Briana Carp has been CYD’s Director of Legal Information since 2010. Located onsite at Manhattan Comprehensive Night & Day High School, CYD’s Legal Information Clinic provides legal information and referrals to CYD students, focusing on immigration issues.
Supporting Immigrant students. Manhattan Comprehensive, where I am based, has about 500 immigrant students who are mostly over-age, 18 to 21. They come here from Central America, Haiti, West Africa, China, and the Caribbean. They might be living in NY with extended family, or with friends. A lot of them are here without adult support. Often they are reluctant to seek help, especially if they are undocumented, so I do a lot of outreach.
The Legal Information Clinic helps provide immigrant students with free, reliable information and referrals to pro bono attorneys to help them with legal issues, get their green cards or citizenship. Last year 335 students used CYD legal services. I’m an intermediary between the students and their lawyers. I help the students gather documentation, I track the cases, and I follow up if the case gets stuck. I’m there for the student if they start to feel defeated. I tell them to have faith and it will work out.
COVID has changed the rhythm of the work. Courts have slowed down during the pandemic; my cases are not moving as quickly, and I have new cases too, so my caseload is bigger. Besides the legal support, I have been trying to connect students with food and housing resources and helping them apply for unemployment benefits because of so much job loss. I’ve been supporting them on their iPads and getting online; it’s so important that they have access to be able to do their schoolwork. The Legal Information Clinic is remote now. I miss the in-person work, it was so nice for the students to just come in to my office.
Partnership is essential. I manage CYD’s partnerships with the legal providers, including our longstanding partners the Legal Aid Society and The Door. We connect the students to paralegals and lawyers who handle qualifying cases on a pro bono basis. We hold a monthly clinic onsite for immigrants with the Legal Aid Society, and we have held workshops: “know your employment rights” workshops, because immigrant workers are often exploited, and “know your rights at a protest” workshops, because many of our students joined protests this summer after the death of George Floyd. Mobilization for Justice is one of our newest partners.
Things became harder under the current administration. The changes in rules and administrative processes made it more difficult and confusing for both our students and lawyers. Our role throughout has been to provide frequent, consistent information updates about government policies to both students and their families in a range of languages.
One of our students was a plaintiff in a 2018 class action lawsuit filed by the Legal Aid Society because many young people were facing erroneous denials. She and her younger sister had suffered abuse which made them eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS); the sister’s case was approved while hers was denied. Legal Aid won their lawsuit, and our student’s case was finally approved in October 2019. It had taken 5 years for her to get her green card. Normally it takes around 6 to 12 months.
At stake for immigrant students is a successful life after high school, whether it includes college, training, or a non-exploitative job. Many colleges will accept students even if they don’t have a green card. But most of our students are low-income, and they struggle with the cost of college. If students are undocumented, they don’t qualify for federal financial aid. Since 2019 students can apply for financial aid in New York (called TAP) but they don’t get as much money as with federal assistance (FAFSA).
Best part about the work. I like working with the SIJS students, seeing the young people get their green cards and knowing that our intervention has made a difference. I speak French, so I use it with our French-speaking students from West Africa and Haiti, and other CYD staff speak other languages with our students. It’s important that immigrant students don’t feel so alone and that they know reliable help is at hand.
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