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May Volunteer Feature: The City Bar Justice Center Honors the Founding Firms of the Varick Street Know Your Rights Immigration Project

Recently re-opened, the 250 bed Varick Street Detention Center is a short-term INS facility in downtown Manhattan. Detainees spend a short time at the Varick Street facility ("Varick Street") before being transferred to more remote locations in the U.S., and many face the risk of permanent removal from the country, even when they are the breadwinner for U.S. citizen family members.

Because there is still no right to counsel for immigrants in U.S. detention facilities, and concerned that Varick Street detainees are quickly moved to areas of the country where there is even less access to counsel, The City Bar Justice Center, in collaboration with the Pro Bono Committee of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) New York Chapter and the Legal Aid Society, launched the "NYC Know Your Rights" project at Varick Street.

The project provides access to legal advice and information for detainees by recruiting and training private law firm volunteers to staff a weekly legal clinic at the facility. The first training of 42 attorneys was held in December, with pilot clinics in the following weeks.

Crucial to the launch and continued success of the Project are six firms who deserve recognition for their extraordinary efforts.
The Project's initial training attended by members of the six founding firms. These are: Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy, LLP; Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP; Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP; Seward & Kissel LLP; McKee Nelson; and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP.

"We've learned that Wall Street lawyers, with modest training and mentoring from an immigration expert, can absolutely do this work," said Lynn M. Kelly, Executive Director of the City Bar Justice Center. She added "There is a tremendous need for lawyers to volunteer to counsel detainees at Varick Street because many are being shipped to other facilities with even less access to attorneys. They need to know if they should be fighting to stay or if they have no valid legal claim."

A question crucial to the long-term viability of the Project was just how many detainees would have possible claims to relief. The pilot showed that as many as 38% of those detainees interviewed did have possible claims, making their access to counsel even more important. "While many seem to have no hope, we were able to screen and identify many with legitimate claims who would have nowhere to turn without us," said Rene Kathawala, Pro Bono Coordinator of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, one of the Project's founding firms.

Because of these promising statistics, the Project has held another training, and new firms are getting involved. The City Bar Justice Center is indebted to the original six firms, however, whose courage and commitment laid the groundwork for this expansion.

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