Vera Institute of Justice Shares New Polling Data Finding Overwhelming Support Among New Yorkers for Immigration Legal Services Funding

A broad coalition is calling for the restoration of critical services for families facing separation and deportation

NEW YORK, NY – Today, the Vera Institute of Justice’s Center on Immigration and Justice, at a press conference with the New York Immigrant Coalition (NYIC), Assemblymember Catalina Cruz, New York State Senator Brad Hoylman, legal service providers and community members, discussed the importance of funding in the State’s budget for the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) and all of New York’s critical immigration legal service programs.

Vera also shared results of a new poll capturing New Yorkers’ views on legal representation for immigrants showing that 93 percent of New Yorkers favor government-funded lawyers for people in immigration court.

“These polling results confirm what many of us already know -- that despite the dehumanizing and divisive rhetoric and harsh immigration policies at the federal level, the principles and values of equal justice, due process, fundamental fairness, and dignity are ingrained and widely shared in New York,” said Kica Matos, Director of the Vera Institute’s Center on Immigration and Justice. “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.”

NYIFUP – one of the Liberty Defense Project (LDP)’s 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.

“The alarm bells should be ringing - New York’s immigrants need help today, not tomorrow. The Trump administration’s deportation force is out of control, leaving New York’s 4.4 million immigrants with few resources to access the legal services they need to keep their families together,” said Steven Choi, Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “A critical, immediate first step is securing a reinvestment for the Liberty Defense Project, including the NY Immigrant Family Unity Project and other immigration legal services programs. Ultimately, we need a permanent, long-term solution to ensure real fairness - and recent polling from the Vera Institute shows that an overwhelming majority - 9 in 10 New Yorkers - agree we need due process for all. The groundbreaking Access to Representation Act would guarantee low-income immigrants are able to access the legal representation they need to have a fair day in immigration court. We’ll need all of these efforts to make sure that New York’s immigrant families can stay together.”

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 by increasing funding for the LDP to $15.3 million.

“Immigration attorneys and their clients work in exceptionally challenging circumstances addressing one of the nation’s most complex areas of law,” said Karen Murtagh, Executive Director of Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York. “Without an attorney, a person’s ability to understand their legal options and exercise their right to remain in this country is nearly impossible. With an attorney, people facing deportation can fight for the right to remain safe at home with their families and in their communities.”

"The impact of legal representation for immigrants facing deportation cannot be overstated,” said Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz. “Detained immigrants who are represented by an attorney are 3.5 times more likely to be released, and up to ten times more likely to prove their right to remain in the U.S. One study of New York deportation cases found the likelihood of success for clients increased by 1,100% with legal representation. We need to immediately restore the funding that was removed from this year's state budget for immigration counsel as well as pass legislation that will permanently create and fund statewide immigration services for undocumented New Yorkers in detention proceeds in order to increase their access to justice and protect our communities from the relentless federal government onslaught that is methodically targeting our most vulnerable neighbors.”

“Having a lawyer could mean the difference between life and death for at-risk immigrant families in New York,” added State Senator Brad Hoylman. “While the Trump administration will stop at nothing to deport, detain or destroy our neighbors, our state must fight back hard. Over 90 percent of New Yorkers agree that legal representation for immigrants is essential. That’s why I’m proud to be fighting to protect immigrant families through passing the Access to Representation Act and fully funding the NYIFUP.”

About the Vera Institute of Justice:

The Vera Institute of Justice is a justice reform change agent. Vera produces ideas, analysis, and research that inspire change in the systems people rely upon for safety and justice and works in close partnership with government and civic leaders to implement it. Across projects, Vera is committed to explicitly, pointedly and effectively reducing the burdens of the justice system on people of color, and frame work with an understanding of our country’s history of racial oppression. Vera is currently pursuing core priorities of ending the misuse of jails, transforming conditions of confinement, providing legal services for immigrants, and ensuring that justice systems more effectively serve America’s increasingly diverse communities.

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