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Whitney Braunstein

  • Hosted by The Bronx Defenders
  • Sponsored by Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP
  • Service location Bronx, New York
  • Law school New York University School of Law
  • Issue area Immigrant Populations
  • Fellowship class year 2020
  • Program Design-Your-Own Fellowship

The Project

Whitney represented LGBTQ+ immigrants in New York in immigration court and affirmative applications, and advocated for improved conditions of confinement for LGBTQ+ individuals in immigration detention.

Deeply rooted homophobia, transphobia, racism, and sexism manifest in immigration enforcement, detention, and court. LGBTQ+ people face hostility and lack of understanding from judges, prosecutors, and detention custodians; even their own attorneys may fail to understand, respect, and appropriately advocate for their clients’ experiences and identities. Whitney’s project sought to provide culturally competent representation to LGBTQ+ individuals and support colleagues, other attorneys, and courthouse actors in better understanding and responding to the issues faced by LGBTQ+ individuals.

As a queer, first-generation American, Whitney’s commitment to providing culturally competent immigration representation and conditions of confinement advocacy for queer and trans immigrants is deeply personal. She is passionate about providing access to quality immigration representation and advocacy that creates space for individuals’ full, authentic identities and selves.

Fellowship Highlights

During the two-year Fellowship, Whitney:

  • Provided full representation to 29 clients on their immigration matters
  • Submitted written testimony to the New York City Council regarding the potential immigration consequences of former New York Penal Law § 240.37, which criminalized loitering for the purpose of prostitution (the law was later repealed)
  • Created a referral system through which immigration staff at The Bronx Defenders can refer LGBTQ+ clients for consultation, support, and/or co-counseling
  • Implemented procedures to identify LGBTQ+ clients at intake for all three areas of The Bronx Defenders’ immigration practice–the New York Immigrant Family Unity Program, Padilla program, and Family and Community program
  • Won asylum for a non-binary individual based on their coming out as non-binary as opposed to as a cisgender gay man as a changed circumstance allowing them to apply for asylum past the filing deadline of one year after entering the United States; the Immigration Judge and prosecutor were both unfamiliar with the concept of being non-binary and were educated to the benefit of this client and future non-binary individuals appearing in that courtroom

Next Steps

Whitney will continue the work she did during her Fellowship as a staff attorney in the LGBTQ Defense Project and Immigration Practice of The Bronx Defenders. The Bronx Defenders will continue to use the intake procedures Whitney implemented to identify and support LGBTQ+ clients from the moment representation begins.


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