Protect New York’s Immigration Legal Services Funding

For immigrants in detention, access to legal representation can be a matter of life and death.

The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) is the first statewide program in the country to provide legal representation for low-income people in immigration detention.

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Coalition Letter to Governor Cuomo

August 3, 2020

The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224

RE: Grave Risks to New York’s Immigration Legal Services Funding

Dear Governor Cuomo,

The 78 undersigned organizations write to express grave concern about the current financial threats to the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) and immigration legal services programs funded through New York’s Liberty Defense Project (LDP). We have been advised by state officials that payments for completed and ongoing work as well as contracting to secure continued services in the coming year are on hold.

The loss of funding for NYIFUP and the entire LDP would be devastating to people currently served by the program and to the people who will continue to face immigration enforcement as a result of relentless federal attacks, amounting to a resounding victory for the federal government’s racist, anti-immigrant agenda. Sustained support for immigration legal services that unites families and promotes health and freedom is essential to New York’s recovery and to its continued national leadership in building powerful momentum towards a federal immigration system that mirrors New York’s embrace of immigrants.

Lawyers for immigrants facing deportation are the last line of defense for people in deadly detention centers facing permanent separation from their families as a result of the federal government’s attacks on immigrants. Now more than ever, that sustained support is needed to protect those at risk of the worst consequences of COVID-19, to ensure stability in New York’s most vulnerable communities during the recovery, and to support immigrants – predominantly people of color – disproportionately harmed by immigration enforcement and detention. We ask you to ensure payments for this critical ongoing work and to confirm that the $10 million allocated to LDP in the FY21 budget will be used to safeguard the rights of immigrants facing deportation by fully funding NYIFUP and the other LDP programs now and in the coming year.

Federal immigration detention and enforcement continues in New York and across the country, even during the current crisis. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reported that it brought more than 10,000 people into detention in the months of May and June 2020 as a result of interior enforcement. They continue to detain people in spite of the fact that substandard healthcare and sanitary practices, as well as the inability to socially distance, make detention facilities dangerous to the immigrants, staff, and surrounding communities. As of July 15, 2020, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had reported that 1,110 people held in detention facilities have tested positive for COVID-19. Research by the Vera Institute of Justice indicates that ICE is severely underreporting the prevalence of COVID-19 in detention, and the true number of people who have been infected in detention may be 15 times higher than official numbers. Even with ICE’s unreliable data, in Buffalo Federal Detention Facility (BFDF), where many upstate New York NYIFUP clients are held, 49 detained people tested positive – at one point the highest number of COVID-19 cases in a detention center nationwide. In March 2020, immigrants detained at BFDF protested the deplorable lack of health precautions in the facility with a multi-day hunger strike, which ICE quashed with threats of solitary confinement.

Across the country, governments in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston, Washington DC, and beyond have made the decision to sustain or expand their deportation defense programs for FY21. This critical support for immigration legal services at a time of unprecedented fiscal difficulty underscores the recognition of the essential, life-saving role of deportation defense representation in this moment. Moreover, as Black immigrants are disproportionately targeted for immigration enforcement and detention, and as they face worse outcomes when they contract COVID-19, funding for legal representation can provide a literal lifeline during a terrifying time. Sustained public funding for deportation defense demonstrates a commitment to the dignity and strength of immigrant communities, the members of which are predominantly also from Black communities and other communities of color.

To avoid layoffs, continue client services, and succeed in standing up to the harm the federal government is bringing to New York’s immigrants, NYIFUP and the entire LDP needs funding for the work they are currently doing and confidence in their sustained funding moving forward. We urge you to continue New York’s powerful national leadership. Please ensure that NYIFUP and all of the LDP programs are fully funded for their ongoing services and confirm that the $10 million allocated to LDP in the FY21 budget will be used to continue this critical work in the coming year.


African Communities Together
African Services Committee
The Association of Pro Bono Counsel (APBCo)
Black Alliance for Just Immigration
The Bronx Defenders
Brooklyn Community Bail Fund
Brooklyn Defender Services
Cabrini Immigrant Services of NYC
Catholic Charities, NY – Immigrant and Refugee Services
Catholic Family Center
Catholic Migration Services
Center for Popular Democracy
Center for Safety and Change
Centro Corazón de María
Church & Society Team, University United Methodist Church
La Colmena
Community Resource Center
Cornell Law School Asylum and Convention Against Torture Appellate Clinic
Cornell Law 1L Immigration Law and Advocacy Clinic
The Door
Elmont Cultural Center
Empire Justice Center
Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project
Finger Lakes Community Health
Her Justice
HIAS Pennsylvania
Immigrant Defense Project
Immigrant Justice Corps
Immigration Justice Clinic, John Jay Legal Services, Inc.
Innocence Project
Interfaith Peace Network
International Rescue Committee
Jericho Road Community Health Center
Journey’s End Refugee Services
Justice for Migrant Families WNY
Justice in Motion
The Legal Aid Society
The Legal Project
Legal Services of Central New York
Long Beach Latino Civic Association
LSA Family Health Service
Make the Road New York
MinKwon Center for Community Action
Mohawk Valley Latino Association, Inc.
Neighbors in Support of Immigrants
Neighbors Link
New Hour for Women and Children – LI
New York Civil Liberties Union
New York County Defender Services
New York Immigration Coalition
New York Justice For Our Neighbors
New York Lawyers for the Public Interest
New York Legal Assistance Group
Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights (NMCIR)
OLA of Eastern Long Island
Prisoners' Legal Services of New York
Rural and Migrant Ministry
S.T.R.O.N.G. Youth, Inc.
Safe Harbor Project, Brooklyn Law School
Safe Passage Project
Social Action Ministry of the Syracuse Catholic Diocese
Syracuse Immigrant and Refugee Defense Network
Syracuse Peace Council
TakeRoot Justice
Tompkins County Immigrant Rights Coalition
The Urban Justice Center - Domestic Violence Project
The Vera Institute of Justice
Volunteer Lawyers Project of Onondaga County
Volunteer Legal Services Project
Wayne Action for Racial Equality
Western NY Coalition of Farmworker Serving Agencies
Women & Justice Project
Worker Center of Central NY
Worker Justice Center of New York