Public Defender Program for Detained Immigrants Expands to Western New York

NEW YORK – The Vera Institute of Justice and partner organizations today announced that indigent immigrants who are detained in Batavia, N.Y. and are at risk of being deported are now eligible to receive free legal counsel under a new pilot program designed to keep them with their families and in their communities.
The pilot is part of the Vera-administered New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP), a ground-breaking initiative that is the first public defender program in the country for immigrants facing deportation. Starting today, the Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP) is providing free legal services to 55 immigrants facing deportation proceedings—men held at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in Batavia and women held at local jails in nearby Allegany and Chautauqua Counties—and whose household income is less than twice the amount set by federal poverty guidelines.
study by the Center for Popular Democracy has shown that NYIFUP representation will provide significant offsetting savings for New York State employers and government. New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Assemblyman Francisco Moya were instrumental in securing $100,000 in state funds to fund the pilot.

“The scales of justice shouldn’t be swayed by whether or not you can afford an attorney,” said Assemblyman Moya, the lead sponsor of legislation to expand the NYIFUP. “The U.S. prides itself on being a beacon of fairness because we believe in one standard of justice for all. Unfortunately, immigration courts have been shadowed from that light of equal justice. New York’s immigrants are part of the patchwork of our community, they make us stronger, and they’re deeply enmeshed in our lives. Deportation has the potential to tear apart families that have established economic and social roots in our state. The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project helps ensure that otherwise law-abiding residents and their families are not unfairly ripped from the life they’ve made for themselves here in New York. They deserve to have their day in court, with an attorney, just like everyone else. I am proud to have been part of the effort to ensure that our immigration courts are fair and just and hope to expand this worthy program statewide."
"Thanks to Speaker Silver's and Assemblyman Moya's bold leadership, families in Western New York, who are facing wrongful deportation, will now have court-appointed legal counsel to help them navigate this extremely complex area of the law," said Angela Fernandez, Esq., executive director of Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights. "By expanding the New York Family Unity Project to New York State, individuals who have a legal right to stay in the U.S. will be able to exercise that right with highly effective court-appointed representation."
“Immigrant families have strengthened the fabric of communities across New York State, and they should not be torn apart simply because they lack access to legal representation,” said Oren Root, director of Vera’s Center on Immigration and Justice. “The NYIFUP project in New York City has shown that many people facing deportation have an established legal right to remain in the United States and keep their families together.”
“VLP has had a presence at the facility in Batavia since 1999, conducting Know Your Rights presentations and referring cases to pro bono lawyers to represent the detained men before the immigration court,” said Sophie Feal, supervising immigration attorney for VLP. “We know firsthand how essential legal representation is for these individuals, and how few have access to it. As such, we are extremely pleased to have received the funding to undertake this project, and sincerely hope that it will serve as a model to convince government that due process requires that all poor detained immigrants in removal proceedings have access to free counsel.”

NYIFUP began in November 2013 as a pilot program that provided representation to 190 detained immigrants at the Varick Street Immigration Court in Manhattan. Forty percent of pilot clients have either won their cases or have been released from detention while pursuing their claims that they have an established legal right to remain in the United States. With funding from the New York City Council, NYIFUP was expanded in July 2014 to a full-scale program which now serves all otherwise-unrepresented, financially-eligible immigrants at the Varick Street court and also detained New York City residents whose cases are heard in New Jersey immigration courts.
Findings from the New York Immigrant Representation Study show that 67 percent of those who are detained go through their removal proceedings without counsel and only 3 percent will prevail. Those who receive representation, however, are 10 times more likely to obtain a successful outcome in immigration court.
NYIFUP has been established as a result of advocacy by the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights, the Center for Popular Democracy, Make the Road New York, the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic at Cardozo School of Law and the Vera Institute of Justice.