Although people in immigration detention face similar deprivations of liberty as criminal detainees, there is a key difference regarding how their cases are treated in court. While criminal detainees have the right to a public defender if they cannot afford one, immigration detainees do not. However, New York City changed this reality at the New York Immigration Court when the New York Immigrant Family Unit Program began to provide publicly funded legal representation to all detainees who could not afford an attorney.
This program is making a huge difference in the case outcomes of detained immigrants in New York City in a system where the government is always represented by counsel at tax-payer expense. In 2012 (the year before the program was implemented), 1202 people were ordered removed. In 2016, this number was cut by more than half- to 535 people. The program is the first of its kind and highlights the difference having an attorney makes in the outcome of your immigration removal case.
In a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, between 2007 and 2012 the study measured successful outcomes (termination of the charges or a grant of relief) and negative outcomes (all others) to compare the impact of legal representation across three different categories: detained, people detained at one time but now released, and never detained. For detained, 2 percent of people without a lawyer had successful outcomes. For people with a lawyer, the percentage jumped to 21 percent. Similarly, for people detained at one time but now released, 7 percent of people without a lawyer had successful outcomes. For people with a lawyer, the percentage jumped to 39 percent. Finally, for never detained, 17 percent of people without a lawyer had successful outcomes. For people with a lawyer, the percentage jumped to 60 percent.
In addition to being a huge success, the program costs taxpayers less than keeping immigrants behind bars and then deporting them. The program works within New York City and has recently expanded to Buffalo, NY. In addition to using taxpayer dollars, the programs are funded by the Immigrant Justice Corps, a fellowship that recruits recent law graduates. Overall, the program evens the playing field and helps the courts to ensure that cases are decided fairly.
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