A Dream Turned Reality: Mother Overcomes Struggles Faced by Homeless, Undocumented Immigrants in NYC
by Cheryl Lopez February 21, 2020
The City Bar Justice Center’s (CBJC) projects often join forces to help clients in need. The Legal Clinic for the Homeless (LCH) and the Immigrant Justice Project (IJP) worked together to assist Ellen A.S., a single mother searching for essential resources for the well-being and survival of her family. Further, they supported their client on the journey from living as a homeless, undocumented immigrant in NYC to obtaining U.S. citizenship.
In 2012 Ellen sought help at an LCH legal clinic that was designed to provide clients with information and advice on public benefits. The legal clinic was held at the Children’s Rescue Fund House East, a shelter for homeless families, and staffed by volunteer attorneys, including Adam O’Brian, an attorney from Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP. Upon realizing the client had a range of legal issues that required immediate attention, Lisa Pearlstein, the Director of the Legal Clinic for the Homeless, remained in contact with Ellen to help her and her child secure public benefits they were entitled to including access to housing and assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Later that year, IJP mentored Mr. O’Brian in a separate legal matter concerning the client’s immigration status. He assisted Ellen with preparing a VAWA (Violence Against Women Act VAWA) petition to obtain a green card which enabled her to apply for citizenship a few years later. During this time, the volunteer also helped Ellen obtain a work permit and as a result, she was able to secure lawful employment.
“Because of my situation, I was heartbroken and hopeless, but working with City Bar Justice Center was a great opportunity that gave me strength and courage for a new vision.”
Ellen overcame significant struggles and was persistent in seeking services and support for her family. When asked about his impression of the client, Adam said, “She is very humble, but was incredibly organized and on top of the matter. In fact, she did a lot of the work on her own”. Despite the many challenges she faced, Adam said she showed great resiliency. Ellen, also recounts a positive experience, “Adam was an attorney who listened to my questions and concerns and always got back to me with helpful thoughts and answers.” She expressed sincere gratitude and thanked Adam and Lisa for their hard work and dedication. Ellen recalls, “Because of my situation, I was heartbroken and hopeless, but working with City Bar Justice Center was a great opportunity that gave me strength and courage for a new vision.”
“I think Ellen’s case demonstrates the benefit of pro bono work. Her story, in one sense, is the American story; she came here and through hard work is doing very well. If I, and the City Bar Justice Center, provided a little bit of help along the way, it’s great to be a part of that.”
Since our initial contact with Ellen, she and her family have obtained housing, employment, and access to benefits for essential needs with the support of the CBJC. The client recently reached out to the CBJC with fantastic news and we are happy to announce she confirmed she is now a U.S. citizen, reaching yet another significant milestone! Stories like these power our work which is founded on a mission to increase access to justice for underserved community members in New York City. It also inspires the pro bono community to continue engaging in public service work to serve clients in need of essential, and often life-changing, legal services and counsel. Adam stated, “I think Ellen’s case demonstrates the benefit of pro bono work. Her story, in one sense, is the American story; she came here and through hard work is doing very well. If I, and the City Bar Justice Center, provided a little bit of help along the way, it’s great to be a part of that.”
Cheryl Lopez is the Communications & Development Manager for the City Bar Justice Center.
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