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Planning under way for The Legal Project's 24th Annual Reception & Silent Auction 10/24/19

 The Legal Project Will Celebrate 24th Anniversary with Reception & Silent Auction at The Egg in Albany

Albany, New York, Monday, 7/15/19: The Legal Project announced today that it will continue the celebration of its 24th Anniversary by hosting a Reception and Silent Auction on Thursday, October 24, 2019 from 5:30-8:30 pm in the Hart Theater at The Egg in Albany. Registration for the event is ongoing now at

The Legal Project’s Reception will include a silent auction, raffle and food stations from local restaurants to raise awareness and funds for the work and mission of The Legal Project.

Among the local chefs and restaurants that will be in attendance to provide an array of delicious dishes are: 677 Prime, Four Corners Luncheonette, Debbie’s Kitchen, The Ripe Tomato, the Old Daley Catering Company, Ama Cocina, McGeary’s Pub, Lost and Found Bar and Kitchen, A Perfect Plate Catering and Thruway Beverage.

Sponsorship opportunities are currently available to support The Legal Project’s 24th Annual Reception and Silent Auction. Please visit the organization’s website for more information on sponsorship opportunities or to become a sponsor at 

The Legal Project is a private, not-for-profit organization that was founded by the Capital District Women's Bar Association in 1995.  The mission of The Legal Project is to provide access to the protections of the law to advance the safety, stability and independence of the people we serve and strengthen our communities. The Legal Project provides a variety of free and low cost civil legal services to the working poor, victims of domestic violence and other underserved individuals in the Capital Region of New York State.

The Legal Project believes that all people, regardless of income, gender, disability, race, religion, age, sexual orientation or ethnicity should have access to legal services. We feel a special commitment to women and others who may have difficulty in obtaining legal assistance.

For more information about The Legal Project’s programs, events, fundraising or pro bono efforts, please call (518) 435-1770. Visit The Legal Project online at 

The Legal Project works with Albany Med students to provide evaluations to Immigrants - 10/8/19


ALBANY  10/8/19— At a time when denials for asylum applications in the U. S. are rising, students and physicians at Albany Medical College are volunteering their time and expertise to help those seeking to legally remain in the country by providing free medical and psychological evaluations.

Such evaluations, experts say, can provide stronger evidence for an asylum seeker's case.

A student run organization called the Capital District Asylum Collaborative (CDAC) has been providing the evaluations and affidavits since it began in 2015. The evaluations aren't just for asylum seekers. Immigrants can use them in multiple humanitarian situations, such as battery cases or for U-Visa applications, which are for victims of crimes.

The Legal Project, an Albany-based nonprofit that helps people access protections of the law, will refer their clients to the group, where physicians will run the evaluations and students work as scribes documenting the process.

The group has served people coming from 19 different nations, mainly the Central and South American countries of Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala.

All of the group's clients with closed cases — a total of eight — have received legal status. There are 23 other cases pending, and it can sometimes take years for a case to get through immigration court.

The U.S. denied about 65 percent of asylum applications in 2018, the highest percentage in the last 18 years, according to data from nonpartisan TRAC Immigration, based at Syracuse University.

Although, the statistics aren't in an asylum seeker's favor, the evaluations can still be helpful, according to Natalie Birch-Higgins, director of immigration services at the Legal Project.

"This is a very important added level of evidence that we can include," Birch-Higgins said. "It's even more effective now and even more needed because the immigration (process) is not as understanding."

Prior to the Albany Medical College program, Birch-Higgins said, the Legal Project's clients didn't have free access to such evaluations. As far as she is aware, CDAC is the only group providing the service in the Capital Region.

Dr. Victoria Balkoski, chair of the department of psychiatry and a faculty adviser at the medical school, said working with asylees can be different than working with other clients. Evaluations may take longer and there may be potential for retraumatizing people.

More Information

For questions about evaluations contact the Legal Project at (518) 435-1770 or on the web:

For info about the "Continuing Care" program or other questions about Capital District Asylum Collaborative email:

"It's difficult for people to go through and to tell their story again," Balkoski said. "They can be very emotional and it's hard on them. It's hard to hear. A lot of these people have suffered a great deal."

