Immigrant Rights Advocates Celebrate New York City Council Resolution Backing Right-to-Counsel in Immigration Proceedings

December 14, 2023
Media Contact: Zameena Mejia,

New York—Today, the New York City Council passed Resolution 556 calling on the New York State Legislature to pass and the Governor to sign the Access to Representation Act, a first-in-the-nation bill that establishes the right to legal counsel in immigration court proceedings. Members of the Campaign for Access, Representation, and Equity (CARE) for Immigrant Families steering committee reacted to the news.

Shayna Kessler, associate director of advocacy for the Vera Institute of Justice’s Advancing Universal Representation initiative, said:

"Successfully navigating the immigration legal system is a daunting challenge under any circumstance. Without legal assistance, immigrants risk detention, deportation to life-threatening situations, and permanent separation from their loved ones. We thank the City Council for overwhelmingly supporting sustainable immigration legal services and the Access to Representation Act. Today's resolution sends a strong message to Albany that universal legal representation must be a top priority in the new year.”

Murad Awawdeh, executive director of New York Immigration Coalition, said:

“Today’s resolution in support of a right to counsel in immigration courts by the New York City Council is an indisputable signal to Albany. We cannot afford for the status quo to continue. New York has been a beacon of hope to immigrant families for generations, and we must carry that legacy by enacting the Access to Representation Act. It is a failure of our fundamental New York values for us to force immigrant families, including children, to represent themselves in court against deportation. Fair representation must be universal, not extended only to those who can afford attorneys. We thank the Council for their ongoing leadership and look forward to keeping up the good fight in Albany,”

Camille Mackler, executive director, Immigrant ARC, said:

“Today’s passing of Resolution 556 by the New York City Council is a welcome development in our fight for the right to representation and underscores the importance of New Yorkers getting the right to legal help when facing deportation. It is simple––the data shows that people facing deportation are far more likely to remain with their loved ones if they have a legal advocate on their side. New York thrives when we keep families together, allow people to contribute to their communities, and provide immigrants the stability to flourish. Our immigration legal system is impossibly skewed to one side and providing legal representation is the best tool we have to uphold our basic principles of due process and to restore a measure of fairness to a fundamentally unjust system. Governor Hochul and legislative leaders must recognize this and take the next step this year by passing the first-in-the-nation Access to Representation Act (S.999/A.0170).”


About the Campaign for Access, Representation, and Equity (CARE) for Immigrant Families: The Vera Institute of Justice, the New York Immigration Coalition, and Immigrant ARC lead CARE for Immigrant Families, a coalition of more than 100 leading organizations, religious groups, and elected officials united to pass the Access to Representation Act. The bill (S999A/A170A) will guarantee access to legal representation for immigrants at risk of deportation in New York. Sponsored by Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal and Assemblymember Catalina Cruz, the legislation would be the first in the nation to create a statewide right to legal representation for people facing deportation who cannot afford it, whether they have recently arrived in the state or have been New Yorkers for decades.

About Vera Institute of Justice: The Vera Institute of Justice is powered by hundreds of advocates, researchers, and policy experts working to transform the criminal legal and immigration systems until they’re fair for all. Founded in 1961 to advocate for alternatives to money bail in New York City, Vera is now a national organization that partners with impacted communities and government leaders for change. We develop just, antiracist solutions so that money doesn’t determine freedom; fewer people are in jails, prisons, and immigration detention; and everyone is treated with dignity. Vera’s headquarters is in Brooklyn, New York, with offices in Washington, DC, New Orleans, and Los Angeles. For more information, visit

About Immigrant ARC: Immigrant ARC is a collaborative of over 80 organizations and professional associations providing legal services to New York’s immigrant communities throughout the State. Born out of the legal effort at JFK Airport during the Muslim Travel Ban in 2017, our mission is clear: to mobilize New York State’s legal service providers by facilitating communication and information sharing to better support our immigrant communities; to organize and respond to issues as they arise by coordinating resources and fostering best practices among providers; and to resist and challenge anti-immigrant policies by shining a light on injustices and confronting inequalities faced by our communities in the legal system. For more information, visit

About New York Immigration Coalition: The New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) is an umbrella policy & advocacy organization that represents over 200 immigrant and refugee rights groups throughout New York. The NYIC serves one of the largest and most diverse newcomer populations in the United States. The multi-racial and multi-sector NYIC membership base includes grassroots and nonprofit community organizations, religious and academic institutions, labor unions, as well as legal and socioeconomic justice organizations. The NYIC not only establishes a forum for immigrant groups to voice their concerns, but also provides a platform for collective action to drive positive social change. Since its founding in 1987, the NYIC has evolved into a powerful voice of advocacy by spearheading innovative policies, promoting and protecting the rights of immigrant communities, improving newcomer access to services, developing leadership and capacity, expanding civic participation, and mobilizing member groups to respond to the fluctuating needs of immigrant communities.

Related Content