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Pro Bono Work

Pro Bono Immigration Help

Pro Bono Representation for Immigrants in New York

Bretz & Coven is committed to helping the poor and indigent in instances which we believe we can make a difference on a compelling legal issue.

We are very proud of our track record providing pro bono representation for immigrants in New York, New Jersey, and other areas and welcome the opportunity to learn more about instances in which we may provide pro bono immigration help to sympathetic individuals and families.

Language is not a barrier to the pro bono services we offer. Our staff speaks more than 20 languages. Below are pro bono cases we have accepted:

LAWFUL RESIDENT’S CASE IS REMANDED BACK TO IMMIGRATION COURT BEFORE A NEW JUDGE BASED ON PRIOR JUDGE’S MISCONDUCT AND BIAS

The following paragraph is a reprint of an article from Bender’s Immigration Bulletin. For the sake of confidentiality, the client’s name is not disclosed and a link to a redacted copy of the decision is provided.

"On appeal, the respondent requests a remand for a hearing on the merits of his application for relief and seeks reassignment of his case to a different Immigration Judge because of alleged bias and prejudice by the Immigration Judge [IJ Alan A. Vomacka] below. ... In accordance with the requests of the parties, we will remand the record for further proceedings with respect to the respondent's application for a waiver under section 212(c) of the Act. Although we do not determine if the Immigration Judge acted improperly in proceedings below, we deem it appropriate, under the totality of the circumstances, to remand this matter to a different Immigration Judge, particularly given that the allegations of bias and prejudice are coupled with concerns raised regarding the respondent's mental competency. Thus, in an abundance of caution, and to avoid the potential for any apparent prejudice involving the adjudication of the respondent's application for relief, we will order that further proceedings in this matter be conducted by a different Immigration Judge on remand." - Matter of X-, Oct. 12, 2012. [Hats off to Bretz & Coven associate Brian Wolf! Senior Partner Kerry Bretz adds: "Basically, this long time LPR who is eligible for 212(c) relief has a long and tortured immigration history including going to the feds twice. He was unprepared and uncooperative for his final hearing where Brian wanted to put on some evidence of diminished mental capacity. IJ Vomacka, in his usual rant and superior attitude, belittled Brian, the client and his adult daughter, and pretermitted the 212(c) application. Brian relied on Matter of M-A-M-, 25 I&N Dec. 474 (BIA 2011) and despite Vomacka’s controlling style, made a good record for appeal. The BIA fails to fully acknowledge Vomacka’s misconduct and bias, but states “in the totality of circumstances” and “in an abundance of caution” it will remand for a 212(c) hearing before a new IJ. The firm represented the client pro bono. Our formal complaint with EOIR has been pending since this hearing in June 2011."

Haitian National and Lebanese Couple Fight Immigration Rulings and Win

On July 7, 2011, Bretz & Coven announced major successes in two pro bono cases. In one case, a Haitian national finally took the oath to become a United States citizen on July 1, 2011, after Bretz & Coven succeeded in reopening and terminating his deportation proceedings. The other case involves Lebanese parents with a young son suffering from a rare, life-threatening disease. With medicine for the child only available in the U.S., the family could not return to Lebanon when a deportation order was issued. Bretz & Coven filed a request for deferred action for the family that was granted for a two-year period.
See: Two successful pro bono immigration cases

Korean Family Facing Deportation Before the Immigration Court in New York City

Bretz & Coven, LLP, represented a Korean family facing deportation to South Korea before the Immigration Court in New York City. Their plight presents a very compelling story and highlights problems in immigrant communities and harsh reality of our immigration system. The family consists of a Korean couple, Mr. Lee and Mrs. Lee-Choi and their three minor children. The husband is a lawful permanent resident and the youngest child, a five-year-old son, is a natural-born U.S. citizen. The mother and the two daughters have been placed in removal proceedings after the USCIS denied their adjustment of status applications that were filed as derivatives on the husbands, on a technical ground that the previous immigrant visa petition separately filed by the wife through an immigration broker does not protect her and the two minor daughters to benefit under Section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act because no supporting documents had been filed with the petition.

The older daughter is an outstanding high school student who won an essay contest sponsored by the Harvard Education Review. Ironically, her topic of choice was Dream Act, and her essay was scheduled to be published in the Harvard Education Review's summer edition. The younger daughter suffers from severe physical and mental disabilities associated with Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, severe form of epilepsy that has no cure, which she had since her birth. According to her doctor, she has the most severe form of this condition with mental age of one. She needs her mother’s constant care and her physical condition prevents her from air travel. The father has a serious heart condition and had a special device implanted in his heart to prevent cardiac arrest. Deportation of the mother and the two minor daughters would not only separate this loving family but also would bring about severe physical and mental hardship upon the entire family, especially the younger daughter.

Bretz & Coven, LLP, agreed to represent this family pro bono based on their exceptionally compelling situation. The family has been gaining extraordinary support from the Korean American community in the greater New York area and has been gaining extensive press coverage.

Sierra Leone Amputee-Refugees

Bretz & Coven represented seven children and four adult victims of forced amputations from Sierra Leone in connection with applications for asylum in the United States.