Bill Calawerts, a medical student on the CDAC leadership board, said he can attest to the high level of emotion.

"It's very humbling because they have told us things they may not have told many people in their lives," Calawerts said.

He said he and his CDAC peers found themselves wishing they could do more.

"It's difficult because as providers we're ... we want to be able to help these people, but during the evaluations our  job is to be an objective observer," Calawerts said.

That's why they have launched a continuing care program, which will work to set up their clients with insurance and connect them with a housing program. Calawerts said the program is still in the early stages.

"It feels good that we're helping with their applications, but we wanted to take it a step further," Calawerts said, noting it all started with the evaluations. "We've expanded in ways we didn't believe were possible. It's been a good journey."


Immigrant attorney helps Capital Region Muslims facing domestic violence - Times Union - 9/25/19

Azin Ahmadi, the Legal Project's Equal Justice Works fellow, saw a need and is trying to make a difference

By Rebecca Carballo

Published 4:41 pm EDT, Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Photo: Lori Van Buren, Albany Times Union

Azin Ahmadi, an immigration attorney, is seen in her office at The Legal Project Office on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019 in Albany, N.Y. Ahmadi runs a program that focuses on providing resources to muslim immigrants.

ALBANY — Azin Ahmadi knows all about starting over.

When she was five years old she left her home country, Iran, for Germany and later immigrated to the U.S. where she is now an immigration lawyer who is helpings others to make America their new home.

Her own personal experience has helped her relate to some of the clients she sees today.

"The anxiety I felt when I was five never went away from me," Ahmadi said. "I know what it's like to be an immigrant and be seen as an immigrant. You don't know the customs and the language; it's a universal experience that we all face."

While working for the Legal Project, an Albany-based not-for-profit that helps people access protections of the law, she counsels people from all different backgrounds. However, there was one population in particular that she felt faced "gaps in service": Muslim immigrants coping with domestic violence.

This is why she's creating a program specifically designed for this demographic, where she will point them toward resources such as social services and shelters and provide direct legal representation. Overall, she said there is a lack of outreach to this population.

"Many people don't know there is relief out there for them," Ahmadi said.

For instance, many immigrants might not know they have social services available to them like food stamps and Medicaid, especially in the wake of new public charge laws, Ahmadi said. However, she points out that asylum seekers are exempt from public charge determinations, and she can help her clients figure out what programs they are eligible for.

She's developed the project as part of Equal Justice Works fellowship, a national program that partners with organizations like the Legal Project across the country. It's a two year fellowship, but she said she would like to continue the work even after that time is up.

She said like many immigrants, those in the Muslim community can face isolation and language barriers among other obstacles. She hopes her program will help break down some of those barriers.

Ahmadi, who is a native Farsi speaker, can have conversations with clients from Iran or Afghanistan without a translator. Beyond overcoming language barriers, she said her understanding of the culture in general has helped her relate to her clients.

It even brought one of her clients to tears. She said sometimes Muslim culture can be misunderstood and even demonized, and one client took comfort in the fact that wouldn't happen with Ahmadi.

"She told me: 'You understand. You won't attribute my husband's violence to my religion,'"Ahmadi said of the client.

Programs like Ahmadi's may be more vital now than ever. In 2017, police officers reported that less people from immigrant communities were reaching out to law enforcement, according to a 2018 report from the American Civil Liberties Union. Sixty nine percent of law enforcement officials said it had become harder to investigate domestic violence cases.

Kiersten Stewart, director of public policy for Futures Without Violence, a national think tank with offices in Washington D.C.,  said physical violence is only one part of domestic violence.

"It's about power and control, and physical violence is one tactic," Stewart said. "There's a lot of tactics (abusers) use — it can be physical, sexual, financial and emotional."

For more information or assistance, contact the Legal Project: (518) 435-1770 on the web:

She added that when it comes to immigrant communities, an abuser has more power if they have better language skills, and could use that to undermine their partner.

