Family Violence Project to Expand Services to Immigrant Victims

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Albany Law School and the New York Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence recently launched the Immigration Project, which will offer legal services to domestic violence victims with unclear or undocumented immigration status.

Under the Immigration Project, law students of Albany Law’s existing and well-established Family Violence Litigation Clinic can address immigration issues for victims of domestic violence, in addition to the victim’s safety, custody and/or support matters in family court.

“For many years our students have been sworn in as legal interns, and under the supervision of a professor, represent victims of abuse. These victims are often women and children who face immigration issues, issues our students have not been able to address,” said Penelope (Penny) Andrews, President & Dean of Albany Law School. “Students enrolled in the clinic will now gain the unique skills to address the status issues of immigrant victims of domestic violence. Many of these graduates stay in the Capital Region to become family law attorneys, prosecutors and public defenders; they will better serve the region with the help of this program.”

“Although many immigrants face enormous legal problems based on the very fact that they are immigrants, there have been very few legal resources available to them, particularly if they are low income,” said Barbara Weiner, Senior Attorney, Empire Justice Center. “Legal services programs, the main source of legal assistance for low income families, face federal restrictions in the types of services they can provide to non citizens, particularly to immigrants whose status is an issue.  The expansion in services to immigrants that this Project will bring to the Capital Region will be an invaluable addition.” 

“The need for this kind of service is enormous and we look forward to referring immigrant victims of domestic violence in dire need of legal representation to Albany Law School’s Family Violence Litigation Clinic and Immigration Project,” said Lisa Frisch, Executive Director of The Legal Project.

Capital Region Immigration Collaborative, a group of immigration practitioners and advocates from around the Capital Region interested in expanding legal services to immigrant communities, housed within the Legal Project, will help refer clients for the new program. The groups already conducted a training this summer for immigration practitioners seeking to learn more about representing clients in citizenship and naturalization applications. With funds from the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, the law school will, with Legal Aid and the Empire Justice Center, conduct annual trainings for practicing attorneys interested in the intersection of family law and immigration.

“Family Court cases often involve immigration matters,” said Lillian Moy, Executive Director, Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York. “An undocumented immigrant woman seeking protection from domestic violence may have an application for an order of protection pending in family court at the same time that she is seeking her own basis for permanent immigration status independent of her abuser, which often requires complex application processes before the United States Department of Homeland Security. Undocumented immigration status presents unique barriers to seeking safety from the abuser.  Now these victims will be able to receive comprehensive legal assistance.”