Vera Institute of Justice’s SAFE Initiative Launches Community Partnership Program in Support of Universal Representation for Immigrants

In the midst of the pandemic and federal attacks on immigrant communities, program grants will elevate directly impacted voices and support grassroots organizing for publicly funded deportation defense for immigrants.

CONTACT: Linda Zhang,

NEW YORK, NY —Today, the Vera Institute of Justice’s SAFE (Safety and Fairness for Everyone) Initiative launched its Community Partnership program by announcing grants to 13 groups organizing to advance universal legal representation for immigrant communities. The grantees were announced during a webinar with Vera’s Kica Matos and Philadelphia Councilperson Helen Gym highlighting local activism and leadership in immigration, kicking off a virtual convening for SAFE partners.

Vera’s SAFE Initiative partners with local governments, legal service providers, and advocates in 21 jurisdictions across 11 states to pilot universal representation programs for immigrants facing detention and deportation. The new Community Partnership program furthers SAFE’s commitment to this unique collaborative model and will help drive the rapidly growing national movement for universal representation to ensure a lifeline for immigrants facing detention and deportation.

“The accumulation of injustices facing immigrant communities has reached a tipping point. In this treacherous environment, state and local universal representation programs provide a beacon of light. Having lawyers on the frontlines means that we are able to fight for the health, freedom, and due process rights of immigrants in detention,” said Kica Matos, Vice President of Initiatives at the Vera Institute of Justice. “As SAFE enters its fourth year, we are delighted to introduce its new Community Partnership program, which will help support and build capacity for a powerful network of grassroots organizations. Their advocacy will help grow the movement for universal representation and lay the foundation for permanent federal change.”

“The right to a fair trial is a fundamental principle of the American justice system, and I am proud that Philadelphia stepped up in this moment to ensure that our immigrant neighbors will have access to legal representation in federal immigration court,” said Philadelphia City Councilmember Helen Gym. “By supporting the critical work of local organizations like the PA Immigration Family Unit Project Collaborative in Philadelphia, the SAFE Community Partnership program helps to further these ideals and ensure that they are extended to more immigrant communities.”

The full list of grant recipients are as follows:

Community partners will collaborate with local legal service providers, government champions, and other immigration and racial justice movements in order to expand justice and fairness for immigrant communities. SAFE is committed to ensuring ongoing momentum for local deportation defense and laying the groundwork for federal change. Thirty-five percent of SAFE clients have won the right to remain in the United States, compared to only 3% of unrepresented people in detention nationwide. Amid an ongoing public health pandemic disproportionately impacting immigrant communities and communities of color and continued federal attacks on immigrant communities, publicly funded deportation defense programs are needed now more than ever.

More details about Vera’s SAFE Initiative is available here.

Statements of Support:

"BAJI is thrilled to be partnering with Vera Institute's SAFE Initiative in the critical work of making sure immigrants have access to universal representation. Black immigrants suffer greatly from the lack of access to representation in immigration court. We are detained for longer periods and our bond amounts are higher than other immigrant groups. We are disproportionately deported on criminal grounds, and those cases involving criminal grounds require the type of expert representation that most Black immigrants cannot afford. Universal representation keeps communities together and saves lives. We are grateful to be in this important partnership." -- Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI)

"The Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition and Alianza NORCO are thrilled to be working alongside the SAFE Initiative to increase access to immigration legal services through grassroots and direct advocacy for city-sponsored legal defense funds. Deportation proceedings are the only legal proceedings in the United States where people are detained without access to legal representation. Our immigration system is incredibly complicated, and immigrants are more than 10 times more likely to be able to remain when they have legal representation. Our immigrant community supports and contributes to Colorado economic growth, paying more than $5 billion in local, state and federal taxes per year. Every deportation costs our community – we lose vital tax revenue, local industries are disrupted, schools become crisis centers and children who are separated from their parents end up in foster care. We can and must increase access to immigration legal services, together." -- Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC) and Alianza NORCO

“Being part of a network that is working hard to advance universal representation gives us hope. Detention is cruel, especially during COVID-19 where people are unable to social distance because of crowded facilities and lack proper medical care. Detention destroys entire families. However, families find hope when they are able to obtain free legal representation while navigating a complex and unjust immigration system. This is why at LBIRC, we are committed to the Long Beach Justice Fund. Our communities deserve a fighting chance of staying with their families.” -- Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition (LBIRC)

“As a coalition of non-profit organizations serving immigrants in Pennsylvania, PA Immigration Family Unit Project Collaborative (PAIFUP) extends a message of gratitude to the Vera Institute of Justice’s SAFE Initiative for supporting our work in favor of detained immigrants who are in need of universal legal representation. Through this collaborative partnership, individuals will not have to be forced to navigate the complex immigration system alone, a feat that is made even more difficult by language barriers, cultural obstacles, financial limitations, education level, and access to evidence and witnesses outside of the detention facility. Once again PAIFUP, celebrates this Community Partnership program which furthers our coalition’s commitment to building immigrant legal assistance in a collaborative way.” -- PAIFUP (Pennsylvania Immigrant Family Unity Project) Collaborative: Casa San Jose, Juntos, MILPA, Vietlead

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. Vera collaborates with the communities most impacted by these systems and works in close partnership with government and civic leaders to implement change. Across projects, Vera is committed to explicitly and effectively reducing the burdens of the justice system on people of color and frames all 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. Vera has offices in Brooklyn, NY; Washington, DC; New Orleans, and Los Angeles.

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