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Know Your Rights
Source: New York Daily News
Subject: Legal Services
Type: Media Coverage

The city should continue to fund a program that offers legal representation to indigent immigrants facing deportation

Mayor de Blasio did not include money for the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project in his initial city budget, but City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito supports NYIFUP

Numbers don’t lie: More than 70% of immigrants, documented or not, who face deportation proceedings in New York City do not have legal representation, an unfair situation which practically guarantees their removal.

“Without a lawyer, immigrants’ opportunity to win their deportation cases is about 3%,” said Angela Fernández, the executive director of the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights. “Yet, with the advice of an attorney, their chances improve to over 50%.”

Approximately 1,650 city residents are detained and face deportation each year in the New York area, and 2,000 city children whose parents are detained every year suffer serious negative effects.

“The impact of quality legal counsel on New York families is enormous,” Fernández said. “That’s why Mayor de Blasio needs to include funding in this year’s budget for the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP), that offers legal representation to detained indigent immigrants facing deportation.”

Co-founded by Fernández’s group and administered by the Vera Institute for Justice, and with Brooklyn Defender Services and The Bronx Defenders as service providers, NYIFUP started as a pilot program last November and immediately began to fill a great need. In six months the program’s five lawyers and two paralegals worked on 190 cases, the most the project’s budget of $500,000 could handle.

“It was a small sampling of the people in need, but we made big changes in the landscape of deportation defense in the city,” said Talia Peleg, a Brooklyn Defender Services attorney. “Many times people would accept deportation because of the stress of being in detention and lack of knowledge of the complex immigration laws. Having an advocate on their side that understands their case, speaks their language and knows the laws, helps them make informed decisions about fighting their case or not. That’s the crux of the program.”

NYIFUP should be expanded to provide legal representation for many more immigrants, Fernández said. That, of course, requires a substantial increase in funds — $5.3 million to be exact.

That amount would provide deportation defense to all New Yorkers who face removal in area immigration courts, including those who have hearings at the Varick St. Immigration Court and in New Jersey.

Yet Mayor de Blasio did not include money for the program in his first budget proposal announced this month, even though last April Fernández’s group, the ACLU, SEIU Local 32BJ, the New York Immigration Coalition, Make the Road New York, Latino Justice PRLDEF and other prominent organizations wrote him a letter asking that it be included.

“Fully funded, NYIFUP would provide a basic measure of justice for immigrants that would help keep New York families together,” the letter read in part. “It would fulfill your stated commitment to protect immigrant communities and support legal services for immigrants that are ‘essential…in helping them avoid unjustified deportations.’”

So far, there has been no assurance from the mayor, only a vague statement from his office about him remaining committed to policies that give every New Yorker respect and equal protection before the law.

The City Council, which had included in its budget $2.9 million to provide representation to about 900 defendants at the Varick St. court, now has until July 1 to negotiate a final budget with de Blasio. Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito supports NYIFUP.

“If this program doesn’t go on, immigrant families will find themselves again without legal protection and will be railroaded into accepting deportation when many of them could have remained in their homes,” Fernández said. “NYIFUP is an effective strategy for keeping immigrant families intact. We are asking the mayor to make sure it can continue.”

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