Uptown to Downtown, Via Memory Lane

Joey here.

On this, the 11th Annual Ride, we’re exploring history.

Today we biked downtown to illustrate a few stories from our professional past.

Our first stop was where Jeffrey took his first asylum case.

The 50-story GM Building, 767 Fifth Avenue . . .
. . . opposite the Plaza Hotel, where in 1978 Jeffrey saw John and Yoko having lunch.

Jeffrey came here in 1981 after he and Nancy spent a honeymoon year doing volunteer work abroad. He was an associate attorney in the Business Reorganizations department of Weil, Gotshal & Manges.

In March 1983, the firm invited young associates to represent some of the 500 Haitian refugees released in Florida by U.S. District Judge Spellman. Their release was conditioned on the promise of the late Arthur C. Helton of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (now Human Rights First) to find them free lawyers.

Jeffrey volunteered.

40 W. 57th Street • Former offices of PNBK&B

Jeffrey was working for Phillips, Nizer, Benjamin, Krim & Ballon when after 18 months of argument on paper and in court, his client became the second “Spellman Haitian” to win asylum in New York.

It takes profits to support nonprofits. We respect capitalism, sensibly regulated. Yet frugal Jeffrey wasn’t interested in a lucrative legal career. The Haitian case reminded him of his priorities. In 1985, he opened a solo law practice to focus on asylum work.

330 Seventh Avenue • Former offices of LCHR/HRF • L to R: Jeffrey, Joey

Jeffrey was a regular LCHR/HRF volunteer for several years. This building is where I debuted with Jeffrey in a 1991 video on motion practice.

With two other volunteer lawyers, Brian Barry and the late Walter Weiss, Jeffrey made weekly trips to . . .

201 Varick Street • SPC

. . . the Service Processing Center, or SPC, across the street from SOB’s bar and discotheque. The SPC housed an immigration courtroom and a jail where people languished for months or years while pursuing their lawful right to seek asylum in the U.S. Jeffrey, Brian and Walter screened prisoners to find refugees for whom the LCHR could recruit volunteer lawyers.

Here’s the start of a 1987 article in Barrister Magazine—with the dated title, “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Illegal Masses”—

—profiling Jeffrey and his work at the SPC.

Today we had a nice chat with a couple of photogenic armed and armored Homeland Security guards. Alas, they accepted Jeffrey’s invitation to step aside if they wanted to avoid being photographed.

They said the jail is staffed by private contractors, as it was 36 years ago.

It’s hard to end suffering when industry profits from it.

335 Broadway • Jeffrey’s former office building, now condos

Jeffrey opened his first office here in January 1986. Thanks to Nancy the Generous and Patient, he could take cases without regard to a client’s ability to pay.

26 Federal Plaza • Immigration Court

This is the tallest federal building in the USA. Jeffrey spent endless days in its windowless, airless immigration courtrooms and offices. How ‘bout this for quality of design: clients in a courtroom had to ride two different elevators to reach a public toilet! Entry to the building could take hours in line in all weathers. The best part of entering, was leaving again.

Today’s antidote to the building’s foul karma was cheerful Bill. He’s a geologist working with the city and the Army Corps of Engineers to protect us from rising sea level. He called out and asked to take our photo. We hope he shares it!

L to R: Bill, Joey

Bill, a bicycle commuter, was intrigued by our recumbent machine. We told him about the Ride and hope to see him on the road.

75 Broad Street • HRF HQ

We look forward to HRF’s safe return to its pre-pandemic offices in this 1928 building. Since early 2020, they’ve had to work remotely.

250 Joralemon Street • Brooklyn Law School
Joey poses on our Lightning Phantom

In 1992, as an adjunct clinical instructor at Brooklyn Law School, Jeffrey started NYC’s first clinical program dedicated to asylum representation. In 1997, Professor Stacy Caplow, with Professors Maryellen Fullerton and Ursula Bentele, created BLS’s respected Safe Harbor Project and absorbed Jeffrey’s program. Jeffrey worked with Safe Harbor until June 2004.

After more adventures in asylum and in professional nursing, Jeffrey decided to bicycle from NYC to Iowa to attend his second daughter’s college graduation in 2011. He didn’t want to do a mere joyride. He phoned HRF and spoke with Kathy Jones in the development department.

Kathy welcoming Joey at the end of the 2015 Ride to New England

Jeffrey offered our services for outreach and fundraising in an American heartland largely unfamiliar with HRF’s work. Thus began the Rides for Human Rights.

Why do we Ride for HRF?

Lawyer Jeffrey won asylum for hundreds. It took decades. He could represent only a few people at a time.

HRF combines the efforts of its supporters to provide direct help to thousands, and to press for policies that protect millions.

That’s why we support HRF. We hope you will too.

Now you know a bit of the NYC part of our professional history.

Join us again soon for a glimpse of our immigration history . . . and of our country’s history . . . and, wherever you or your family is from, of your history too.

5 thoughts on “Uptown to Downtown, Via Memory Lane

  1. I knew only a little of your story. It is great to read your blog and add more delightful wonderful things I respect and admire about you and your work, both paid and volunteer. Have a safe journey.


  2. The dynamic duo is back on the road. Though I know Joey and Jeffrey miss the wide open spaces of the western states, it’s nice to have them local!


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