WNY Regional Immigration Assistance Center

Who We Are

The Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo (LABB) and the Ontario County Public Defender’s Office (OCPD), both institutional providers of criminal defense services, are very pleased to announce that we have been awarded funding from the NYS Office of Indigent Legal Services to establish a Regional Immigration Assistance Center (RIAC) serving the 7th and 8th Judicial Districts.

The WNY Regional Immigration Assistance Center will provide individual case assistance, training, consultations, and support to appointed criminal defense counsel and Family Court attorneys in their representation of non-citizen clients. The RIAC can also assist with the analysis and filing of a NYCPL 440 motion for ineffective assistance of counsel if a client was not properly informed of the immigration consequences of a plea.  These services are free to all counsel appointed to represent indigent non-citizen clients in Criminal and Family Court proceedings.

We plan to have a regular presence in all of the counties of our region, though we will be based in Buffalo and Canandaigua. Sophie Feal, a public defender at LABB, who practiced immigration law for almost 30 years before joining LABB, will be our Supervising Attorney. Sophie is available immediately for consultations on the immigration consequences of criminal convictions and family court proceedings affecting parental rights.

All questions regarding immigration consequences should now be directed to Sophie at sfeal@legalaidbuffalo.org or at (716) 853-9555 x269 during the “pause.” Email is currently the fastest way to reach her, since she is working from home at this time.

At some point in the near future, we will have a dedicated line at both LABB and OCPD for such calls, and will have an additional Staff Attorney and support staff available to assist you. Rest assured that your inquiries will be quickly and thoroughly addressed.

Why We Exist

Changes to immigration laws have dramatically raised the stakes of a noncitizen’s criminal conviction. Providing accurate legal advice for noncitizens accused of crimes has never been more important.

Deportation is an integral part — indeed, sometimes the most important part — of the penalty that may be imposed on noncitizen defendants who plead guilty to specified crimes.

As such, the Supreme Court ruling in Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356 (2010), now requires criminal defense attorneys to advise noncitizen clients as to the potential immigration consequences of a criminal conviction before taking a plea.

Our Goal

To provide training, technical assistance and other legal support to attorneys in the 7th and 8th Judicial Districts of New York who provide mandated representation to noncitizens in criminal and family court proceedings so they can fully advise their noncitizen clients as to the immigration consequences of their particular case.

When to Call

Representatives of criminal defendants should contact us as soon as possible following arraignment so that we can help you determine the immigration consequences of your client’s plea.

With regard to mandated Family Court representation, please contact us anytime to discuss the possible consequences of an adverse finding or potential settlement.

We offer free CLE trainings. Call us to schedule one in your office or to find out about already scheduled dates.

Six Regional Immigration Assistance Centers

​The Western New York Immigration Assistance Center is one of six regional Immigration Assistance Centers funded by an innovative grant from the New York State Office of Indigent Legal Services.

Access the NYS ILS RIAC brochure for a complete listing of the Regional Immigration Assistance Centers.

What You’ll Need

Please have as much of the following information available as possible at the time of your initial contact.


Client’s Name and Date of Birth


Client’s Country of Birth


Client’s Immigration Status


Client’s Date of Admission/Entry to U.S.


Penal Law Section Charged


Is there a Domestic Violence element involved?


Penal Law Section in Plea Negotiation


Prior History of Convictions


Any Removal Proceeding pending?


Any Family Court case pending?

Sophie Feal

WNY RIAC Managing Attorney

Sophie Feal is the Managing Immigration Attorney of the WNY Regional Immigration Assistance Center at the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo, where she served as a public defender from 2017 to 2020.

She was previously the Director of the Immigration Program at the Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP), Inc. where she launched several innovative programs: a universal representation program for indigent noncitizens detained at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility; a weekly legal orientation and pro se training program for noncitizens detained by the Department of Homeland Security; programs that serve unaccompanied immigrant youth, and survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking; recruiting, training and mentoring pro bono attorneys to represent immigrants before the Immigration Court, Board of Immigration Appeals, and the federal Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, as well as a Regional Immigration Assistance Center. She has also practiced in San Francisco and Washington, DC in her career of over thirty years.

Sophie has also spoken publicly about and published extensively on immigration and naturalization law issues and has served on New York State Bar Association’s Committee on Immigration Representation. She was elected and served on the Board of the Women’s Bar Association of New York—WNY Chapter from 2017 to 2019, and was elected to a three year term on the Board of Directors of the Bar Association of Erie County (BAEC), which she served from 2014 to 2017. She has also been Chair of BAEC’s Human Rights and Immigration Law Committees.

Herself an immigrant, she was raised speaking French and Spanish, is a graduate of the University of Buffalo Law School and earned a B.A. at Buffalo State College.

Brittney Triggs

Brittney Triggs

Staff Attorney

Abbey Brown

Abbey Brown

Legal Assistant

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