Elected Officials, Immigrant Advocates Rally to Demand Passage Of the Access to Representation Act

With weeks until the State budget is finalized, advocates seek to establish a right to counsel in immigration court, $120m investment in legal and essential services

ALBANY, NY — Today, elected officials including Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal and Assemblymember Catalina Cruz joined the Campaign for Access, Representation & Equity (CARE) for Immigrant Families coalition to call on Gov. Kathy Hochul and the legislature to enact and fully fund the Access to Representation Act (ARA). This first-in-the-nation bill would establish a right to counsel in immigration court proceedings.

With weeks until the New York State budget is finalized, advocates demanded relief to the overwhelmed immigration court system in New York, which faces a backlog of more than 190,000 deportation cases. A $120 million investment in legal and immigration services would significantly boost the capacity of legal service providers and provide relief to the estimated 65,000 individuals who currently lack access to representation in immigration court.

Immigrants who can’t afford to hire an attorney are currently forced to represent themselves in court, regardless of age or language abilities, against trained government attorneys. Studies show that immigrants with legal representation are 10 times more likely to win their right to remain in the United States, making it more important than ever for legislative leaders to fund legal services and help keep immigrant families intact.

Sponsored by Sen. Hoylman-Sigal and Assemblymember Cruz, the passage of the ARA will help thousands of New Yorkers stay in their homes with their families, contributing to their communities and our economy.

“Without access to legal representation, so many of our immigrant neighbors are left without access to justice,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James. “Immigrants are New Yorkers, and all New Yorkers deserve a fair chance in court. Our great state leads the nation in protecting immigrant communities, and it is imperative that we continue to uphold that legacy. I am proud to stand with Senator Hoylman-Sigal, Assemblymember Cruz, and our colleagues in advocacy and government in supporting the Access to Representation Act to establish a right to counsel in immigration court and a vital investment in legal services.”

State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal said, “Having a lawyer in an immigration hearing can be the difference between life and death. Non-detained people in immigration hearings are over three times more likely to achieve a successful outcome if they have representation. Our Access to Representation Act will help immigrants get the legal representation they need. I am grateful to Assemblymember Catalina Cruz, the Vera Institute of Justice, the New York Immigration Coalition, and Immigrant-ARC for their advocacy in support of this critical bill.”

“I'm proud to stand with immigrant New Yorkers knowing that the One House budget has made an unprecedented commitment to them at a time of great need. I know how challenging the legal system is to navigate for all New Yorkers, but especially those who cannot afford legal representation and for those who may not speak English. The Access to Representation Act will address the already existing backlog of immigration cases as well as assist newly-arrived immigrants in securing legal services so that they can continue to call New York home. I am honored to carry this bill, and thank Senator Hoylman-Sigal and the advocates for their persistence and partnership to bring us to this moment; and I look forward to working with them to ensure the passage of the Access to Representation Act in this budget session,” said Assembly Member Catalina Cruz.

“New York has long been a progressive leader, we should not allow anyone to be denied adequate legal representation, regardless of immigration status,” said State Senator Jeremy Cooney. “Justice is undeniably tied to proper counsel, this legislation will ensure no person is denied representation, improving outcomes and ensuring our judicial system is placing justice above politics.”

"Over the past few years, we have seen increased acts of abuse towards our immigrant communities. And the fact that immigrants facing deportation are not guaranteed a right to counsel is not only outrageous, it's immoral. We are a nation of immigrants, and it is our moral obligation to provide them with care and assistance. The Access to Representation Act has my full support because, like any defendant in criminal court, immigrants also have the right to legal representation." said Assemblymember Kenny Burgos.

“Everyone deserves the right to an attorney, especially those facing seemingly grave realities,” said Assembly Member Brian A. Cunningham. “With the passage of the Access to Representation Act, immigrant New Yorkers will finally receive legal representation in immigration court proceedings regardless of financial status and language abilities due to the advocacy of my colleagues. With approximately 65,000 lives and counting in the balance, I am proud to co-sponsor this legislation that protects the right-to-counsel for all.

