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Just Thoughts is the blog of the Empire Justice Center, New York’s statewide, multi-issue, multi-strategy public interest law firm focused on changing the “systems” within which poor and low income families live. Here staff and guest authors will share stories, announcements and perspectives on timely issues related to our work.

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Empire Justice attorney provides pro bono assistance out of Texas detention facility

Issue Area: Immigrant Rights

Dilley, TX

Empire Justice staff attorney Amanda Doroshow will be working out of an immigration detention center in Dilley, TX this week, as a volunteer attorney with the CARA Project. She is joined by 20 other advocates and attorneys from across the country helping to get families—mostly women and children—released from detention. Most of the families are seeking asylum and fleeing extreme violence.

Just this August, a U.S. District Judge issued an order limiting the length of detention of families and issuing guidelines about the living conditions of detention centers.  U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement are not fully meeting with these standards and continue this inhumane practice of detaining women and children for extended periods of time.

Representation is important to these crucial cases. Nearly half of all minors represented by lawyers in immigration court in the past decade eventually won permission to remain. But nine out of 10 without legal representation were sent back to their home countries. And there continues to be a dire need for legal representation in the South Texas Family Residential Center (STFRC), the detention center where Amanda will be volunteering her time representing women and children in the motions for bond and immigration proceedings.

As the daughter of a Cuban immigrant, Amanda says she has always been very passionate about this work. Her mother came from Cuba at the age of 13 by herself.

“This country is built on immigrants. I think it is very brave to leave everything you know and come to a country you don’t know, many times leaving everything behind,” Amanda said.

“Many of the families detained are in desperate situations facing persecution. Their only option is to make a very dangerous journey to the United States. I feel like these people should be treated with dignity and respect after enduring such trauma. They should have a fair opportunity to fight their case and should be met with support and compassion.”

CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project is a collective created by Catholic Legal Immigration Network, American Immigration Council, Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, and American Immigration Lawyers Association. These organizations joined together in response to Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s expanding practice of detaining families.

Follow updates from Amanda's pro bono experience on Facebook and Twitter.

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Tags: immigration

The SWEAT Bill: Protect Workers from Wage Theft

While Empire Justice Center applauded Governor Cuomo for the administrative mandate requiring bonds for nail salons as an important first step, the need to protect all workers from businesses which regularly fail to pay their employees spans all industries and is a crisis across the state. 

The SWEAT bill – Securing Wages Earned Against Theft, A.5501a (Rosenthal)/S.2232c (Peralta) - operates similarly to a bond by creating a lien against an employer’s property when there is a case of unpaid wages.  This will ensure that a business can’t unload or transfer their assets, leaving workers empty handed when a court issues a judgment in the workers’ favor or when the Department of Labor issues orders in their favor. 

The challenges of finding bond companies willing to issue bonds to businesses known for their unscrupulous practices underscores the need for alternative methods to protect immigrant workers.  The SWEAT bill provides a critical tool to protect workers and good businesses against those businesses that exploit workers and steal salaries without facing any consequences.

Empire Justice Center looks forward to working with Governor Cuomo and the Legislature to pass this bill to protect all workers at risk of wage theft.

Happy Anniversary, Social Security!

Happy Anniversary, Social Security! 

Social Security’s is turning 80! Since the retirement program was enacted in 1935, it has expanded in important ways. The disability component, introduced later, is a now critical piece of Social Security, and ensures that those who aren’t able to work have a small measure of protection. Now is the time to ensure that the Social Security programs remain strong for our future.

We join others in honoring this anniversary and calling for the program’s protection in the future.  Ask candidates where they stand on Social Security programs in the lead up to the 2016 election.

CFPB Publishes Complaint Narratives - What it Means for New Yorkers

Issue Area: Consumer

On June 25, 2015, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) published over 7,700 consumer complaint narratives about financial companies.  Since first making the complaints database public in 2013, CFPB has been improving access to and search capabilities for the data collected.  The ability to view consumer complaint narratives may be the most significant change in this access yet.

The CFPB began accepting complaints as soon as it opened its doors in July 2011.  Three years later, in July 2014, the CFPB announced that they would begin making narratives associated with those complaints public.  They faced stiff opposition from the lending industry.  To address opposition, CFPB Director Richard Cordray responded to industry concerns stating “By publicly voicing their complaint, consumers can stand up for themselves and others who have experienced the same problem.  There is power in their stories, and that power can be put in service to strengthen the foundation for consumers, responsible providers, and our economy as a whole.”

I have done a review of a subset of complaint narratives, specifically those that were filed in New York and were related to servicing mortgages in default.  In just three months, 44 of the complaint narratives that were submitted by New York homeowners trying to save their homes from foreclosure were published publicly.  These public narratives for NY homeowners reveal interesting, although unsurprising, trends. 

First, mortgage servicers repeatedly transfer servicing from one servicer to another.  This makes it nearly impossible for homeowners to keep track of where to send their mortgage payments.  Second, servicers make repeated requests for documents they have already received from the homeowner.  Third, servicers regularly fail to notify homeowners within five days upon receiving a modification application as required by CFPB’s mortgage servicing guidelines.  For a more in depth look at the CFPB complaints database, check out USPIRG’s analysis (US Public Interst Research Group).
I commend the CFPB for moving forward with making these consumer complaint narratives public and searchable.  Those who are in the business of providing consumer finance products should be held to the highest standard.  These companies have access to resources not within the reach of most consumers.  Publishing complaint narratives is another step toward leveling the playing field for all consumers. 

Consumers can now file a complaint with the CFPB at and utilize a critical tool to educate and empower themselves in the financial marketplace.

Tags: Consumer Complaints | CFPB | mortgage servicers | foreclosure prevention

Winning with tenacity- Empire Justice helps save another home from foreclosure

Issue Area: Housing

Dave is the epitome of tenacity. For more than four years he’s been fighting tooth and nail to save his family’s home from foreclosure.  A single father of three and a Navy veteran, Dave was unable to work after a back injury during his service.  So he used his savings to pay his mortgage, until that was no longer an option.

In 2011 his lender filed a foreclosure action against him, and he faced the possibility of losing his home.

Throughout the four-year process of fighting foreclosure and applying for a loan modification, Dave received what seemed like a never ending flood of repeated document requests. At each turn we helped him gather and submit the tax forms, the benefit letters, and the bank statements. Only to have the banks come back and say they didn’t receive them or requesting more information, leading to the entire process being repeated.

All in all, we submitted 15 loss mitigation packets—an extraordinary amount for a typical foreclosure case—each totaling over 80 pages.

But Dave was determined. He wouldn’t give up, and neither would we.

Together we tried every option available. Our advocates escalated the case several times, and each time the bank claimed that they didn’t own the loan, that their “hands were tied.” Dave contacted the press, he contacted the Veterans Administration, and he filed a complaint with the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB). We highlighted his case in our policy report, In the Eye of the Storm: Why the Threat of Foreclosure Damage Continues (link), putting pressure on policymakers to support neighborhoods and homeowners like Dave.

It is this type relentless advocacy - tenacity - that ultimately leads to a win.

Utilizing all of our advocacy tools, we convinced the bank to take responsibility for the loan, and they gave Dave the modification he needed to afford his monthly payments.  Now he and his three kids can stay in the house that for the last 13 years they've called home.

Congratulations, Dave!

suburban house

While we celebrate this success, we recognize that there are many homeowners that face the foreclosure process alone, without an attorney. Your support helps us represent more homeowners—stabilizing neighborhoods, communities, and families. Thank you.