Episode 05: The NYU Immigrant Defense Initiative
Frances Dávila received her J.D. from New York University School of Law and her Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service from Georgetown University. After graduating from college, she taught ESL and developed college access initiatives for undocumented youth. Frances has interned at Atlas: DIY, the Immigration Unit at Brooklyn Defender Services, The Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, and The Defender Association in Seattle. As a law student, she co-founded the NYU Law Immigrant Rights Project and was a Student Advocate in the Immigrant Rights Clinic for two years. After law school, she was an Immigrant Justice Corps Fellow at The Bronx Defenders, defending immigrants in detention. She is the current Staff Attorney of the NYU Immigrant Defense Initiative.
Intro Voices [00:00:05] Where do I go? It only happened once. I think I was singled out. The phone calls began about one month ago. What is hazing? Something happened to me when I was younger. I'm worried about my safety. He said he was sorry. Can someone help me? Where can I get help? Can someone help me?
Intro Voices [00:00:31] This is “You Matter” a podcast for the NYU community developed by the Department of Public Safety.
Karen Ortman [00:00:36] Hi everyone and welcome back to You Matter. A podcast created to teach inspire and motivate members of the NYU community who have been victimized in some form or fashion and to identify resources both on and off campus that can help. I am your co-host Karen Ortman, Assistant Vice President of Field Operations at the Department of Public Safety and a retired law enforcement professional. Also with me today is our therapy puppy in training Archie, so if anybody hears a collar clanging in the background I want you to know that it's our puppy Archie. So welcome Archie.
Sabah Fatima [00:01:14] And I am Sabah Fatima a pre-med graduate student here at NYU College of Global Public Health. If any information presented today is triggering or disturbing, please feel free to contact the Wellness Exchange at 212-443-9999.
Karen Ortman [00:01:29] Today we're happy to introduce Frances Davila, staff attorney for the NYU Immigrant Defense Initiative. Frances, thank you so much for joining us today on You Matter and sharing the important work that you do.
Frances Davila [00:01:45] Thank you for having me.
Karen Ortman [00:01:47] What is the NYU Immigrant Defense Initiative, why was it created and when?
Frances Davila [00:01:52] The NYU Immigrant Defense Initiative was created a couple of years ago in 2017 as a response to President Trump's change in immigration policies that dramatically affected many students and employees at NYU. The initiative is here to serve NYU students and employees across all departments and graduate programs, undergraduate programs and their immediate family members, and we provide free legal consultations or representation in immigration cases.
Karen Ortman [00:02:25] So do you provide services to members outside of the NYU community as well, or is it exclusive to NYU?
Frances Davila [00:02:31] We do provide services outside of NYU if it's an immediate family member of someone affiliated with NYU. So if it's like a parent of a student who is not a student here as well we help them. And at this moment we're still helping NYU alumni also.
Karen Ortman [00:02:44] OK so there has to be an NYU affiliation. What legal services does the Immigrant Defense Initiative offer and to whom which I presume would be any NYU affiliate?
Frances Davila [00:02:57] Yes. So any NYU student or employee that has an immigration issue so whether it's someone who's traveling to a country that was affected by the travel ban primarily from countries from Muslim majority nations and they might have concerns returning to the U.S. and other situations are people who have family members who can petition for them to get a green card. You know if someone gets married to a U.S. citizen or someone who has a green card which is lawful permanent residency and they want to get a green card as well they can come and meet with me. If you have a recent contact with the criminal system let's say an arrest or you have a criminal record, I'm there to sort of provide some guidance as to whether that arrest or conviction can have immigration consequences. And if you also find yourself you or a family member who is detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and are now placed in immigration court proceedings we can also support you in that. And another service is primarily just connecting students and employees to resources like financial aid or mental health counseling. A lot of students that I've met with might be going through something very traumatic with the immigration case and they need counseling and wellness supports. I kind of there to help them identify those resources on and off campus.
Karen Ortman [00:04:25] And that's the wellness exchange, our wellness exchange that you’re referring to?
Frances Davila [00:04:36] Yes. And also helping people renew their DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, so this is a form of immigration relief in the sense that it doesn't provide legal status but to give someone access to a work permit and quote unquote protects them from deportation. Right now under the Trump administration it's just the renewals they're not taking initial applications, but I'm here to support them in that as well.
Karen Ortman [00:05:08] Wow. So who exactly is providing all of these services?
