SAFE Cities Network Launches: 11 Communities United to Provide Public Defense to Immigrants Facing Deportation

New findings demonstrate that government-funded defense dramatically increases successful outcomes and boosts public trust and public safety.

NEW YORK, NY—At a time when harsh immigration policies are disrupting our communities, separating families, and increasing detention and deportation, leaders and legal service providers from across the country gathered in Columbus, Ohio to launch the Vera Institute of Justice’s Safety and Fairness for Everyone (SAFE) Cities Network, a multi-jurisdiction network dedicated to providing publicly-funded representation for people facing deportation.

SAFE Cities Network members come from 11 politically, economically, and ethnically diverse jurisdictions that are united in their commitment to the belief that, regardless of whether an immigrant will ultimately stay in the U.S. or leave, a crucial way to keep our communities safe is to ensure legal representation for those whose future depends on it.

Through their leadership and pioneering practices, SAFE Cities Network jurisdictions will offer an expanding model for encouraging both safe and welcoming communities. Each jurisdiction was selected by Vera through a competitive request for proposals process. All selected jurisdictions demonstrated their commitment to deportation defense by investing public dollars, which were matched by a catalyst fund administered by Vera.

“Immigration is part of our nation’s past, present, and future, and our communities will find more opportunities to grow and thrive when we recognize and embrace this fact. That means that all residents must see their justice systems—from our law enforcement to our courts—as delivering on our country’s promise of fairness,” said Nicholas Turner, president of the Vera Institute of Justice. “Common sense immigration policies like those embodied by the SAFE Cities Network ensure that all people, regardless of background, income, and history, are guaranteed a fair day in court. Not only does such public funding for indigent immigrants facing deportation maintain trust within our communities, it ultimately increases public safety and keeps deserving families together.”   

“Columbus prides itself on being a diverse city where more than one in ten of our residents are born outside the U.S., and so we are proud to be a part of and host the launch of the SAFE Cities Network”, said Elizabeth Brown, Councilmember for the City of Columbus. “Immigrants are our friends, neighbors, and co-workers, but new enforcement tactics are breaking up families and weakening our neighborhoods and our city. Many immigrants being targeted for deportation have legal avenues to remain in the United States but lack the resources to claim them. Being part of SAFE means that the Columbus Families Together Fund can fill that gap by providing legal representation to keep children with their parents and strengthen Columbus overall.”

“Local law enforcement is most effective when it can focus on keeping our community safe," said Dr. Ronal Serpas, former Police Chief and Professor of Practice with the Loyola University New Orleans Criminal Justice Department. “This requires smart policies, such as those being advanced in these SAFE Cities, that build and maintain the trust all our residents have in law enforcement and the justice system.”

The launch of the SAFE Cities Network coincided with the release of a new study from Vera showing that providing universal public defense dramatically increases the likelihood of indigent immigrants prevailing and returning to their families, jobs and communities. Providing legal representation to those facing deportation maintains trust in governmental institutions and supports public safety for the entire community.

The evaluation of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP), which pioneered universal representation for detained indigent immigrants in deportation proceedings, showed a successful outcome rate of 48%, an 1100% increase from the pre-NYIFUP 4% success rate for cases that did not have attorneys at the Varick Street Immigration Court in New York City.

“NYIFUP has helped hundreds of New York immigrant families receive due process, avoid permanent separation, and remain together,” said Oren Root, director of the Center on Immigration and Justice at the Vera Institute of Justice. “We are thrilled that NYIFUP’s success has led to its replication in the 11 SAFE Cities jurisdictions.”

“Without my NYIFUP attorney I would probably have had no chance,” said Omar Siagha, a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) since infancy who was detained for five months before NYIFUP lawyers won his case and he was returned to his young daughter and family. “My lawyer at Brooklyn Defender Services fought the case like it was for her own family or friends. It’s inhumane for people to go to court with no lawyer, and I hope the program spreads. Everyone deserves a chance to explain their case to the judge.” 

Under the new SAFE Cities Network initiative, 11 jurisdictions are providing funding for trained legal service providers to represent immigrants facing deportation proceedings supplemented by a catalyst grant administered by Vera. Vera will provide technical expertise and support, including assistance in identifying and training legal service providers, providing opportunities to share best practices with other jurisdictions, and providing data collection and analyses for the purpose of evaluating the network’s impact.

The SAFE Cities Network includes:

Atlanta GA
Austin TX
Baltimore MD
Chicago IL
Columbus OH
Dane County WI
Oakland/Alameda County CA
Prince George's County MD
Sacramento CA
San Antonio TX
Santa Ana CA


About the Vera Institute of Justice:

The Vera Institute of Justice is an independent nonprofit national research and policy organization working with governments to build and improve justice systems that ensure fairness, promote safety, and strengthen communities.

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