Another victory for immigrant civil rights: New York City will now become the first jurisdiction in the nation to provide lawyers to low-income immigrants facing deportation.
Last year, our partners and Make the Road New York helped pilot the successful New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) to address the severe inequity in NYC’s immigration justice system.
According to a recent study, 67% of detained immigrants in New York go through immigration hearings without the help of a lawyer because they can’t afford one. Unlike criminal defendants, defendants in immigration court don’t have a right to guaranteed legal counsel. Of the thousands who attempt to defend themselves alone against professional prosecutors, only 3% are successful.
This system tears families apart. Without proper representation, many immigrants who are eligible for relief are deported or languish in notorious detention centers. From 2005-2010, more than 7,000 U.S. citizen children in New York City lost a parent to deportation. Immigrants who do get legal representation are 10 times more likely to win their case in immigration court.
On June 26, following advocacy by MRNY and our partners, the City Council approved $4.9 million to expand our program, using a public defender model, to provide lawyers to every New York City resident who cannot afford one who is detained and facing deportation. Over the next year, the program is expected to serve 1,380 defendants who are being held in detention centers on Varick Street, Manhattan and Newark and Elizabeth, New Jersey. With the leadership of Assemblyman Francisco Moya, we have also been able to secure additional resources to expand this program in other parts of New York State.
NYIFUP will also save families money and prevent fraud. MRNY organizers and legal staff constantly encounter desperate families who have paid thousands of dollars to predatory individuals posing as attorneys.
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New York City’s investment in this essential program would not have been possible without the leadership of Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Council Members Julissa Ferreras, Carlos Menchaca, and others. We are proud to work alongside our partners at the Cardozo School of Law, Center for Popular Democracy, the Vera Institute of Justice, and the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights.
 New York Immigrant Representation Study. “Accessing Justice: The Availability and Adequacy of Counsel in Immigration Proceedings.“
 Center for Popular Democracy et al. “The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project: Good for Families, Good for Employers, and Good for All New Yorkers.“