"Say the police are called and he can speak English, and tell his side of the story, but she can't," Stewart said.

Ahmadi said she's had clients who wanted to leave a marriage, but feared if they did it would compromise their legal status. When someone gets a green card through marriage, for example, they need to file a joint petition with their spouse.

"But then abusers will threaten to not go into interviews," Ahmadi said.

Generally, joint petitions are a requirement for married couples, but exceptions are made in cases of divorce and abuse. In those situations Ahmadi will help clients file their own petition, but she adds that those who don't have access to a lawyer or resources may not know that is an option.

Another common tactic to control victims is to threaten to keep them away from their children, Stewart said.

"It's a very powerful tool they can use," Stewart said. "When an abuser makes the threat, 'you'll never see kids again' that could be very true if one partner has legal status and the other doesn't."

Both Stewart and Ahmadi said immigration status can add a layer of complications for domestic violence survivors. However, Ahmadi stresses there are resources out there.

Stewart said programs like Ahmadi's can make all the difference for domestic violence survivors.

"Culturally specific programs and services are often really helpful, and so much of getting help is about trust," Stewart said.


Experts say human trafficking prevalent in the Capital Region - Times Union - 9/21/19


Experts say human trafficking prevalent in Capital Region

By Rebecca Carballo

Published 3:26 pm EDT, Saturday, September 21, 2019

ALBANY —  Often human trafficking is associated with distant countries. But it happens right in the Capital Region to people who are new to the area and those who've lived here all their lives, law enforcement, lawyers and even a human trafficking survivor and other experts said Saturday.

When it comes to human trafficking, one may conjure the image of foreign girls and massage parlors. In terms of labor trafficking the thought of immigrant men on farms may come to mind, attorney Mary Armistead told an audience at the conference "Trapped in Our Own Backyard: A Symposium on Human Trafficking and Story of Survival," at Sophia Greek Orthodox church in Albany.

But it's not always like that, Armistead said. Both labor and sex trafficking are occurring in this region in unexpected ways.

"We're not talking about individuals being beaten in order to work,"Armistead said. "We're talking about psychological coercion."

For instance, one of her clients was a young woman from Jamaica, who came to the U.S. on a student visa in hopes of a better education. She was living with her aunt with the understanding of doing some housework and babysitting.

Eventually, the workload increased to the point where her aunt told her to stop going to school, Armistead said. This could mean losing her visa. When the woman said she didn't want to stop attending school to work, her aunt threatened to tell her family back in Jamaica that she failed out of school and was addicted to drugs.

"She never feared her aunt was going to hit her or cause physical harm, but that reputational harm was so significant for her based on her culture and her background, that she continued doing that work she didn't want to do," Armistead said.

However, it's not just immigrants who are vulnerable to trafficking. It can happen domestically, too. This was the case for Salka Valerio who ran away from her home in Virginia when she was 14 to New York to live with a friend's aunt and uncle.The uncle turned out to be a pimp, she said.

She then spent two years being trafficked being passed from pimp to pimp in downstate New York.

Valerio saw no other alternative, though. She felt trapped at her home in Virginia, where she said she had to endure physical abuse. Although child protective services made several visits, no action was taken.

"The house was clean, and there was food in the pantry," Valerio said. "I just fell through the cracks."

Valerio would "fall through the cracks" time and time again. During a doctor's visit one of her pimps accompanied her and spoke for her the entire time. He wouldn't let her be alone with a medical professional.

Several of the experts at the panel said instances like that are a red flag. They also said traffickers prey upon women in vulnerable situations, those like Valerio, who didn't have safe home to return to.

Valerio eventually made it out. One of her client's mothers brought her to a shelter and she eventually went on to college. Now, she works for the Crime Victims Assistance Center in Binghamton. She works with teens who experience or are at high risk for exploitation and abuse. She helps them spot red flags so they can protect themselves from experiences like the ones she's had.

She said being able to identify signs of trafficking can be life changing for some youth.

"If I had this information in middle school, I probably would have never been trafficked," Valerio said.