Coalition of Immigrant Advocates Announces New Campaign to Restore Funding for Legal Services in State Budget

Members of Broad Coalition Commit to Media, Public Education, Grassroots and Lobbying Campaign to Protect Immigrant Legal Services

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – January 30, 2020

ALBANY – The Vera Institute of Justice today announced the launch of a new campaign aimed at restoring funding in the Governor’s budget for the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) and all of the deportation defense services funded under the Liberty Defense Project. The Liberty Defense Project (LDP), which funds programs providing low income immigrants facing deportation with access to lawyers, has been in the budget since 2017, but has been left out of the executive budget as currently drafted. The coalition, which includes legal groups, civil rights organizations, grassroots organizations, lawmakers and others, will be aggressively making the case for renewed funding through a coordinated media campaign, lobbying effort, grassroots and public advocacy statewide.

NYIFUP – one of the LDP services at risk of losing its funding – is the nation’s first and only statewide public defender system for people in immigration detention. Since 2017, State funding has ensured that no detained person in New York is forced to face the threat of deportation without a lawyer simply because they can’t afford one. As immigrants continue to be under attack by the federal government, an increasing number of people are in need of services, while the complexity and resources involved in immigration representation have multiplied. To continue to serve all of those in need, NYIFUP alone needs $6.5 million. To continue to be the national model for standing with immigrants by standing up to harsh federal enforcement, New York State must increase its support for deportation defense representation programs in the FY21 budget.

Kica Matos, Director of the Vera Institute’s Center on Immigration and Justice stated, “Under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, New York’s support for immigrant legal services has inspired a national movement of communities advancing publicly-funded legal representation for immigrants to counter the injustice and destabilization federal immigration enforcement has brought to our nation. That leadership must continue at this pivotal moment when it is needed most. This broad coalition will make the case for the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project in order to restore critical protections for families facing separation and deportation.”

Steven Choi, the Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition said, “In light of continued federal attacks on immigrants, deportation defense is the crucial last line of defense to protect immigrant families, stabilize our communities, and promote due process. We are activating our allies and the public to ensure that Governor Cuomo continues his longstanding leadership on this issue, and ask legislators to lend their strong support to this project.”

New York State Senator Brad Hoylman said, “Donald Trump's deportation machine has kicked into high gear - and it's terrifying. For immigrants facing deportation, having an attorney can make the difference between staying in New York or being deported: 85% of immigrants lose their case when they don’t have legal representation. I'm working on a legislative solution with Assembly Member Cruz, the Access to Representation Act, but immigrant families need help right now. I fully support fully funding NYIFUP in the state budget so that we can fund legal services for immigrants facing deportation.”

These new efforts will build upon the work of the Vera Institute, the New York Immigration Coalition, and advocates across New York to make New York a national model for publicly funded immigration legal services.


African Communities Together

Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF)

Assemblymember Catalina Cruz

Bishop Mark J. Webb, Resident Bishop of the Upper New York Conference of the United Methodist Church

Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton, Resident Bishop of the New York Conference of The United Methodist Church

Black Alliance for Just Immigration

Bronx Defenders

Brooklyn Community Bail Fund

Brooklyn Defender Services


Center for Gender and Refugee Studies

Center for Popular Democracy

Columbia County Sanctuary Movement

Community Resource Center

Cornell Law 1L Immigration Clinic

Cornell Law School Asylum Appeals Clinic

HIAS Pennsylvania

Immigrant and Non-Citizen Rights Clinic, CUNY School of Law

Immigrant Defense Project

Innocence Project

Journey’s End Refugee Services

Justice for Migrant Families

Justice in Motion


Make the Road New York

NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund

Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem

New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP)

New York Civil Liberties Union

New York Immigration Coalition

New York Lawyers for the Public Interest

NY Justice for our Neighbors

Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network (Colorado)

Senator Brad Hoylman

The Door

The Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project (Arizona)

The Legal Aid Society of Nassau County

Vera Institute of Justice

Worker Center of Central NY

* Add your organization to the list of partners. Endorse the campaign here.



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. The program began in 2013 as a New York City pilot program, administered by the Vera Institute of Justice and, funded by New York City Council. It expanded to full scale across all of New York State in 2017. New York State funds representation for everyone who is detained, facing deportation, and unable to afford an attorney in an upstate immigration court.

In pioneering NYIFUP, New York became the national leader of an inspiring movement of state and local governments who in part stand up to hostile immigration attacks by using public funds to support fairness and due process to immigrant proceedings. Unlike in criminal proceedings where everyone has the right to an attorney if they cannot afford one, most people in immigration detention must navigate a complex field of law and face a trained government attorney without a lawyer unless they are able to afford to pay one. Even though the stakes could not be higher – permanent separation from their families and communities and the possible return to dangerous or 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 U.S. A study of the original NYIFUP pilot in New York City found the odds of success for clients increased by 1,100% with representation.

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 light of growing numbers of people in need of services, longer case lengths, and increasing resources involved with providing representation, New York City funded its component of NYIFUP at $16.6 million in FY20, an increase of $5 million since FY19. While New York State’s commitment to NYIFUP in the past two years has remained at $4.25 million, $6.5 million is now needed to keep the program at full scale, ensuring that all eligible people in upstate New York continue to receive services. In FY 20, upstate NYIFUP served just over 1,000 people. In FY21, the projections are that 1,400 will need services. This likely increase in the number of people needing services comes at a time when the challenges in practicing immigration law could not be greater. Regular changes to established immigration law by a federal administration that is openly hostile to immigrants requires attorneys and their clients to reevaluate legal strategy, underlying facts, and legal options on a regular basis. The regular use of video teleconferencing rather than in-person appearances in immigration courts makes communication more challenging and time consuming as technology fails to work consistently and interpretation for those who do not speak English must be consecutive rather than simultaneous. Moreover, the ability to present complicated and emotional information becomes even more difficult when individuals are not present in person. Finally, unpredictable scheduling practices have led to the last-minute postponement of hearings, requiring attorneys and their clients to double the amount of work involved in the preparation for trial, including obtaining witnesses to testify, reviewing sensitive client testimony, and developing legal strategy.