Professor Lenni Benson

Professor Lenni Benson Featured in Video Exhibit on Child Detainees at the Southern Border

Professor Lenni Benson

Professor Lenni Benson, one of the country’s top experts on child immigration, is featured in a new video project with a powerful mission: advocating for children detained at the U.S.-Mexico Border.

The Flores Exhibits is a new collection of videos in which actors and advocates read the sworn testimonies of children as young as 5 years old who are living in detention facilities. The exhibit is named for a 1997 settlement agreement in the Flores case establishing time limits and other health and safety requirements related to the government’s ability to detain children. Professor Benson has extensive knowledge of Flores; she served on the board of the Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law in Los Angeles, which brought the original litigation.

The videos are powerful storytelling—but that’s not their only purpose. They are also, as suggested by the project’s name, exhibits in an ongoing legal case brought by the National Center for Youth Law. The case seeks immediate relief for children who are living in facilities without proper nutrition, adequate sleep, and access to basic hygiene supplies, in violation of the Flores settlement.

“Held With My Son in a Cage”

Professor Benson is featured in Exhibit 29. She reads a declaration by L., a 17-year-old from Honduras who traveled to the United States with her son, D.

An image from Exhibit 29, featuring Professor Benson

“I am held with my son in a cage,” Professor Benson reads. “There are about 60 people in my cage … It’s very crowded in the cage … There’s not even enough room for the baby to crawl, so I hold him all the time.”

“I have not talked with a lawyer or anyone else who can help me,” L.’s statement continues.

Watch the full video.

Protecting Child Migrants

Unlike criminal court, immigration court does not provide free legal counsel, even to unaccompanied children. As a result, although there are legal pathways to U.S. citizenship, many young immigrants are unaware of their legal options and unable to navigate court on their own.

To help, Professor Benson founded the Safe Passage Project, a nonprofit that operates on NYLS’s campus and represents children and teenagers facing deportation. NYLS students who take part in the School’s Immigration Law and Litigation Clinic work closely with Safe Passage Project to help young people navigate immigration court and family court. Alumni and volunteers also help; in fact, the Safe Passage Project is actively recruiting new pro bono attorneys now.

In addition, a second clinic, NYLS’s Asylum Clinic represents refugees seeking safety in the United States, including people fleeing LGBTQ discrimination and domestic violence.

As a result of NYLS’s leadership in the field, alumni lead in all sectors of immigration law, in settings that range from large companies to nonprofits and the government.

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