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NYC First in Nation to Provide Legal Services for Immigrants Facing Deportation

With $4.9 million dollars of funding from the New York City Council included in the FY 2015 budget for the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP), New York City will become the first jurisdiction in the nation to provide universal representation to any indigent immigrant detained and facing deportation. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, Councilmember Julissa Ferreras, and Councilmember Daniel Dromm led the charge in making a full-scale NYIFUP a reality.

Last year, NYIFUP launched as a pilot program with $500,000 in funding from the City Council, but because of limited funding, was only able to provide representation to a small percentage of eligible immigrants. With the substantial increase in city funding, NYIFUP will now provide 100% coverage to eligible immigrants in the New York Immigration Court, as well as all City residents detained and facing deportation in the immigration courts in Newark and Elizabeth, N.J. In total, well over 1,300 immigrants will receive representation, and hundreds of New York City families will not be torn apart by wrongful deportations simply because they cannot afford a lawyer.

“There are few more helpless situations that immigrant community members face than when a loved one is in detention and facing deportation,” said Cesar Palomeque, leader of Make the Road New York’s Immigration Project in Queens. “New York City’s investment in the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project will not only help those who receive legal representation in decisions that will profoundly affect their lives, but it will also send a clear message that the city values and protects all families. Thank you to the visionary work of Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, Councilmember Julissa Ferreras, Councilmember Daniel Dromm, and all our allies who worked to make this a reality.”

“The Council’s expansion of NYIFUP is historic,” said Councilmember Menchaca, Chair of the Committee on Immigration. “New York City will become the first jurisdiction in the nation to have a functioning public defender system for immigrants facing deportation. In New York City, no family will have a loved one locked up and deported simply because they cannot afford a lawyer.”

“As a representative of an extremely diverse district that is home to a large number of new immigrants, I am proud to have advocated for the expansion of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project,” said Council Member Ferreras, Chair of the Committee on Finance. “Not only will this project go far in helping hundreds of immigrant New Yorkers gain access to free legal representation, but it will also create a network of support to ensure fairness and opportunity for a community that has all too often been neglected. I applaud my colleagues in government for their continued efforts to support NYIFUP and look forward to the increased resources this funding will bring to the members of New York’s immigrant community.”

“Because deportation proceedings are designated as civil, not criminal, courts have not required the government to provide appointed counsel,” said Angela Fernandez, Esq., Executive Director of Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights. “However, to the immigrants who are held in county jails, shackled and forced to litigate in one of our most complex arenas of law against trained government attorneys, the civil designation is cold comfort. Thanks to the unwavering leadership of Speaker Mark-Viverito, Councilmember Menchaca, Councilmember Ferreras, Councilmember Dromm and others, New York City is leading an historical shift by leveling the playing field and providing true access to justice.”

“The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project will ensure access to justice for thousands of immigrant families,” said Andrew Friedman, Co-Executive Director of the Center for Popular Democracy. “The City Council has stepped up to chart an innovative path forward for justice even in the face of the continued federal failure to fix a badly broken and inhumane immigration system.”

“NYIFUP is a substantial step forward toward closing the justice gap for immigrants,” said Chief Judge Robert A. Katzmann of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and the creator of the Study Group on Immigrant Representation from which the concept for NYIFUP was born. “Without a lawyer it is virtually impossible for detained immigrants to defend themselves against deportation—only 3% of unrepresented detained immigrants win their proceedings. Lawyers make a tremendous difference, improving detained immigrants’ chances of success in the range of 500% - 1000%.”

“The NYIFUP pilot has shown that without the lawyer provided by the project, many indigent immigrants would have been deported, despite having a legal right to remain lawfully in the United States,” stated Oren Root, Director of the Center on Immigration and Justice at the Vera Institute of Justice. “Moreover, NYIFUP has ensured that many of its clients were released from detention while contesting their cases—reunifying them with their families and often allowing them to return to the jobs they have held, sometimes for many years. The City Council should be congratulated for its leadership in ensuring that no detained New Yorker will be deported without an opportunity to show that she or he is entitled to remain in the country.”

“Locking people up and threatening to permanently separate them from their families without any legal assistance whatsoever, is un-American. By providing attorneys, a basic measure of fairness, New York City has set the bar for how cities and states that value their immigrant communities can ensure a true system of justice,” said Professor Peter Markowitz, Director of the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

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