New actions on the part of the federal government have had a profound effect on the lives of millions of immigrants, many undocumented. Reports of increased immigration enforcement tactics and rumors of changes in eligibility and requirements for affirmative applications have resulted in a dramatic increase in calls to NYLAG from community partners and panicked immigrants seeking legal services to understand their rights, determine whether they have a viable path to status, and plan for the safety of their families.

In response, beginning early in 2017, NYLAG expanded and enhanced its capacity to provide advice, consultation and direct representation. The agency also increased the number of Know Your Rights trainings and legal clinics it conducts to reach even the most insular immigrant communities. They are planned in collaboration with community groups and city agencies and held in trusted locations such as hospitals, schools and community centers, where immigrants feel safe.

Last July, thanks to a grant from the Fund for New Citizens in The New York Community Trust, NYLAG launched a unique project specifically designed to reach English Language Learners (ELL) and foreign-born students and their families. The program, which combines Know Your Rights workshops with immigration clinics and forums, was developed in partnership with District 79, New York City Department of Education’s Alternative Schools and Programs.

District 79 provides specialized educational options for youth under 21 years of age in six alternative school programs citywide, serving high school equivalency and career and technical education students, court-involved or incarcerated youth, teen parents, students with disabilities, transfer students, and a growing number of immigrant and English language learners. More than half of its students are enrolled in Pathways to Graduation (P2G), a free, full-time, citywide high school equivalency program for students 18-21.

P2G operates in over 70 sites serving more than 3,000 students every day, with classrooms integrated into traditional high schools, community centers, college campuses, and hospitals in all five boroughs. Over 40% of P2G students are immigrants, coming from 59 different home countries, with more than 30% designated as ELL. Approximately 20% of these students were new arrivals to the United States, and many arrived here unaccompanied and undocumented.

District 79 provides newcomer students with a host of opportunities in a supportive academic and social environment. Services include high school equivalency preparation, English as a New Language classes, Spanish-English bilingual instruction, college and career planning, free childcare and early education services, paid internships, post-secondary opportunities, and integrated immigrant services through partner providers.

“We have collaborated with P2G for the last several years on immigration initiatives, so we knew that they would be the ideal partner to reach the largest ELL and foreign-born populations possible—and that’s exactly what happened,” said Alisia Cordero, Grants Supervisor with NYLAG’s Immigrant Protection Unit. “With one more KYR clinic still to come, we have already reached over 4,000 District 79 students and family members – and provided direct legal services to hundreds more.”

NYLAG and P2G have worked together since 2015 at large-scale clinics known as Keys to the City, a New York City Council-sponsored collaboration that provides critical services to immigrants throughout the five boroughs, including consular, social, and legal services. The new P2G clinics follow that model but are designed to be flexible so that each clinic can be tailored to the needs and demographics of individual District 79 schools.

The clinics have provided students and their families with information they need to know to remain safe. This includes what to do if confronted by ICE, how to understand the executive orders that have recently been signed by the President, how to avoid immigration fraud, and how to plan for the safety of children in the event of the detention of a parent. NYLAG also distributed a NYLAG-designed wallet-sized KYR pocket flyer, available in multiple languages, for immigrants to keep with them at all times to ensure that they have important information and contact numbers.

“NYLAG staff has shown incredible compassion toward our immigrant students during the KYR sessions, and the effectiveness of their approach was evidenced by the high level of student– and staff, engagement in role plays and discussion,” said Sarah Cacicio, Advocacy Manager for English Language Learners, District 79. “The KYR sessions also provided District 79 with an opportunity to engage immigrant parents and families and distribute critical information they might not otherwise be able to access.”