NYU Law Initiative Provides Crucial Services to Non-U.S. Citizens

A program by NYU’s Law School seeks to give support and consultation to students facing issues related to their immigration status.

The entrance to Vanderbilt Hall, which houses NYU School of Law. (Photo by Tony Wu)

In an effort to fund a wall on the southern border, President Donald Trump declared a state of national emergency last Friday. In a press conference, he described a migrant caravan as “monstrous,” incorrectly insinuated that most criminals were “illegal aliens” and called Diversity Immigrant Visa lottery applicants “very bad people.”

In light of these recent events, the efforts by NYU School of Law’s Immigrant Defense Initiative to provide immigrant and non-U.S. citizen students with support and advice become only more important. The IDI was founded in January 2017 in response to Trump’s travel ban and suggestion to repeal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The initiative provides free legal support, advice and representation for all NYU students, employees and their immediate family members.

Currently serving undergraduate and graduate students at NYU, IDI wishes to promote its services to the university at large. IDI is in the process of meeting with human resources representatives from different NYU departments as well as the Division of Student Affairs to identify possible beneficiaries of the initiative.

As the university is not a sanctuary campus, IDI is also attempting to reach out to the Department of Public Safety in an attempt to establish more clarity on the protection and safety of immigrants at NYU. For example, IDI developed the Know Your Rights Leaders project in conjunction with the Office of Global Services at NYU.


Associate Director of Communications and Outreach at OGS Melissa Zuroff worked closely with IDI on this project.

“We wanted to create a program where students themselves can become experts on Know Your Rights information, and then provide this information to the university community,” Zuroff said.

Presentations led by Know Your Rights leaders on campus will take place throughout the semester. Zuroff said the presentations hope to help students realize when they are in a situation that may affect them as non-U.S. citizens.

“We want students to be aware that there are situations that may seem minor to a U.S. citizen,” Zuroff said. “But they have further-reaching implications for students who are not citizens.”

When the program started, IDI mostly consulted individuals, referring them to other organizations or advising international students with their visas. During initial court rulings following Trump’s attempts at rescinding DACA, IDI also helped many students with their DACA renewals in its first year.

Currently, some of IDI’s most common cases include advising and representing international students who are seeking asylum on political or religious grounds, helping employees or their family members who are in deportation proceedings and aiding students in applying for green cards.

Steinhardt first-year Jessy Wang, an international student from China, is a potential Diversity Immigrant Visa — or green card — applicant. Wang was surprised to learn that IDI and OGS offered support and advice for student visas and green card applications.

“I would definitely worry about my visa,” Wang said. “I know there are several workshops at NYU that offer information, but I didn’t know we can go to IDI directly.”

IDI and OGS aim to offer support and consultations to students for asylum, F1 reinstatement, DACA-related and deportation-related issues, as well as those that arose due to Trump’s travel ban.

“If students are worried about their specific situation, we want them to come in and have a conversation with us,” Zuroff said. “IDI also has a robust set of resources for free or low-cost legal help. It’s really about not hesitating to reach out for support at NYU.”

IDI’s staff attorney Frances Dávila echoed similar encouragements.

“The IDI is here and free,” Dávila said. “If you have any concerns, please reach out.”

For more information on the Immigrant Defense Initiative and its services, visit here. For more information on upcoming Know Your Rights presentations, visit here. For more information on the Office of Global Services, visit here.

Email Belle Lu at [email protected]



  1. Let’s face it, being an international student away from home is difficult, compounded by our complex culture and language problems. Welcoming and assimilation assistance must come from numerous sources, including the White House, to aid these young people embarking on life’s journey. Most struggle in their efforts and need guidance from schools’ international departments, immigration protection, host families, concerned neighbors and fellow students, and even informative books to extend a cultural helping hand.
    Something that might help anyone coming to the US is the award-winning worldwide book/ebook “What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to Understand Crazy American Culture, People, Government, Business, Language and More.” Used in foreign Fulbright student programs and endorsed worldwide by ambassadors, educators, and editors, it identifies how “foreigners” have become successful in the US, including students.
    It explains how to cope with a confusing new culture and friendship process, and daunting classroom differences. It explains how US businesses operate and how to get a job (which differs from most countries), a must for those who want to work with/for an American firm here or overseas.
    It also identifies the most common English grammar and speech problems foreigners have and tips for easily overcoming them, the number one stumbling block they say they have to succeeding here.
    Good luck to all at NYU or wherever you study or wherever you come from, because that is the TRUE spirit of the American PEOPLE, not a few in government who shout the loudest! Supporters of int’l students must shout louder.


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