Immigration Court Innovation in NYC

"Mr. Leyva was the first client in a new program that seeks to provide public defenders for all poor immigrants residing in New York who have been detained and are facing deportation. The initiative is the first of its kind in the country.

Unlike in the nation’s criminal court system, defendants in immigration court have no constitutional right to a court-appointed lawyer. Fear and ignorance conspire with language barriers and poverty to keep detainees from securing legal counsel.

The new initiative, called the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, emerged from several years of study and lobbying among immigration lawyers and immigrants’ advocates. They were concerned that the absence of competent legal representation for many of New York’s immigrant detainees was resulting in unnecessary deportations that ruptured families and put an undue financial burden on government.

Last summer, the New York City Council allocated $500,000 to help pay for a pilot program to test the viability of the initiative. The project’s organizers said that money, plus a supplementary contribution from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, would allow them to provide representation to 190 immigrants." - NYT, Nov. 7, 2013.