The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) is the nation’s first government-funded system of universal representation for immigrants facing deportation

New York, NY – Today, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Council Member and leading national and local immigrant rights groups announced an innovative new program to provide universal legal representation for immigrant families facing deportation.

The $500,000 Council funded pilot program – New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) – will create a network of legal counsel for New Yorkers who are detained and at risk of permanent exile from their families and communities.

Currently, defendants in immigration court have no right to a court-appointed lawyer. Instead, they are hindered by insurmountable odds including language barriers, lack of money and access.

“Without proper legal counsel too many of our City’s residents are being torn apart from their families. This pilot program will not only ensure fairness for New York’s immigrant families, but will also work as a model for the rest of the country to follow,” said Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “I want to thank the Second Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Robert Katzmann and the New York Immigrant Family Project for all their work on the issue.”

A 2011 report by the Study Group on Immigrant Representation convened by Judge Katzmann found that 60 percent of New York’s detained immigrants did not have legal representation. Of those, only 3 percent won in court.

“In all too many cases the dearth of adequate counsel for immigrants all but dooms the immigrant’s chances to realize the American dream,” said Judge Robert Katzmann.

Detention and deportation can also have a devastating impact on children. Currently 2,000 New York City children experience a parent being arrested, detained or facing deportation. In situations where no parent remains in the country, U.S. citizen children are placed in foster care at a cost of nearly $36,000 per child per year.

Angela Fernandez, Executive Director of Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights said, “Our organization is experiencing a steady increase in calls from individuals in detention facilities who are desperate for an experienced deportation defense attorney. Without one they face certain permanent separation from their families and communities. Government support for counsel would remedy this unacceptable crisis. We commend the City Council for their vision and foresight in supporting this program of universal representation, which we hope will serve as a model for the rest of the state.”

The one-year pilot program will be administered by the Vera Institute of Justice, an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit center for justice policy and practice. The institute will oversee the program, coordinate the delivery of legal services and analyze data emerging from the pilot.

The Center for Popular Democracy (CPD) and the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigration Rights, with support from the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic at Cardozo School of Law, are spearheading advocacy for the creation of the program.

“Locking people up based on unproven charges, threatening to permanently separate them from their families, and depriving them of access to attorneys is un-American and sadly the norm in our immigration system,” said Peter Markowitz, Director of the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic at Cardozo School of Law. “The NYC Council and Speaker Quinn should be applauded for creating the nation’s first assigned counsel system for immigrants.”

“In cities and states across the country with large and growing immigrant populations, there is a real hunger for policies that recognize the many contributions newly-arrived residents make and the importance of keeping them grounded in the communities they call home,” said Brittny Saunders of the Center for Popular Democracy. “With this pilot, the Council has demonstrated real leadership and set an example that other communities are bound look to for years to come.”

“This pilot program is essential and highlights the need for access to immigration legal services,” said Immigration Chair Council Member Daniel Dromm. “The lack of counsel that detainees currently have is inexcusable and I’m proud that New York City has once again put themselves at the forefront when it comes to immigration. What immigrants want is what all New Yorkers want – the right to pursue happiness and freedom in our great land.”

Oren Root, Director of the Center on Immigration and Justice at the Vera Institute of Justice, said “The injustice of leaving indigent immigrants, including those who do not speak English and those with limited formal educations, to represent themselves in complicated deportation proceedings can only be solved by government support for counsel. We hope that this groundbreaking funding by the City Council will be emulated by other governmental entities across the country.”

Perla Rodriguez Vasquez, whose brother is currently in detention, without representation, said, “My brother Carlos was taken abruptly from our lives without warning or advance notice. He has been sitting in a detention facility in N.J., far away from us and his U.S. citizen daughter since February. We do not speak English. We cannot afford an attorney and we do not know how to stop his deportation. If this program was in place when Carlos was detained, he would at least been home with his daughter and family while fighting his case with a trusted and experienced attorney.”

“Once again, New York City is taking another imperative step to extend a helping hand to our immigration population. Countless families have suffered and been separated because they couldn’t afford representation,” said Councilmember Robert Jackson, Co-Chair of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus. “With this legal help, we are offering these individuals a life line and a fighting chance to remain united with their loved ones and start their path to legalization.”

“New York is a city of immigrants, and they deserve every protection we can offer. This pilot program will help immigrants navigate a legal system that is often inaccessible due to language and financial barriers, and will keep families together and whole. I am proud to support this program with Speaker Quinn and the New York City Council, and I thank Judge Robert Katzmann and the New York Immigrant Family Project for their staunch commitment to fairness and justice for our city’s most vulnerable,” said Council Member Margaret Chin.

“As a representative of an extremely diverse district that is home to a large number of new immigrants, I am proud to support the Council’s funding of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project,” said Council Member Julissa Ferreras. “Not only will this project go far in aiding thousands 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 the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project and look forward to the increased resources this funding will bring to the members of New York’s immigrant community.”

“The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project will keep families together and provide assistance to immigrants facing deportation,” said Council Member Dominic Recchia. “I’m proud to join Speaker Quinn, my Council colleagues and Second Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Robert A. Katzmann to announce this groundbreaking program to protect New York’s immigrant families and serve as a model for the rest of the nation.”

“Too often, families are torn apart because they are unable to afford legal services to defend themselves against deportations,” said Council Member Maria del Carmen Arroyo. “The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project is a groundbreaking new City Council initiative that will provide government-funded public defenders to immigrants facing deportations and help keep families together.”

“In my community, I see what happens to immigrant families who lack access to adequate legal representation. I also see the impact that well-trained attorneys, like those with Central American Legal Assistance, have on the legal proceedings that all too often exploit immigrant New Yorkers. I am so proud to stand with Speaker Quinn, my colleagues in Council, Judge Robert Katzmann, and immigration advocates in announcing this groundbreaking pilot program. New York City is truly setting a new standard for immigrant legal services,” said Council Member Diana Reyna.

“Many immigrants have a hard time navigating the judicial system whether it’s because of access or a monetary situation,” said Council Member Joel Rivera. “This pilot program will help many of those immigrants seek the legal advice they need which can mean being separated from their families or continuing to pursue the American dream. I want to thank the Speaker for her continued diligence in helping immigrant New Yorkers and Judge Katzman for providing these critical services.”