The Proskauer corporate social responsibility and pro bono blog

Educational Institutions Take on ICE Directive Targeting International Students

On July 13, 2020, Proskauer filed an amicus brief on behalf of 15 educational institutions in support of a preliminary injunction sought by Harvard University and MIT in the District of Massachusetts against enforcement of a new policy directive by the U.S. Immigrations and Custom Enforcement agency (ICE). The ICE directive seeks to make the availability of international study in the United States dependent upon whether international students attend class in person notwithstanding the worldwide pandemic.


ICE issued the directive on June 6, 2020, requiring international students enrolled in U.S. schools for fall 2020 on F-1 visas to attend in-person courses at their schools if they wished to retain their visa. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the directive demands that such international students either transfer to a school with physical instruction (even while many schools have made the public health decision to offer online courses only) and subject themselves, school faculty, staff, and other students, to an increased risk of illness – or be forced to leave the country. The directive also requires schools, who relied on earlier guidance from ICE that such international students may attend online classes and retain their F-1 visa status, to redesign their educational plans and practices for the coming school year in a matter of weeks, when the process ordinarily takes months. Academic institutions across the country immediately responded to ICE’s directive, voicing strong opposition – in fact, two days later, Harvard and MIT filed a lawsuit against ICE and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in the District of Massachusetts seeking a preliminary injunction against the directive.

The directive is an arbitrary and capricious change in policy. In March 2020, given COVID-19, ICE exempted international students with F-1 visas from course requirements that required them to attend in person. This exemption was to remain in effect “for the duration of the emergency.” In reliance on this exemption, institutions expected that they would have enough time to create a plan for the academic year 2020-2021 without the fear of losing students. If the directive goes forward, that would no longer be the case.

Our Amicus Brief

The filing of this amicus brief comes at a crucial time, as the directive requires schools to submit an “operational change plan” explaining the format in which they intend to teach students in the upcoming semester in a matter of weeks – a process that ordinarily takes months, even when the country is not in the middle of a public health emergency.

The Proskauer brief emphasizes this unreasonable expectation, as well as ICE’s failure to abide by procedure or to provide any explanation for the change in its policy, as it is required to do. Importantly, Proskauer points out that the directive improperly dictates education policy and puts international students at unnecessary additional risk of exposure to COVID-19 while completely disregarding any alternatives even for immunocompromised students.  The brief also underscores the significant harm the directive will have on those students whose home countries have closed their borders, leaving the students effectively displaced.

Proskauer filed the brief on behalf of a number of educational institutions, including New York University, University of Rochester, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Glendale Community College, Cabrillo College, The Catholic University of America, San Diego Community College District, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science & Art, Rider University, Santa Rosa Junior College, The Art Center College of Design, The Coast Community College District, The South California Institute of Architecture, The South Orange County Community College District, and the Manhattan School of Music.

The Proskauer team, which was led by Joseph O’Keefe, included myself (Om V. Alladi), Will Dalsen, and Hena Vora.

Celebrating Diversity and Inclusion with Adopt-A-School Students

Last month, we concluded the sixth year of our Adopt-a-School program, Proskauer’s signature education initiative that provides career and college readiness to high-achieving, low-income high school students across the country, with a panel discussion focusing on diversity and inclusion in college and the workplace. We planned carefully to facilitate a remote session with the same level of educational, interactive conversation that drives our in-person monthly workshops. We gathered around our computers at home for our first-ever virtual meeting with the students who were finishing up their junior year at our five partner high schools. Even with the challenge of connecting remotely, our final session brought us together beyond what we could imagine.

Our discussion featured panelists with various job roles across the Firm, all from diverse backgrounds: manager of client operations Gil Desroches, associate Winnie Ma, manager of diversity and inclusion Courtney Paul, associate Hena Vora and associate Bryant Wright, moderated by associate director of CSR Wendy Dessy. The panel discussion centered on the topic of diversity and inclusion at college and in the workplace, providing the students with a thought-provoking conversation at what seemed to be exactly the right time. Continue Reading

UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention Declares Detention of Sri Lankan Author Violated International Law

Working alongside Freedom Now, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advocacy for prisoners of conscience around the world, Proskauer obtained a victory before the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (the “Working Group”) for our client, Shakthika Sathkumara, an award-winning author who had been detained by Sri Lankan authorities for the publication of a fictional short story.

Our petition to the Working Group alleged that Mr. Sathkumara’s detention was arbitrary and therefore impermissible under international law. As such, we requested that the Working Group direct the Sri Lankan government to cease its prosecution of Mr. Sathkumara’s case and end all restrictions imposed upon Mr. Sathkumara’s freedom of movement. Continue Reading

Pro Bono Spotlight: Shanice Smith-Banks

Earlier this month, justices of the Louisiana Supreme Court took their places one at a time as the proceedings began, just like they have done over the past 200 years, but this court appearance was a little different.  For the first time in its history, the Court heard arguments over Zoom.  And while many seasoned litigators go their entire careers without a single argument before their state’s highest court, first up that day was Shanice Smith-Banks who had just graduated from law school, and who will be starting her career at Proskauer’s New Orleans office in the fall.

Shanice credits the criminal defense clinic at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law with teaching her more than any other class.  Not only did she read cases but she analyzed legal issues while working directly with and advocating for clients.  She wrote briefs, mastered all kinds of procedures and rules, and appeared in court on a number of different matters.  Not only did she gain valuable hands-on experience, but she was able to learn about the criminal justice system up close, observing that defendants in criminal court were disproportionately black and how public defenders were forced to juggle overwhelming caseloads.  But even as she was struck by deep flaws in the system, she left the clinic experience with hope. Continue Reading

Proskauer Helps Small Businesses Navigate Labor & Employment Law Issues through COVID-19 Crisis

Through Proskauer’s partnership with the City Bar Justice Center and Lawyers for Good Government, we helped launch the nationwide COVID-19 Small Business Remote Legal Clinic to consult with small businesses across a range of pressing issues: contracts & force majeure, leases, insurance, and, of course, the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program. One of the most active areas for the legal clinic has been labor & employment issues as entrepreneurs fight to keep their employees, balance their checkbooks, and abide by laws that seem to change by the week.

To train other participating firms and volunteers, a Proskauer team consisting of labor & employment partners Lloyd Chinn, Patrick Lamparello, and Nicole Eichberger and associates Caralyn Olie and Dominique Kilmartin, produced a webinar on the most important labor and employment law considerations for New York small businesses. Continue Reading

“Read Ahead” Responds to School Closures, Thousands of Students Left in Need

On March 15, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city’s public schools would close in response to the evolving COVID-19 pandemic. Overnight, more than 1,700 schools and over one million students and their families shifted to remote-learning curriculums. Since then, all NYC public schools have closed for the remainder of the academic year. For some families, the shift has been manageable, but for many others, it’s impractical. Without the technology needed for remote-learning, thousands of students remain isolated from their teachers and classmates. Recent reporting states that roughly 16% of NYC students lack daily communication with their schools. The Department of Education has committed to providing internet-connected tablets to families in need, a number that by late-April surpassed more than 70,000 students.

To support families in these difficult times, many local non-profit organizations have refocused their efforts to track students’ needs and provide the necessary resources. Read Ahead, one of Proskauer’s longtime non-profit partners, is one such organization. For nearly 30 years, Read Ahead (formerly Everyone Wins! New York) has connected adult reading mentors with children in public elementary schools once per week during their lunch hours. As a member of their Junior Board, I am pleased to share a few of their updates. Continue Reading