New York Immigrant Family Unity Project

The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) is the first public defender program in the country for immigrants facing deportation. NYIFUP aims to provide indigent immigrants facing deportation at New York’s Varick Street Immigration Court with free, high-quality legal representation. With funding from the New York City Council, Vera is administering the one-year pilot with the aim of improving indigent immigrants’ access to justice and keeping them with their families and in their communities.

NYIFUP responds to a pressing need for improved access to legal services for noncitizens facing deportation in New York. Findings from the New York Immigrant Representation Study show that 67 percent of those who are detained go through their removal proceedings without counsel and only 3 percent will prevail. However, those who receive representation are ten times more likely to obtain a successful outcome in immigration court.

With funding from the New York City Council, Vera administers the NYIFUP pilot program with the aim of improving 190 indigent immigrants’ access to justice at the Varick Street Immigration Court in Lower Manhattan and keeping them with their families and in their communities. NYIFUP is a collaborative of the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights, The Center for Popular Democracy, Make the Road New York, and the Immigration Justice Clinic of Cardozo Law School. Brooklyn Defender Services and The Bronx Defenders were selected in a competitive bidding process to deliver public-defender-like services to immigrants who will be screened solely for indigency and their desire to be represented by NYIFUP. Screening for eligible cases began November 6, 2013 and representation on all 190 cases for which the pilot is funded is expected to begin by the spring of 2014.

The NYIFUP pilot seeks to increase court effectiveness and decrease detention times for those it represents, thereby saving taxpayer dollars, while providing due process. By keeping families together, the project seeks to lower the social and economic costs that would otherwise be incurred by New York City and State and New York employers. Beyond the one-year pilot, NYIFUP hopes to represent all indigent unrepresented immigrants at the Varick Street immigration court (about 900 per year), as well as noncitizens at the immigration court in Batavia, New York and New Yorkers whose deportation cases are heard in Newark and Elizabeth, New Jersey. NYIFUP aims to develop a replicable model for other jurisdictions around the country.

Why focus on families?

Between 2005 and 2010, more than 7,000 children in New York City who are U.S. citizens lost a parent to deportation. In addition to the financial hardship caused by the loss of a primary breadwinner, these children have been shown to suffer significant emotional and psychological effects. Through its pilot representation program funded by the New York City Council, NYIFUP aims to support New York’s vibrant immigrant community by reducing the unnecessary detainment and unjust deportation of individuals who have strong ties to their communities.

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Featured Expert

Director, Center on Immigration and Justice