Amid COVID-19 Crisis, Vera Institute of Justice & Coalition for Immigrant Defense Appeal for Protections in State Budget for New York’s Most Vulnerable Immigrants


Contact: Poonam Mantha;

BROOKLYN, NY -- The Vera Institute of Justice and the Coalition for Immigrant Defense are urging legislators and Governor Andrew Cuomo to ensure that New York State’s pioneering legal representation programs for immigrants facing deportation will remain fully funded in the 2021 fiscal year budget. Amid the current devastating public health crisis, while immigrants in detention and facing deportation are facing a terrifying fight for their health and safety, the programs’ publicly funded immigration lawyers are on the front lines, promoting due process and affirming the human dignity of the most vulnerable immigrant communities in New York.

The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) and all of the immigrant legal services funded under the Liberty Defense Project (LDP) make New York State the national leader of a movement to stand up to federal enforcement and brutality against immigrant communities. NYIFUP is the country’s first and only statewide public defender system for detained immigrants facing deportation, and has been critical to protecting communities that face relentless attacks.

According to Kica Matos, director of the Center on Immigration and Justice at the Vera Institute of Justice, “Even with the current pandemic, the federal assault on immigrant New Yorkers has continued, putting all New Yorkers at heightened risk. In this treacherous environment, NYIFUP lawyers are on the front lines fighting for health, freedom, and due process for immigrants in detention.” Vera and the nearly 40-member Coalition for Immigrant Defense are urging continued funding for NYIFUP and all LDP attorneys who are fighting back against the harm federal enforcement is causing in New York State.

“In this moment of crisis, we demand that the Liberty Defense Project, NYFIUP and other crucial legal services programs remain fully funded. Immigrant New Yorkers remain on the frontline of this pandemic, ensuring that our grocery shelves are stocked and cooking and delivering our food, despite remaining targets of active federal immigration enforcement across the state. As more people are needlessly brought into detention, the threat to the health of immigrants, staff, and the surrounding communities will compound, deepening the crisis and thwarting Governor Cuomo’s efforts to stem the spread of the virus. We can only win this battle against COVID-19 by protecting the health and safety of each and every New Yorker by guaranteeing due process and standing united,” said Steve Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition.

“The stakes for people in immigration detention could not be higher: on top of the risk of permanent family separation and the forced return to dangerous or deadly conditions in another country, they now face a rising health risk caused by irresponsible federal enforcement in New York,” said Javier H. Valdés, co–executive director of Make the Road New York. In crowded detention centers where people are confined in close quarters and must share bathrooms, sinks, and showers, there is no way to ensure safety or to comply with public health directives on social distancing and sanitation. NYIFUP attorneys are fighting for release and commonsense measures to ensure safety and dignity for people in these dangerous conditions.

Approximately 500 people are now represented by a NYIFUP attorney in upstate New York; over the course of this year, 1,400 people are projected to need NYIFUP representation. With full funding, NYIFUP lawyers will continue to fight for freedom and fair treatment for people in detention and facing deportation. New York City NYIFUP attorneys have already secured the release of immigrants in detention. Litigation filed by NYIFUP attorneys and other advocates is pending in the Western District of New York.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said, “During this unprecedented crisis in which our core values are under attack and the health and lives of all New Yorkers are at stake, New York should continue its historic leadership in serving all of those in need, standing with immigrants, and supporting a program that will bolster New York’s efforts to promote health and safety.”

The Vera Institute previously shared its concerns regarding the importance of safeguarding the funding for immigration legal services in this letter to New York State’s leadership.


The Vera Institute of Justice leads a powerful coalition of nearly 40 organizations in support of continued and sustainable New York State funding for immigration legal services in New York State. The coalition of faith leaders, community groups, workers’ rights advocates, immigration legal service providers, and civil rights organizations has called for the continued strength of New York’s immigration legal services programs that promote safety, family unity, and due process for people facing deportation in New York.


The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, one of the critical deportation defense representation programs funded by the Liberty Defense Project, is the country’s first and only statewide public defender system for detained immigrants facing deportation. In pioneering NYIFUP, New York became the national leader of an inspiring movement of state and local governments who stand up to hostile immigration attacks by using public funds to support fairness and due process in immigrant proceedings. Even though the stakes could not be higher—permanent family separation and the possible return to deadly conditions in another country—there is no federal right to counsel in immigration court.

The impact of legal representation for immigrants facing deportation is astounding. The evidence shows that immigrants who are represented are 3.5 times more likely to be released and up to 10 times more likely to prove their right to remain in the United States. NYIFUP is funded by New York City and New York State, with the city funding representation for detained people facing deportation at immigration courts located within its boundaries and the state funding representation for detained people in courts across the rest of New York State. In fiscal year 2020, upstate NYIFUP served just more than 1,000 people. In fiscal year 2021, the projections are that 1,400 people will need services.


The Vera Institute of Justice is a justice reform change agent. Vera produces ideas, analysis, and research that inspire change in the systems people rely upon for safety and justice. Vera collaborates with the communities most impacted by these systems and works in close partnership with government and civic leaders to implement change. Across projects, Vera is committed to explicitly and effectively reducing the burdens of the justice system on people of color and frames all work with an understanding of our country’s history of racial oppression. Vera is currently pursuing core priorities of ending the misuse of jails, transforming conditions of confinement, providing legal services for immigrants, and ensuring that justice systems more effectively serve America’s increasingly diverse communities. Vera has offices in Brooklyn, NY; Washington, DC; New Orleans, and Los Angeles.

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