Frances Davila [00:05:13] Yes. So after President Trump decided to terminate the DACA program and the temporary protected status program which is a form of relief also for people who've been from certain countries where there is usually some sort of natural disaster or war and they're able to stay here with a work permit. And have some lawful status and the Muslim travel ban. The NYU universe, like the university as a whole recognized that so many students were now at risk of possibly losing their this future possibility of working and applying their degree. And employees also who are working and now can't get this form of relief and so Alina Doss who's connected with the program and is really the mastermind behind the program as well as Nancy Morowitz and Noelia Rodriguez. They created this sort of rapid response to these policies being terminated and through the NYU Law Immigrant Rights Clinic. And so in the first year, it was primarily law students who were helping people with their cases, and a year after they hired the first staff attorney and I started a year ago with the program. So, it's a partnership between the law school and the university at large.
Sabah Fatima [00:06:49] How does the program work exactly.
Frances Davila [00:06:53] Yes. So there's many forms you can come in contact with the Immigrant Defense Initiative. One is by simply e-mailing us right firstname.lastname@example.org, or going through our Web site. If you just google NYU Immigrant Defense Initiative you'll find our Web site and you can just email us or call us to set up a legal consult and you most likely will be able to meet with someone within a couple of weeks or so and you'll be meeting with me. And so what happens is you know you come in with me and we sort of go through the situation, and then I sort of screen you for other types of relief that you might qualify for. If we identify something that we can file or if you're in court and you need representation, I basically just take your case and help you with that. Other times I've had professors refer students to me you know a student might have talked to a professor about their situation and then now they know that IDI is here and also through the Office of Global Services since they primarily handle a lot of international student issues. There's a referral process where they have they've been trained as to what types of cases I can help students with and they refer them to me as well.
Karen Ortman [00:08:16] Is there ever an emergent sort of situation I heard you say that if somebody reaches out there could be like a several week turnaround time. Is there ever an occasion where the situation is emergent and a response is needed sooner than in a few weeks and if so what does that look like?
Frances Davila [00:08:34] Yeah there's several there's been a couple situations where in one specific incident someone had had contact with the criminal with like NYPD and they had a criminal court date coming up within a couple of weeks. And so, I'm consistently checking to see like who's contacting the Immigrant Defense Initiative and if there is an emergency where they need a response within 24 hours, if I can't meet with them I’ll at least get on the phone with them and figure out what I can do. And in another situation a student's father was being put on a plane that same day, and so within four hours we were in immigration court, and then also in federal court trying to file something called like a habeas corpus petition to stop the person’s deportation because immigration is so complicated and it's very factually base, it's extremely important to contact IDI as soon as you think that there even might be a situation like an emergency because things can change so much and sometimes even if I can provide some sort of guidance in that moment, I can't fully give you like the best legal advice without knowing the whole situation.
Karen Ortman [00:10:00] All right. Is there a phone number like an emergency phone number that people can call?
Frances Davila [00:10:06] Yeah. Yeah. So they can call my number 212-998-6435, and also the email email@example.com, those I'm literally checking every minute around the clock. Even like after hours so that I'm just aware of what's happening.
Sabah Fatima [00:10:28] What's the cost of the service provided by IDI?
Frances Davila [00:10:31] It's free. All of it's free. The only thing you would be paying for are the actual immigration applications. So, the fees that are associated with getting a green card or filing for naturalization. Even then, if costs the costs prohibitive, I can connect people with other organizations in New York City who might be able to help them with the fee. But for the most part it's just the consultation and me going to court or filing the petitions or accompanying them to interviews with immigration services. That's all free and you're just paying for the actual applications a service
Sabah Fatima [00:11:10] That is great, is the service confidential?
Frances Davila [00:11:14] Yes. So as an attorney, I have attorney client privilege. And so everything you tell me I can't share with anyone even at NYU. I can only share it with my immediate supervisors who are the professors of the Immigrant Rights Clinic, and even to your family members. You know like I'm not authorized to even give them the information and so it's all confidential and in no way what you tell me is being recorded. I think that's why even when you email me or call me we tell people don't give us too much information you know don't give us like very social security numbers or your alien registration number just state your name that you need immediate support and then we'll talk more on the phone or in person primarily because email is not safe. And these are just hard times for everyone.
Karen Ortman [00:12:16] If a student faculty or staff member discovers that they're at risk for deportation, what steps should they take, and how can idea IDI help? And can you walk us through perhaps a scenario or a previous case? Of course without using any names just to illustrate for our listeners what steps they can take if they're in this situation particularly as it pertains to deportation.
