, an eight-year-old girl, sat next to me at a long table. This proceeding in Dilley, Texas was not open to the public but was held behind two locked doors in a trailer secured within a sprawling “family residential center” that despite its friendly name, had all the indicia of a jail.

This was an expedited removal proceeding, and I was appealing an asylum officer’s negative credible fear determination for my young client. Her mother’s appeal already had been denied so this was our last chance to prevent the two from being deported. Especially considering my client’s age, I wanted to marshal the evidence and explain why the legal standard had been met in this case. “May I be heard Your Honor?” I asked. “No, you may not,” he responded. The Judge asked my client a few questions with little follow-up and denied the appeal, wishing my client, “good luck in your home country.”  Continue Reading