Emily Benfer

The Project

My project focuses on the “U visa,” a form of immigration relief for victims of serious crimes. The Tahirih Justice Center only represents women and girls, so my clients are survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence who have worked with police to bring the perpetrators to justice. I also conduct education and outreach programs in local immigrant communities and for law enforcement – with specific focus on the growing gang epidemic. Lastly, I work on public policy initiatives with agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security.

The Inspiration

The Inspiration

The Project

The Overage Project provided legal and policy advocacy to prevent older students from being pushed out of New York City schools and to help these students access the programs and services they need to graduate high school.

In New York City, approximately 40 percent of high school students do not graduate within four years, often because students are unable to access the programs and services they need to succeed. Though students have the right to remain in school until the age of 21, many drop out or are pushed out of school before they earn their diploma. Some students never make it to the ninth grade. In 2013-14, there were more than 8,000 students in New York middle schools who were three or more years over the average age (known as overage students) for their grade. Without access to appropriate programs and services at the middle school level, many of these students never see a high school classroom.

Fellowship Highlights

During her Fellowship, Ashley:

  • Secured new school programs or placements for 40 students
  • Obtained more than $271,000 worth of compensatory educational services for overage students
  • Provided advice or technical assistance to 189 families of overage students
  • Represented 83 families to obtain appropriate educational services, such as testing accommodations and English classes for non-native speakers
  • Provided 26 trainings to parents and community organizations on the rights and options of overage students
  • Researched and obtained city-wide data on overage middle school students through freedom-of-information requests and collaboration with the Independent Budget Office
  • Prepared a client to testify before state legislators at a policy briefing on alternative pathways to a diploma
  • Advocated at the city and state levels to expand pathways to graduation for all students, including those who are overage

Next Steps

Ashley is continuing her project as a Staff Attorney at her host organization, Advocates for Children of New York.