Project to Provide Legal Counsel for Immigrants

By Fincher, Megan | National Catholic Reporter, December 20, 2013 | Go to article overview

Project to Provide Legal Counsel for Immigrants


Fincher, Megan, National Catholic Reporter


Impoverished immigrants facing deportation in New York City can now have court-appointed counsel on their side for the first time in this nation's history.

Noncitizens of the United States facing deportation--such as green card holders, refugees, victims of trafficking, and those living in the country illegally--have no constitutional right to representation. The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, a pilot program funded by a $500,000 investment from the city, is trying to change that.

"New York City has a tradition of welcoming immigrants. Its economics are driven by immigrants. Investing in immigrant families in New York City is our starting point," Brittny Saunders told NCR. Saunders is a senior staff attorney for immigrant rights and racial justice at the Center for Popular Democracy, an advocacy group working with the Family Unity project.

For the next year, the project will provide pro bono legal services to an estimated 20 percent of indigent noncitizens facing deportation at the Varick Street Immigration Court in New York City, according to Vera Institute of Justice, a nonpartisan, nonprofit center for justice policy and practice.

"The current state of attairs is creating real harm, really devastating immigrant families in New York City," Saunders explained.

Paula Shulman, second-year law student at Cardozo School of Law, agrees: "The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project is very aptly named. Detentions and deportations tear families apart every day."

The idea to create the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project came out of the 2010 New York Immigrant Representation Study, initiated by Judge Robert Katzmann of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The study examined trends in New York City immigration courts from 2000 to 2010. During that decade, 60 percent of detained immigrants in New York City were without counsel, and subsequently, only 3 percent of that group won their case. In comparison, immigrants who were represented and released from deten detention or never detained experienced a 74 percent success rate.

With the support of legal nonprofits, research groups, and ultimately the city itself, the study went "from an academic model to a living, breathing program" via the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project Nov. …

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