In recent years, threats of arrest and detention of immigrants have soared, families have been systematically separated, and noncitizens are more vulnerable than ever to deportation. Yet immigrants facing deportation do not have the right to a public defender if they cannot afford a lawyer.

The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) is the first and largest public defender program in the country for detained immigrants facing deportation. Bringing due process to immigration proceedings, NYIFUP ensures that no immigrants in the state are detained or deported simply because they do not have the resources to hire an attorney.

Providing legal counsel also keeps families together and communities strong. Vera’s evaluation of the New York City pilot program projected that 48 percent of clients would establish a right to remain in the United States—a 1,100 percent increase compared to that of unrepresented, detained people in the city before NYIFUP. On average, NYIFUP clients had lived in the United States for 16 years, and 30 percent entered the country as green card holders. The clients in the study who were saved from deportation are projected to contribute $2.7 million in federal, state, and local taxes each year.

The model pioneered by NYIFUP has paved the way for similar deportation defense efforts in cities, counties, and states across the country. It is a core component of Vera’s work supporting the growing nationwide movement for universal representation, as advanced through the SAFE Network and our work with the LA Justice Fund.

Project Objectives

  • By providing counsel to immigrants who cannot afford a lawyer, NYIFUP seeks to strengthen immigrant communities and maintain social and economic stability.


  • NYIFUP has created a model for representation that has fostered replication across the country.

Key Fact

More than 7,000 U.S. citizen children lost a parent to deportation between 2005 and 2010.