Appointment Honors Her Trailblazing Career, Including Teaching at New York Law School for 25 Years and Founding the Safe Passage Project, Which Has Provided Access to Lawyers for Thousands of Children Who Would Otherwise Face Immigration Court Alone
New York, NY (November 8, 2019) – Lenni B. Benson has been appointed the Distinguished Chair in Immigration and Human Rights Law at New York Law School (NYLS), Dean Anthony W. Crowell announced today.
Professor Benson is an internationally recognized advocate who has taught at NYLS for 25 years and established NYLS’s Immigration Law and Litigation Clinic. Through the clinic, NYLS students help represent unaccompanied children and teenagers in immigration court, where no lawyer is otherwise provided. Professor Benson also founded the Safe Passage Project, an independent nonprofit housed at NYLS that recruits, trains, and mentors attorneys to assist unaccompanied youth facing deportation. With more than 1,000 active cases, the Safe Passage Project is the largest nonprofit in New York City serving the needs of immigrant children. No other U.S. law school has launched this type of integrated community service project.
Professor Benson’s investiture ceremony is November 8, 2019 at 6:00 p.m. at NYLS. It follows a daylong immigration law symposium she organized: A Century of Targeting Immigrants: From the Red Scare to the Travel Ban.
“Lenni is a fearless human rights advocate who, after witnessing children left to navigate immigration court alone, created a nonprofit that has become a national model,” said Anthony W. Crowell, Dean and President of NYLS. “She is a tireless organizer who has engaged thousands of students, alumni, and volunteers in her work, and she is gifted with an encyclopedic knowledge of immigration law, which has made her an indispensable member of our faculty and a resource for countless professionals in her field. While these are extraordinary attributes, Lenni’s most admirable quality is her deep reserve of compassion for her fellow human beings. I couldn’t be prouder that NYLS is honoring her with this title.”
“I am very honored to be named the first occupant of New York Law School’s Chair in Immigration and Human Rights Law,” said Professor Lenni Benson. “In a difficult time when so many immigrants are vulnerable, I am optimistic that immigration law and our courts will become more protective of individual liberty. Lawyers are stepping forward to challenge the human rights abuses that have, for far too long, been the norm in much of the field. I am proud of how NYLS’s alumni lead in all parts of this vital and growing work.”
“The need for oppressed people to better their lives through immigration has never been greater,” said Arthur N. Abbey ’59, Chair of NYLS’s Board of Trustees, and Diane Abbey, Founder of NYLS’s Diane Abbey Law Institute for Children and Families. “For children caught in the immigration maelstrom, the Safe Passage Project provides vital legal representation. NYLS is forever grateful to Lenni Benson, who has tirelessly pursued justice for oppressed children while cultivating a community of passionate graduates who continue to advance the field. There is nobody more deserving of this honor. May she continue her wonderful work for many years to come.”
“I’ve been privileged to know Lenni as her student, as an NYLS alumna, and as a colleague on the Safe Passage Project’s Board,” said Pam Foster ’00, Chair of the Safe Passage Project Board of Directors. “I’ve seen first-hand how she changes lives by sharing her knowledge and passion with her students and going above and beyond to advocate for alumni as they navigate their careers. The immigration bar in New York and across the country is richer because of her willingness to shine a light on children who are facing immigration proceedings without a competent attorney.”
About Professor Lenni B. Benson
Professor Lenni B. Benson has been teaching and writing in the field of immigration law since 1994. In addition to serving as a Professor of Law at NYLS for 25 years and founding the School’s Immigration and Litigation Clinic, she created the Safe Passage Project, which links unaccompanied children and teenagers facing deportation to legal representation.
Professor Benson has won national awards for her pro bono leadership and excellence in immigration teaching, including the prestigious Child 10 Award in 2018, which recognizes international human rights leaders protecting children. She recently edited an academic volume of international essays with Professor Mary Crock of the University of Sydney entitled Protecting Migrant Children: In Search of Best Practice (Elgar Press, 2018). A new edition of her co-authored book, Immigration and Nationality Law: Problems and Strategies (LexisNexis, 2013), now published by Carolina Academic Press, will be released this winter.
Professor Benson is a member of several national task forces on the needs of migrant youth and has been a speaker for the federal government at national trainings. She was a founding Steering Committee member of the American Immigration Representation Project, formed in 2017 to expand pro bono representation of detained immigrants as part of the national project, www.immigrationjustice.us. From 2012 to 2015, she was Chair of the Immigration and Nationality Law Committee of the New York City Bar Association. In 2012, she and Professor Russell Wheeler of American University Washington College of Law completed a study of the immigration courts for the federal government’s Administrative Conference of the United States.
A native Arizonan, Professor Benson earned her B.S. and J.D. degrees from Arizona State University, where she graduated cum laude for both degrees.