Assembly Member Manny De Los Santos, MSW, District 72 said, “Access to Representation for Immigrants is an essential service. Without a dedicated workforce of lawyers, vulnerable families can make the wrong decision in immigration court proceedings, including falling victim to scammers pretending to be lawyers. As a co-sponsor of the bill, I’m dedicated to passing Access to Representation this session to protect these families by giving them affordable legal representation.”

“Low-income immigrants facing deportation deserve access to legal services. We must include $100 million in funding for legal defense for those in Immigration Court in this budget. I echo the CARE For Immigrant Families Coalition’s call to my colleagues in the legislature to pass, and the Governor to sign, the Access to Representation Act this session,” said Assemblymember González-Rojas.

Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon said, "I’m proud to cosponsor the first-in-the-nation bill to guarantee the right to legal counsel for individuals during immigration court proceedings. New York immigrants, who make up 22% of our state's population, are unfairly expected to navigate complex immigration law and to defend themselves simply because they lack financial resources. Immigrants who have access to legal counsel are 10 times more likely to establish their right to remain in the US as opposed to those without counsel. I’m urging the passage of this legislation, which is a pressing civil rights matter, along with significant funding in our budget to guarantee that quality legal counsel is available for all immigrants."

“It’s really hard to find a lawyer who’s affordable, who’s responsive, and who does high quality work, especially in upstate NY. It’s difficult to be stuck in limbo while still trying to reach the dream that so many immigrants in similar situations are trying to reach. We need to make sure people who are in danger of deportation, of being torn away from their family, have access to attorneys that can help them,” said Tia, member of Columbia County Sanctuary Movement. “This type of help will protect families and treat them the way they deserve to be treated. It will help them create a life of stability and safety here in America.”

"We thank Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie for one-house budget proposals that include historic investments of $120 million to fund legal services and other essential programs for immigrant New Yorkers. Every day, countless immigrants face deportation without an attorney to help them navigate the complex immigration court system. Access to legal representation can be the deciding factor between a one-sided battle and a fair chance to start a new life. The Access to Representation Act will increase funding for essential legal services and guarantee representation for all who face deportation. New York has long been a national leader in supporting our immigrant communities and it is crucial that this year's budget protects all New Yorkers. Gov. Hochul must demonstrate bold leadership supporting immigrant New Yorkers as valued friends, business owners and members of our communities by delivering $120 million for legal and social services, as well as passing the Access to Representation Act," said Murad Awawdeh, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition.

"Every New Yorker deserves the right to representation in immigration court. Increasing funding for these essential services and passing the Access to Representation Act will ensure that our immigrant neighbors have a fighting chance in a system that threatens them with the excruciating prospect of immigration detention and deportation. Our state has been a national leader in this fight, but legal service providers are stretched to their limits, unable to serve everyone at risk of deportation. We must secure the right to legal representation for New Yorkers at risk of deportation and ensure a chance to seek safety, security, and family unity,” said Shayna Kessler, state advocacy manager for the Vera Institute of Justice.

“Funding the Access to Representation Act is a necessary step to ensuring that immigrant New Yorkers entering our backlogged and incredibly complex - and often harsh - immigration system will not face deportation without the essential support of a legal representative. New York’s legal service providers are at capacity and without the development of an expanded immigrant legal and social services infrastructure supported by this bill, cannot take on new cases to help immigrants trying to obtain legal protections. We are grateful to Assemblymember Catalina Cruz and Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal for championing this issue, and urge the New York Legislature and Governor to include the ARA in their current budget so that New York State can once again model what innovation in the delivery of immigration legal services and meaningful investment in immigrant communities looks like for the rest of the country,” said Camille Mackler, executive director of Immigrant ARC.


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