CAL’s Immigrant Justice Project
Our Immigrant Justice Project (IJP) zealously pursues post-conviction relief for noncitizen clients to advance their rights and protect them from the threat of immigration incarceration and deportation as a result of their criminal conviction. Federal immigration laws are severe, and they impose incarceration and deportation—often mandatory—even for low-level offenses and even for long-time lawful permanent residents of the United States. Such immigration impacts are often much more devastating to our clients and their families than the criminal case itself.
IJP analyzes the cases of all our noncitizen clients to determine the immigration consequences of their criminal conviction, and pursues the full range of post-conviction legal remedies available to them—whether on direct appeal of the criminal conviction or by bringing state law collateral proceedings—to protect our clients from those consequences wherever possible. We secure vacatur of convictions based on grounds of legal defect in the underlying conviction, reduced sentences where they make an immigration difference, and other immigrant-safe results for our clients.
With record deportations in recent years and a growing climate of heightened immigration enforcement, IJP’s work has become ever more critical in protecting immigrant rights, obtaining remedies against deportation, and preserving immigrant pathways to obtain or maintain lawful immigration status in the United States.
Ours is one of the largest post-conviction relief projects of its kind in the country. Some of our recent achievements:
- Ms. A., 67 years old and a lawful permanent resident for almost 50 years, was the exclusive and devoted caretaker of her profoundly disabled adult son, who had suffered a devastating stroke as a toddler on the journey to the United States. Abandoned by her husband, isolated by language and culture, and estranged from her family in her birth country, Ms. A marshalled all her inner resources and strength to successfully raise and care for her son. Their life together faced imminent threat, however, when Ms. A, after years of struggle, turned to drugs and was convicted in 2010 of a drug offense, triggering ICE involvement and mandatory deportation for her first and only contact with the criminal justice system. CAL’s work on Ms. A’s behalf eliminated the threat of mandatory deportation and allowed her to resume her life with her son without fear of exile.
- Joey came to the United States from the Caribbean when he was nine years old and has been undocumented since that time. He is considered a “DREAMER”—an individual brought to the United States at a young age through no will of his own, who grew up in the United States, and who knows no other country as home. In 2015, Joey applied for the federal government’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and authorization to work in the United States lawfully. However, because of a conviction for a violation of the New York State Public Health law that resulted from an arrest for “unlicensed pick-up of trash”—a conviction that resulted only in a $50 fine—Joey’s DACA application was denied. Through investigation and advocacy, IJP worked to vacate and dismiss Joey’s conviction. He has since reapplied for DACA and work authorization, and plans to work hard to save money so he can attend college in the future.
- Mr. C., an upstanding and deeply rooted member of his community here in New York, came to the United States more than thirty years ago, when he was eleven years old. Although all of his many immediate family members are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, Mr. C remained unable to obtain lawful immigration status and at risk of deportation, all because of two low-level summons convictions for unlawful possession of marijuana from the 1990s. IJP unearthed evidence that Mr. C had been deprived of his right to counsel in these cases and successfully moved to vacate his convictions. Mr. C may now become a lawful permanent resident and, eventually, a U.S. citizen.
- Santos is a young lawful permanent resident whose parents brought him to the U.S when he was only 14 years old. As a result of one 2011 misdemeanor conviction, he was placed in deportation proceedings, even though he had no additional contact with law enforcement after his conviction and had begun working hard to provide the sole support for his U.S. citizen mother. Through advocacy on direct appeal and via collateral attack, IJP successfully obtained the vacatur of Santos’ conviction and an immigration-safe disposition that will protect him from deportation and allow him to remain in the United States.
- Ms. M., a breast cancer survivor and mother and grandmother of U.S. citizens, has lived in the United States as a lawful permanent resident since the early 1960s. Trapped in an abusive marriage, Ms. M struggled with substance abuse and, during that turbulent period in her life, was convicted twice of shoplifting. After the second offense, she decided to turn her life around and did, and was drug-free for over eight years when ICE detained and brought removal charges against her, which threatened to devastate her and her family, and posed a serious risk to her health. IJP’s advocacy resulted in a disposition for Ms. M that will allow her to remain in the United States with her family.
IJP co-directors Robin Nickinsky and Marianne C. Yang coordinate the full range of CAL’s representation of noncitizen clients together with CAL’s Assistant Attorney-in-Charge Mark Zeno. Robin is a veteran appellate criminal defense lawyer with specialized knowledge in post-conviction relief practice for immigrants, having spearheaded CAL’s work in this area with Mark more than a decade ago. Marianne has more than fifteen years of experience in the field of immigrant rights, with specialized knowledge in the defense of immigrants who have been accused of crimes.