The victims’ trip to the United States was initiated by Matthew Mirones of Brooklyn prosthetic manufacturer, ARIMED. Doctors and therapists at Staten Island University Hospital volunteered medical services. The Rotary Clubs of Staten Island and Brooklyn arranged for room, board, and local transportation for the amputees.

A fundraiser for the asylees attracted almost 1,000 people, including Senator Hilary Rodham Clinton, former President Wm. Jefferson Clinton, and Senator Charles Schumer. The asylees went on to speak before the United States Congress and the United Nations.
See: New Lives for Young Horror Victims by Albor Ruiz, NY Daily News

Detained Cuban National

Bretz & Coven represented a Cuban national who had been detained without bond by the INS for over two years, even though he couldn’t be deported to Cuba. Our attorneys argued that mandatory detention is unconstitutional as a violation of both substantive and procedural due process.

The court ordered a bond hearing before an immigration judge, and the client was released.
See: Puig v. McElroy, 97 Civ. 4411 (SHS) (LB) (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 8, 1998).

Sri Lankan Mother & Son Separated

Bretz & Coven provided pro bono immigration help to a Sri Lankan woman and her 13-year-old son detained while they were seeking asylum.

Our attorneys challenged her and her son’s detention in federal court, so that both were eventually released and granted asylum.
See: Inconsistency at I.N.S. Complicates Refugees’ Asylum Quest by Mirta Ojito, New York Times

Single Mother & Daughter Detained in Separate States

Bretz & Coven represented a single mother and her seven-year-old daughter detained in separate states because of the mother’s criminal history. Our attorneys argued her eligibility for withholding of removal. The case was granted, and both mother and daughter were released from INS custody.

Lawful Resident Charged Removable Over 25-Year-Old Misdemeanor

Bretz & Coven represented a long-time, lawful permanent resident who the INS detained for over seven months and tried to deport because of a 25-year-old misdemeanor conviction. We argued the conviction was not an inadmissible offense, and the immigration judge terminated proceedings with prejudice.
The client is presently a U.S. citizen.
See: Immigrant Fights Off His Deportation by Mirta Ojito, New York Times

Lawful Residents Subject to Retroactive Death Penalty Act

Bretz & Coven represented several lawful permanent residents who challenged the retroactive application of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, reversing the decision of the Attorney General.
See: Henderson V. INS, 157 F.3d 106 (2d Cir. 1998)

Wrongful Detainee Attempts Suicide, Still Detained

Bretz & Coven represented a young lady from Jamaica who was placed in exclusion proceedings because of her criminal history and who attempted suicide being detained without bond.

Our attorneys argued the case that has become one of the most cited cases nationally for the proposition that mandatory detention is unconstitutional. We saw the court admonish the INS in this case for failing to follow the “spirit” of its orders in its treatment of this young woman and finally, the Board of Immigration Appeals sustained our appeal of the exclusion because the young woman was only 17 at the time of her arrest.

A claim of abuse, mistreatment, and medical malpractice related to her treatment was settled for a monetary amount.
See: St. John v. McElroy, Dkt. No. 95 Civ. 9810 (KMW), 1996 WL 49956 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 6, 1996)
St. John v McElroy, 917 F.Supp. 243 (S.D.N.Y. 1996)

Pro-Bono Service for Haitians Seeking Temporary Protected Status

The tragic earthquake in Haiti created a compelling legal issue for many Haitian nationals in the United States. Accordingly, Bretz & Coven was pleased and proud to have offered offer "pro bono" legal services to Haitian nationals who applied for Temporary Protected Status.

The vast devastation caused by the earthquake continues to make returning to Haiti impractical for the near future. After the tragedy occurred, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced the designation of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitian nationals  in the United States as of January 12, 2010. This designation allowed eligible Haitian nationals to continue living in the United States for the next 18 months. It also entitled them to work authorization so that they could work legally. This past May, there was an announcement in the Federal Register about the opening of a “90-day re-registration period (May 23, 2011 through August 22, 2011) for individuals who were granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) under the original designation of Haiti for TPS and whose initial TPS applications were approved on or before May 19, 2011. TPS beneficiaries were able to re-register under an 18-month extension of TPS for Haiti. New employment authorization documents (EADs) with a January 22, 2013 expiration date are being issued to eligible TPS beneficiaries who timely reregister and apply for EADs.”

It is reported that this special status would cover Haitians living in the United States illegally as well as those Haitians who have been ordered deported. However, anyone who has been convicted of one felony or more than one misdemeanor may be ineligible for this status under the TPS regulations. In contrast, convictions for most minor traffic violations have no effect on one’s eligibility. The Department of Homeland Security encourages Haitians in the U.S.,  eligible, to apply for TPS. Considering the above, Bretz & Coven is committed to offering pro bono assistance to eligible Haitian nationals seeking to apply for such status. This pro bono policy is in keeping with our long history of trying to make a difference for non-citizens in the United States.

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Bretz & Coven, LLP
305 Broadway, Suite 100
New York, New York,, 10007-1109 USA
1 (212) 267-2555