Frances Davila [00:12:46] Sure. So a common scenario and it's something that we're seeing a lot. I mean this has been going on for years before this current administration and I just think now people are more aware that this is happening and it's also happening at a larger rate. But if ICE let’s say stops you outside your home or workplace or tries to come into your home first thing you should definitely know is you should not let them in without having a warrant signed by a judge. Right. So first ask them that they have a warrant. If they don't you have a right. You know even if you're a noncitizen saying you have rights under the Constitution so you should not let ICE come into your home. If for some reason they come into your home whether it's through some sort of ruse they say that they claim to be someone else. A couple weeks ago we just heard that ICE is telling some family members that they were there that they were Mormons and they were just there to talk about the Bible and or if they stop you right outside your home which they can do you know remain silent even stating your name and your country of birth is enough for them to identify you in the system so stay silent and say you know I'm exercising my right to remain silent and I like to speak to an attorney. Don't sign any documents because you might be signing her own deportation order. So what would happen is that if you don't have a previous deportation order or if you do but you have some form of relief to stay in the country you most likely are going to be placed in detention within a couple of days or immediately but then by the time your family members really know where you're located, it'll probably be like a couple days. And you can look up where your family is located the ICE detainee locator system just entering their name. If you have their alien registration number or their country of birth it can most likely tell you what detention center they are in most of them are in New Jersey or upstate New York. But as soon as you know that a family member has been detained, that's when you should call Immigrant Defense Initiative because there's so many moving parts in those couple days, that it gives me time to figure out how do we stop this person from getting deported if that is a possibility. If they're placed in proceedings that means in court then that's I mean right now the New York court systems or the New York Immigration courts are so behind in their cases. But when you're detained things move quickly. A case that would take, two years if you were not in detention, takes two months in detention. So, in that time is when we need to prepare everything the whole case basically. So, from the moment of ICE contact to when you learn that that happened, that's when you should be contacting.
Karen Ortman [00:15:47] Thank you very much. Great information.
Sabah Fatima [00:15:50] Frances is there any other information you'd like to share about the IDI that we already haven't discussed today?
Frances Davila [00:15:58] Yeah, I want everyone to know one that were here, and even if you have an attorney or you're not sure whether you might qualify for something, it just doesn't hurt, it's free. And I meet with you and I give you a second opinion or I just help you figure out this is something you should think about in the next few years, right. But we're also here as an advocacy organization within NYU, right. So, I provide trainings to various departments and employees. The Department of Public Safety, the Wasserman Center to just inform them about what's happening and how some common patterns that seem like students who've been discriminated at work even though they have a lawful work permit. So, we're here to provide trainings as well as advocate within the university. If someone let's say had a dramatic change in their financial situation and they don't qualify for the regular student loans and they need support. So I can help them figure that out as well. And I work closely with the NYU Dream Team and the NYU Sanctuary Coalition to try to find ways to create the safe space for noncitizen students and faculty and lastly more importantly for right now working on creating new Web site it's going to have a ton of resources on what your rights are, scholarship resources and policy updates. So that's like a great first step for everyone. If they don't want to meet with me for whatever reason or they don't have the time to try the website which should be live by November. Cross my fingers.
Karen Ortman [00:17:45] That's great. Frances one more question. If an NYU affiliate comes to you with a discrimination complaint and the offender is either within NYU or external to NYU how would you guide them?
Frances Davila [00:18:00] So one important thing to note is that in a lot of these cases something that qualifies as discriminatory, I think a lot of employers just like don't know right that like someone who's not a citizen can actually lawfully work here. And I think because of these current times everyone is just scared, right. And so sometimes it's simply in a form of a letter of just explaining the law. Like they're not there and may not be attorneys themselves or their general counsel may not know what to do in this situation. So I'm just here as immigration attorney to explain the law and the statute of like, hey like actually this is legal, right? So the student meets with me and they are OK with me writing a letter to the employer. It's not in like in an adversarial role, it's more in an informative role just explaining these requirements and the student has met them. If the student wants to somehow retaliate or sue and that's sort of outside of my expertise and so I would refer them out to employment attorneys. That's especially the case if it's like a conflict with NYU since IDI is still an NYU program. And if my efforts to just be an advocate just don't go anywhere then in that case it's just my responsibility because there is a conflict of interest to refer that student out.
Karen Ortman [00:19:25] Mm hmm.
Sabah Fatima [00:19:26] Okay well thank you to our guest Frances and to all of our listeners for joining us for today's episode of You Matter.
Karen Ortman [00:19:33] Yes. Thank you, Frances. Thank you. If any information presented today was triggering or disturbing, please feel free to contact the wellness exchange a 212-443-9999. You can also get in touch with NYU’s Department of Public Safety and their victim services unit by calling 212-998-2222.
Sabah Fatima [00:19:57] For more podcasts like these you can find us by searching for you matter on Apple Podcasts or Google Play.