11 Cities to Provide Free Legal Defense for Immigrants During Deportation Hearings

By Kenrya Rankin Nov 13, 2017

While the Trump administration steadily introduces policies designed to decrease the number of immigrants on American soil, a new program from the Vera Institute of Justice aims to support immigrants facing deportation.

Immigration courts, Vox points out, are administered by the executive branch rather than the judicial branch. In those courts, there is no inherent right to counsel. So many people who appear before a judge for deportation proceedings either have no attorney, or luck up on a legal aid clinic attorney who happens to be there at the time of their hearing.

But a Vera Institute study released Thursday (November 9) showed that when the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project—billed as America’s first public defender system for immigrants facing deportation—provided free attorneys to nearly every impoverished immigrant appearing at the Varick Street Immigration Court starting in November 2013, the case success rate jumped from 4 percent to an estimated 48 percent.

Vera Institute’s new Safety and Fairness for Everyone (SAFE) Cities Network will extend a similar program to 11 cities: Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Chicago, Columbus (Ohio), Dane County (Wisconsin), Oakland and Alameda County (California), Prince George’s County (Maryland), Sacramento, San Antonio and Santa Ana (California).

The SAFE Cities Network is described as “a multi-jurisdiction network dedicated to providing publicly-funded representation for people facing deportation.” Participating municipalities will use a Vera Institute-issued grant to help provide funding for legal service workers. The organization will also help find and train workers, share best practices and analyze data to measure the impact of the network.

“Immigration is part of our nation’s past, present and future, and our communities will find more opportunities to grow and thrive when we recognize and embrace this fact. That means that all residents must see their justice systems—from our law enforcement to our courts—as delivering on our country’s promise of fairness,” Nicholas Turner, president of the Vera Institute of Justice, said in a statement about the program. “Common sense immigration policies like those embodied by the SAFE Cities Network ensure that all people, regardless of background, income and history, are guaranteed a fair day in court. Not only does such public funding for indigent immigrants facing deportation maintain trust within our communities, it ultimately increases public safety and keeps deserving families together.”

NPR reports that Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco and Washington D.C. have already allocated public funds for the defense of immigrants, and the state of New York allocated $10 million to create a legal defense fund for this population.