Coalition Urges Legal Support For Asylum Seekers And New Yorkers Facing Deportation

December 14, 2023

On Thursday, December 14, 2023, at 11am, a coalition of elected officials, immigrant advocates, partners, and impacted families was announced.

The announcement was a coordinated effort today supporting the Campaign for Access, Representation, and Equity (CARE) for Immigrant Families. This campaign is pushing for investments in holistic legal services and the passage of the Access to Representation Act (S999A/A170A), sponsored by Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal and Assemblymember Catalina Cruz. If enacted, this groundbreaking legislation would establish the first statewide right to legal representation for people facing deportation who cannot afford attorneys.

The campaign has broad support from a diverse coalition, including the Vera Institute of Justice, New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), Immigrant ARC, and over 100 organizations, legal service providers, labor unions, faith groups, and elected officials. Over the past year, New York has gained new residents seeking safety and stability, who urgently need legal assistance to protect their rights, secure work authorization, and build stability. Meanwhile, the number of people, both new and longtime New Yorkers, who have been left to face complex and high-stakes deportation proceedings alone has risen sharply. 

The rally was streamed on Facebook Live:

“In high-stakes immigration cases, legal representation can be the deciding factor between life and death. The data unequivocally shows that those with a lawyer are far more likely to prevail in court. That’s why the Access to Representation Act is a critical solution for immigrants and asylum seekers who deserve a fair shot to keep their families together in a system that is often rigged against them. Thank you to Assemblymember Catalina Cruz, the Vera Institute of Justice, the New York Immigration Coalition, and Immigrant ARC for their relentless advocacy on this transformative bill,” said State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal. 

“Every New Yorker deserves a chance to defend their rights when facing our complex immigration system. Our state has the chance to set a national example by making strategic investments in immigration legal services and ensuring universal access to legal representation. This is a tangible demonstration of New York’s commitment to justice and fairness. This commitment fosters trust with immigrant communities, enabling them to participate more freely in public life and the workforce, promoting public safety for all. Thank you to Senator Hoylman-Sigal, the Vera Institute of Justice, the New York Immigration Coalition, and Immigrant ARC for leading this push to support immigrant communities across New York,” said Assemblymember Catalina Cruz.

Nearly 160,000 people are unrepresented in New York immigration courts, a number that has more than doubled since last year. Long-term solutions—including funding infrastructure for sustainable legal services and passing the Access to Representation Act—will ensure that the state is prepared to welcome and support immigrants for years to come, instead of scrambling for short-term solutions. Universal representation is a sensible solution to promote safety, family unity, and economic stability and has wide support: 93 percent of New Yorkers support government-funded lawyers for people in immigration court.

“Successfully navigating the immigration legal system is nearly impossible. Without legal assistance, immigrants risk detention in dangerous facilities, getting sent back to countries where their lives are at risk, and being permanently separated from loved ones. Thanks to Senator Hoylman-Sigal and Assemblymember Cruz for championing sustainable immigration legal services funding and the Access to Representation Act. With new urgency, let’s ensure New York is equipped to support strength and stability in immigrant communities,” said Shayna Kessler, the associate director for advocacy for Vera Institute of Justice’s Advancing Universal Representation initiative.

“The Access to Representation Act is an opportunity to begin to address the cruelty of our immigration system and keep families and communities across the state together.  Today, immigrants who cannot afford or access an attorney are forced to represent themselves in court, facing high odds of being ripped from their families and deported into unsafe circumstances. The ARA would rectify the punitive oversight inflicted on immigrant communities by establishing a first-in-the-nation right to counsel in immigration proceedings, extending the same legal protections that currently exist in criminal court proceedings, to immigration courts. This milestone legislation would also deliver long-term stability to our legal system by boosting the capacity of legal service providers and building urgently needed infrastructure to reduce the staggering case backlog, while assisting immigrant New Yorkers in continuing to contribute to their communities and the state. We thank Senator Hoylman and Assemblymember Cruz for their leadership during this critical time for New Yorkers, and we look forward to working with the Legislature to deliver relief to New York’s immigrant families,” said Murad Awawdeh, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition.

“Including the Access to Representation Act in this year’s budget is the single most important action New York State can take to protect immigrant communities right now, whether they are long-established or recently arrived in search of safety and a new home. The crisis of representation in immigration processes has gone on for too long, and many continue to try to navigate an opaque system designed to make them fail without access to basic legal orientation, much less a representative on their case,” said Camille Mackler, executive director of Immigrant ARC (I-ARC). “At the same time, legal service providers, who are unable to meet the crushing needs for their services, cannot expand capacity without more resources that are guaranteed year over year. We thank Assemblymember Catalina Cruz and Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal for their continued leadership on this issue and urge the New York State Legislature and Governor to include the ARA in this year’s budget so that New York can continue to be a beacon of hope and solidarity for the rest of the country.” 


Currently, people facing deportation are not guaranteed a right to counsel. Instead, many who cannot afford to hire legal representation are forced to fend for themselves against a trained government lawyer. Multiple studies underscore the benefits of universal representation, with immigrants in detention over ten times more likely to establish their right to remain in the United States when they have lawyers on their side. For non-detained people, legal representation increases the likelihood of a successful outcome to 60 percent, compared to 17 percent without it. Investing in legal defense will promote fairness in a system that sets immigrants up to fail. 

Funding for new and expanded immigration legal services is a practical solution to meet the needs of newly arriving immigrants seeking stability and a chance to work and support their families, protect immigrant New Yorkers at risk of deportation, and put into place long-term infrastructure to equip New York to respond to future immigration legal services needs. Passing the Access to Representation Act will address the uncertainty surrounding the state budget’s annual funding for immigrant legal services by creating a right to an attorney for any New Yorker facing deportation who cannot afford to hire one on their own.

These measures will protect immigrant New Yorkers who are vulnerable to fraudulent schemes and will promote economic prosperity, ensuring more people can fill job vacancies and build strong communities as the state faces labor shortages and areas of declining population growth. Investments in legal services and the passage of the Access to Representation Act will promote community safety and economic stability across New York by ensuring that more parents remain home with their children, more essential workers remain on the job, and more business owners continue to invest in and support our communities. 

About the Campaign for Access, Representation, and Equity (CARE) for Immigrant Families: The Vera Institute of Justice, the New York Immigration Coalition, and Immigrant ARC lead CARE for Immigrant Families, a coalition of more than 100 leading organizations, religious groups, and elected officials united to pass the Access to Representation Act. The bill (S999A/A170A) will guarantee access to legal representation for immigrants at risk of deportation in New York. Sponsored by Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal and Assemblymember Catalina Cruz, the legislation would be the first in the nation to create a statewide right to legal representation for people facing deportation who cannot afford it, whether they have recently arrived in the state or have been New Yorkers for decades.

Photo credit: Children seeking Asylum.

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