The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project

Universal Representation for Detained Immigrants Facing Deportation in New York State

The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project

New York's investment in immigration legal services makes it the national leader in promoting safety, family unity, and freedom for immigrants targeted by federal enforcement. Among the state's pioneering achievements is the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP), a statewide public defender program that ensures lawyers for immigrants in detention.

The stakes could not be higher for people in detention and facing deportation—loss of freedom, permanent separation from families and communities, and possible return to dangerous conditions in another country. Having a lawyer makes a huge difference: detained immigrants with lawyers win their cases at more than 10 times the rate of those who don’t have legal help. Yet immigrants facing deportation still do not have the right to a public defender if they cannot afford a lawyer.

The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) is the first and largest public defender program in the country for detained immigrants facing deportation. Beginning with a $500,000 investment by New York City in 2013, NYIFUP soon grew as New York State initiated pilot programs in upstate New York immigration courts. Since 2017, with support from New York City and New York State, NYIFUP legal teams have ensured that in every immigration court in the state, people in detention and facing deportation have representation. Representation is now provided in New York City by Brooklyn Defender Services, the Bronx Defenders, and the Legal Aid Society. For immigrants whose cases begin in upstate New York, representation is provided by the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Erie County Bar Association, Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York, and the New York Legal Assistance Group. Promoting fairness in immigration proceedings, NYIFUP ensures that no immigrant in detention facing immigration proceedings in New York is denied an attorney simply because they do not have the resources to hire one.

Providing legal counsel keeps families together, economies stable, and communities strong. Vera’s evaluation of the New York City pilot program found that NYIFUP clients had lived in the United States for an average of 16 years, and nearly half were parents, to thousands of children in the United States. The clients in the study were projected to contribute $2.7 million in federal, state, and local taxes each year. Immigrants are part of the fabric of New York State: more than one in three children has an immigrant parent, more than 280,000 immigrants are New York business owners, and immigrants make up more than one quarter of the state’s workforce.

New York’s successful investment in NYIFUP has paved the way for an expansion of universal representation. NYIFUP has been instrumental in demonstrating the benefits of enacting a right to representation in immigration proceedings, building power behind the campaign to pass the Access to Representation Act (S81/A1961) in New York State, and launching the federal Fairness to Freedom Campaign. It also fueled a movement in states, counties, and cities nationwide, leading to the establishment of similar deportation defense efforts in more than 50 jurisdictions across the country, including members of Vera’s SAFE Network.

View The State of New York infographic.

Shayna Kessler Associate Director for Advocacy
Rosie Wang Program Manager