City Council Doles Out $500,000 for Deportation Legal Services

July 20, 2013 Updated: July 20, 2013

NEW YORK—New Yorkers who are detained and facing deportation will soon receive free legal representation through a pilot program funded with $500,000 from the city council.

Detainees without legal representation end up being deported 97 percent of the time, compared to 82 percent of those who have legal representation, according to a report from the Study Group on Immigrant Representation. The program will provide legal representation to detainees, some of whom have families rooted in the United States and children who are American citizens.

People who are indigent, detained, and are not receiving legal help will be eligible for the program. They will be engaged and identified during their initial proceedings in immigration court. 

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced the designation of the funds for the program at the Cardozo School of Law on July 19. The New York Family Unity Program will be administered by the Vera Institute of Justice. The Institute will issue a request for proposals from legal service providers in one or two months. 

“Immigrants are so integral to the fabric of our communities that it is hard to conceive of immigrant issues separate from our own,” said Robert A. Katzmann, a judge at the U.S. Court of Appeals who launched the New York Immigrant Representation (NYIR) Study. “As a judge I have been struck by the too often quality of lawyering for immigrants and indeed too often absence of counsel for immigrants.”

Approximately 1,050 detainees are facing deportation at the Varick Street Immigration Court without legal representation. An additional 3,000 face deportation without legal representation at the 26 Federal Plaza Immigration Court. 

People who are not detained have a higher chance of winning a deportation court proceeding. Those who are not detained and have legal representation win their cases 74 percent of the time, compared to just three percent of those who are detained and represented. Four out of five detainees arrested by the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) do not have a bond set and cannot remain free during their removal proceedings. For the remainder the cost of a bond is set very high. As a result 91 percent of those who are initially detained remain detained.

The cost of representing a detainee in immigration court will range between $3,000 and $4,000, according to Oren Root, the director of the Center on Immigration and Justice at the Vera Institute of Justice. 

From 2005 to 2010 some 15,000 immigrants went through deportation proceeding without counsel, according to an NYIR report. A total of 34,000 people were arrested by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) during that time. The rate of DHS detentions increased by 60 percent from 2006 to 2011, according the the DHS Office of Immigration Statistics.

Carlos Rodriguez is one such detainee. He was arrested along with a group of people during a police sweep and was the only one to remain detained. His family does not speak English, cannot afford an attorney. 

“If this program were in place when Carlos was detained, he would at least be home with his daughter and family while fighting his case with a trusted and experienced attorney,” said Perla Rodriguez Vasquez, Carlos’s sister, in a statement.

Carlos Rodriguez’s daughter is a U.S. citizen. Immigration advocates are concerned with the effect of deportation of the children of immigrants. In 2010, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested over 3,300 parents of children who are U.S. citizens. 

Children of detained parents experience “adverse behavioral changes,” without about one half crying more often and being more more afraid, while “more than a third were more anxious, withdrawn, clingy, angry, or aggressive,” according to a 2010 report by the Urban Institute.

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