July 20, 2013

Dean Matthew Diller speaks to the press about a new initiative that will help provide legal counsel for immigrants.


For immediate release


English-Language Press

Brittny Saunders at bsaunders@populardemocracy.org or (201) 803-2835

Spanish-Language Press

Angela Fernandez at afernandez@nmcir.org or (646) 734-4932

New York, NY, July 19, 2013--Today, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn was joined by the Center for Popular Democracy, the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic at Cardozo School of Law, the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights and the Vera Institute of Justice as she announced an innovative new program to increase fairness and equity for immigrants.  Five hundred thousand dollars in funding will support a pilot program to furnish legal counsel for New Yorkers who are detained and at risk of permanent exile from their families and the communities they call home.  This investment will help to prevent unfair deportations that rip families apart and undermine the economic and social fabric of the City.  

In recent weeks, as federal immigration reforms have confronted an uncertain future in the nation’s capital, the New York City Council has taken a bold step of its own in support of immigrant New Yorkers and their families.  With a $500,000 investment, the Council will fund a pilot initiative to provide counsel for New Yorkers—among them mothers and fathers, friends and neighbors, business owners and workers—who find themselves detained—often simply for technical violations of immigration law like overstaying a visa--and at risk of deportation each year without the benefit of legal representation. 

For New Yorkers who are detained and face deportation, there is no right to counsel.  Instead, they face nearly insurmountable odds.   As a 2011 report by the Study Group on Immigrant Representation convened by Second Circuit Judge Robert Katzmann revealed, only 3% of those in this situation will prevail.  “In all too many cases,” Judge Katzmann has noted from observation “the dearth of adequate counsel for immigrants all but dooms the immigrant's chances to realize the American dream.”  However, when such individuals are able to access legal representation, their chances of success increase by as much as 1000%. 

Access to counsel makes a huge difference for those in detention who face deportation, as well as their family members.  Perla Rodriguez Vasquez, whose brother is currently in detention, without representation, said that immigrant New Yorkers face extended isolation from loved ones and the risk of permanent separation.  “Without warning or advance notice, my dear brother, Carlos, was abruptly taken from our lives. Since February he has been sitting in a detention facility in NJ, far away from us and his US citizen daughter.” Perla continued, “We do not speak English, we cannot afford an attorney and we do not know how to stop his deportation.  If this program were in place when Carlos was detained, he would at least be home with his daughter and family while fighting his case with a trusted and experienced attorney.”

Detention and deportation can have particularly devastating impacts on children.  An alarming 2,000 New York City area children each year experience the trauma of having a parent arrested, detained and facing deportation.  And where no parent remains, U.S. citizen children must be placed in foster care at a cost of nearly $36,000 per child per year—ten times the cost of providing deportation defense through the Council funded pilot.

Dollars for the pilot will flow to organizations with expertise in dealing with the complexities of immigration law.  The one-year pilot program will be administered by the Vera Institute of Justice, an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit center for justice policy and practice which will oversee the program, coordinate the delivery of legal services and analyze data emerging from the pilot. The Center for Popular Democracy (CPD) and the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigration Rights, with critical support from the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic at Cardozo School of Law, have spearheaded advocacy for the creation of the program, drawing upon the research and from the study group.

The NYIFUP pilot responds to a growing need for such services in New York.  Angela Fernandez, Executive Director of Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights observed, “Our organization is experiencing a steady increase in calls from individuals in detention facilities who are desperate for an experienced deportation defense attorney. Without one they face certain permanent separation from their families and communities. Government support for counsel would remedy this unacceptable crisis.” Fernandez continued, “We commend the City Council for their vision and foresight in supporting this program of universal representation, which we hope will serve as a model for the rest of the state.” 

For advocates, the pilot program also represents a critical first step toward guaranteeing access to legal representation for all who are detained and facing deportation.  "Locking people up based on unproven charges, threatening to permanently separate them from their families, and depriving them of access to attorneys is un-American and sadly the norm in our immigration system,” commented Peter Markowitz, Director of the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic at Cardozo School of Law. “The NYC Council and Speaker Quinn should be applauded for creating the nation's first assigned counsel system for immigrants."

With the program, the City has taken the lead on an issue that impacts immigrant families across the nation.  “In cities and states across the country with large and growing immigrant populations, there is a real hunger for policies that recognize the many contributions newly-arrived residents make and the importance of keeping them grounded in the communities they call home,” noted Brittny Saunders, Senior Staff Attorney for Immigrant and Civil Rights at the Center for Popular Democracy.  “With this pilot, the Council has demonstrated real leadership and set an example that other communities are bound look to for years to come.”

Oren Root, Director of the Center on Immigration and Justice at the Vera Institute of Justice, noted the unique and critically important role of public investment in this area.  “The injustice of leaving indigent immigrants, including those who do not speak English and those with limited formal educations, to represent themselves in complicated deportation proceedings can only be solved by government support for counsel.  We hope that this groundbreaking funding by the City Council will be emulated by other governmental entities across the country.”

The Council’s decision to fund these programs reflects its understanding of the vital importance of keeping immigrant families whole. “Without proper legal counsel too many of our City’s residents are being torn apart from their families. This pilot program will not only ensure fairness for New York’s immigrant families but will also work as a model for the rest of the country to follow,” said Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “I want to thank Judge Robert Katzmann and the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project for all their work on the issue.”