Winning a Landmark Case in New Jersey

by Alex Pender   on September 10, 2015

Headshot - High Res - BoxerOver the past year Matt Boxer, Partner at Lowenstein Sandler LLP in New Jersey, has been working on a special pro bono case. Matt and Lowenstein represented KIND, American Friends Services Committee, and the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights in front of the New Jersey State Supreme Court to ensure legal protections are upheld for abused, abandoned, and neglected immigrant and refugee children.   On August 25, 2015 the court unanimously found that state courts that hear child welfare cases must make a child welfare determination related to Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS).

As KIND Supervising Attorney in New Jersey Sarah Plastino notes, this decision reverses a disturbing trend that has been seen throughout New Jersey, denying access to justice to this uniquely vulnerable population of children based on misplaced concerns that New Jersey state courts were making immigration determinations. The decisions also send a message to state courts across the U.S. that the protection of immigrant children’s welfare is paramount.

Matt explained, “A child could have an abusive parent overseas and a safe fit parent in the U.S., but the child gets deported back overseas just because they have a fit parent in this country – that is just crazy. The appellate decision [which sparked the appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court] would have deported the child back to these abusive and violent environments.”

Lowenstein Sandler has been an invaluable pro bono partner of KIND since we opened our doors in 2009. Since then, Lowenstein attorneys have taken on a number of direct pro bono cases throughout the country. However, this case ensures critical protection under the law in New Jersey that will impact our children’s cases for years to come. “With most of the cases that we handle, you have impact in a limited way for typically one client,” Matt said. “This case represented an opportunity to help hundreds if not thousands of kids who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected by a parent to help them have their cases heard by the federal government.”

KIND thanks everyone at Lowenstein Sandler who worked tirelessly to ensure the outcome of this decision including, Catherine Weiss, Partner and Chair of the Pro Bono Committee, Natalie Kraner, Pro Bono Counsel, and associates Eric Jesse and Kathryn Pearson.

The decision is available at: https://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/opinions/supreme/A114A117HSPvJK.pdf

Read KIND’s blog about the decision here.

 

Q&A with Lowenstein Sandler Partner Matt Boxer

  1. What inspired you to take on this case pro bono?

The Lowenstein Center for the Public Interest, under the leadership of Catherine Weiss, has dedicated more than 12,000 pro bono hours since 2009 representing children placed in deportation proceedings. We were well aware of the importance of this case and I jumped at the opportunity to present it to the New Jersey Supreme Court on behalf of KIND.

 

  1. Do you have experience working on immigration law? If not, what do you typically work on at Lowenstein, and how did the firm and/or KIND support you throughout the process?

I am the chair of our firm’s Corporate Investigations and Integrity practice, through which I help our clients comply with regulatory and other legal requirements, and I handle a wide variety of “white collar” and other litigation matters. I had experience with immigration law issues from my time as a federal prosecutor. As a firm, we have extensive experience in this area, which was very helpful to be able to call on in putting together our arguments to the court. Both our attorneys and our colleagues at KIND brought tremendous experience and knowledge to bear on this project, which enabled us to make a comprehensive presentation.

 

  1. Can you briefly describe why this New Jersey Supreme Court decision is so important for all immigrant children, in NJ and nationwide?

This decision will help immigrant children who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected by their parents present their cases to federal immigration officials and defend themselves from deportation back to their home country. The ruling reverses a lower court decision that restricted the ability of children to make well-founded arguments to the federal government. Clarifying the distinct roles of state courts and federal immigration officials, this decision directs state courts to make the kinds of child welfare findings that are within their core competence, enabling children to rely on these findings when they ask U.S. officials to protect them from return to a country where there is no fit parent to care for them.

 

  1. What was your biggest lesson-learned or personal growth moment during the case?

In preparing to present this case to the New Jersey Supreme Court, I gained a far greater understanding of the challenges these children face and how difficult the legal process can be from their perspective. It is only with the help of organizations like KIND that these children have a fighting chance to vindicate rights that they are granted under federal law.

 

  1. Why is it important for attorneys to engage as advocates for pro bono issues such as vulnerable, unaccompanied children?

Last year, tens of thousands of children left home without their parents and were apprehended by immigration officials as they entered the United States. Many of these children had been victims of violence, including from within their own family. Nearly all of these children were placed in deportation proceedings, where they do not have the right to appointed counsel and where they face complicated legal proceedings in a language that typically is foreign to them. Attorneys who assist these children can ensure that their arguments are heard, so that a fair and appropriate resolution of their case can be reached.

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