Press Release

Wilson Elser Partners with Safe Passage to Help Children of the Immigration Crisis

Twelve offices participate in CLE training to represent immigrant children

NEW YORK (October 8, 2014) – National law firm Wilson Elser and the firm’s Pro Bono Committee have partnered with the Safe Passage Project to assist in providing legal counsel to the thousands of unrepresented, unaccompanied immigrant children who are crossing the border into the United States everyday from Central America, some as young as 4 years of age.

“Wilson Elser is committed to helping these innocent, scared children who have no legal right to counsel, by devoting our time and talent to insure their individual stories are explained and advocated in their best interest,” shared Carolyn O’Connor, regional managing partner of Wilson Elser’s New Jersey office and chair of the firm’s national Pro Bono Committee.

Founded in 2008, the Safe Passage Project is a nonprofit organization created to address the unmet legal needs of indigent immigrant youth living in New York, by providing them with basic advice and assistance. The group works with volunteer attorneys to provide representation for unaccompanied minors in immigration court.

“This problem has grown to epidemic proportions and is continuing to escalate,” shared Joseph Francoeur, the New York City-based partner who is spearheading the partnership with Safe Passage. “While the American legal system provides representation for criminals as a mandate of justice, federal immigration policy has not followed suit, leaving imprisoned children held without access to an attorney.”

On Friday, September 19, 2014, Safe Passage held its first training for Wilson Elser attorneys live in New York City and via webcast across the country to 11 other offices. More than 130 attorneys participated in the two-hour session that has prepared them to represent children before the immigration court, which requires no special admission.

According to Mr. Francoeur, Safe Passage has already started assigning matters to Wilson Elser attorneys.

In addition to training, the Safe Passage Project provides resources and mentoring to volunteer attorneys regarding Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status as well as other possible immigration alternatives for children.

Committed to pro bono service, Wilson Elser encourages its attorneys and legal professionals to help those who are less fortunate and cannot afford legal counsel. To facilitate this service, with the input from attorneys in each of the firm’s 26 U.S. offices, the Pro Bono Committee has compiled a comprehensive Pro Bono Resource Center, which includes pre-approved pro bono organizations with which attorneys can volunteer.  In addition to the Safe Passage Project, these include: KIND, AIDS Legal Referral Panel; Partners for Women and Justice; and Homeless Person’s Representation Project, among many others including Legal Aid Centers across the country.

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