“I am from Yemen and I have a United States citizenship, but I want to know this: Is it a second-class citizenship? Is that something this country has? Because I am always harassed,” said the women wearing a hijab. The room was silent.
“No, we don’t have second class citizenship here,” responded Professor Stacy Caplow, associate dean of professional legal education at Brooklyn Law School. Another question came from a woman in a hijab: “I am also a citizen, also from Yemen. But I am afraid. I need to go to the passport agency. What if I am taken? What will happen to my children?”
These were some of the questions asked in the quiet of the children’s library at P.S. 261 in Boerum Hill, just blocks from the Law School, where Caplow and Professor Maryellen Fullerton spoke to parents from all over the world—from Mexico to Yemen, Georgia to the Maldives—about the ramifications of President Trump’s recent immigration orders barring entry from six predominantly Muslim countries including Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen.
That morning information session, which was organized by Andrea Strong ’94, a parent at the school, was just the beginning of the Law School’s dedicated effort to support local immigrants. To provide that framework of legal knowledge, Caplow and Fullerton, along with other faculty members and student leaders, have joined forces with Maryann Tharappel ’11, Catholic Charities Special Projects Attorney, to create the Know Your Rights (KYR) project. The Law School hosted the first full program on April 22.
“Our thought is not only to convey legal information about immigrants’ rights and all the different places those rights might come into play, but to speak about the sense of vulnerability of immigrants we saw at PS 261,” said Fullerton. “My feeling is that if we can address some of those fears quite simply, we can give people the tools so that they have a knowledge and a sense of control.”
The program included a 40-minute presentation about what to do if stopped by the police on the street, and how to respond if U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrive at an individual’s home or workplace. The value of creating a family plan in the event a parent is detained and cannot return home also was discussed. Students and faculty distributed New York State forms for the appointment of a temporary guardian as well as NYC ID forms. They will provide free notary services at a follow-up meeting where the forms can be completed.
The first phase of the project began with two training sessions in March and April. At the first, Tharappel and Anilu Chadwick from Catholic Charities spoke to faculty, students, and alumni about techniques that make KYR programs effective, addressing the importance of family plans such as powers-of-attorney and guardianships. For the second training, Professors Dan Smulian, Fullerton, and Caplow provided an overview of U.S. immigration laws, enforcement policies, and some forms of relief.
Victoria Phillips ’18 said she was compelled to get involved when she saw immigrant communities being targeted in recent months. “This is not the America that I stand for,” she said. “I feel it is my duty as a law student to use what knowledge I have of the law to assist our immigrant community here in Brooklyn Heights and beyond. The KYR trainings, I hope, will be empowering and informative to those immigrants and their families who attend, and that the attendees feel comfortable spreading what they have learned to other affected persons.”
Looking ahead, Caplow and Fullerton are hosting another public school KYR session on May 12, in Queens. They are developing plans to allow Law School volunteers to continue to work with Catholic Charities to conduct KYR presentations. In the future, these efforts may allow the Law School and Catholic Charities to provide legal representation to KYR attendees. Other ideas are also percolating.
“We are considering a variety of options, including a clinic that is responsive to the need created by the immigration Executive Orders,” said Caplow. “I think it’s safe to say we will be doing some serious soul searching this summer.”