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 represents LGBTQ+ immigrants in New York City in immigration court and affirmative immigration applications. She also advocates for the rights of LGBTQ+ immigrants held in immigration detention regarding their conditions of confinement.

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 attorneys may fail to understand, respect, and appropriately advocate for their clients’ experiences and identities. Additionally, immigrant New Yorkers may be detained at a wide range of jails and detention centers throughout New York and New Jersey. The wide variety of federal, state, and local actors involved in their detention heightens the risk of violence that queer and trans individuals face in these detention centers.

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 to Date

In the first twelve months of the Fellowship, Whitney has:

  • Provided full representation to 18 clients on their immigration matters
  • Successfully advocated for the release of a transgender woman from immigration detention following nearly three years of detention, during which time she participated in a hunger strike and social media advocacy
  • Created a referral system through which immigration staff at The Bronx Defenders can refer LGBTQ+ clients for consultation, support, and/or co-counseling
  • Presented to the immigration practice at The Bronx Defenders regarding changes to the current screening processes to make them more thorough and inclusive of LGBTQ+ clients and issues, and implemented those changes

Next Steps

In the next year, Whitney plans to:

  • Identify procedures for the detention of trans, gender-nonconforming, and non-binary (“TGNCNB”) immigrants at each of the facilities at which immigrant New Yorkers are typically detained and common issues with conditions of confinement
  • Identify and advocate for changes in detention practices and policies to increase the safety of TGNCNB people in detention
  • Successfully represent LGBTQIA+ clients whose gender identity and/or sexual orientation is relevant to their claim for relief in trial-level immigration proceedings

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