Elected, Advocates Demand The Passage Of The Access To Representation Act

March 23, 2023

Today, elected officials from Harlem to Hollis including New York City Comptroller Brad Lander and Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso joined the CARE for Immigrant Families coalition.

This took place outside of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s New York City office to urge passage of the Access to Representation Act (ARA). The first-in-the-nation bill would establish a right to counsel in immigration court proceedings. 

Last week, state legislators affirmed their commitment to immigrant New Yorkers with a historic investment of $120 million in the one-house budget resolutions – the largest portion of which is for legal services funding.

The funding will help immigrant New Yorkers access attorneys as they navigate a complicated legal system, but it won’t go far enough without the passage of ARA. As legislative leaders negotiate the final FY 2024 budget, immigrant advocates urge Gov. Hochul and lawmakers to both pass the ARA and maintain the proposed funding. 

Immigrant New Yorkers who can’t afford to hire an attorney are currently forced to represent themselves in court—regardless of age or language abilities— against trained government attorneys. Studies show that immigrants in detention with legal representation are 10 times more likely to win their right to remain in the United States, making it more important than ever for legislative leaders to fund legal services and help keep immigrant families intact. 

Sponsored by Sen. Hoylman-Sigal and Assemblymember Cruz, the passage of the ARA will help thousands of New Yorkers stay in their homes with their families, contributing to their communities and our economy. 

“Expanding access to representation will give tens of thousands of new New Yorkers a path to contribute to the economic and cultural diversity that makes New York great. Dependable multi-year funding will enable organizations to help immigrants apply for legal status, gain work authorization, and keep their families together as they build new lives and homes in our communities,” said Comptroller Brad Lander.

“Justice doesn’t come for free, and the Access to Representation Act is our chance to put our money where our mouth is and stand up for the rights of immigrant New Yorkers,” said Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso. “As thousands of new people and families continue to arrive in our City and State seeking safety and opportunity, they are funneled into a complicated, bureaucratic legal system that favors the wealthy and well-connected. But no New Yorker, no matter how much money you have or how recently you arrived here, should be forced to navigate immigration court alone. It’s time for New York to pass the ARA and set a new standard nationwide for what immigration justice looks like in the courtroom. Thank you to State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, Assemblymember Catalina Cruz, and the CARE for Immigrant families coalition for leading the way toward a more just New York.”

“Immigrants at risk of deportation are at a severe disadvantage if they are not represented by a lawyer during deportation proceedings,” said Queens Borough President Donovan Richards Jr. “Representation gives immigrants a reasonable chance to make the case they should be allowed to stay in the U.S. and not be forced to return to the countries they were compelled to flee. Passage of the Access to Representation Act would go a long way toward promoting justice in our immigration courts and would protect many immigrant New Yorkers from being unfairly detained and deported.”

“We know for many immigrants; good legal representation can mean the difference between deportation and someone remaining in the safety of their community. With well over 50,000 asylum seekers in our City, the need for fully funded legal representation has never been more pressing,” said Immigration Committee Chair, Council Member Shahana Hanif. “We need a state budget that prioritizes their needs. I’m proud to join with NYIC to call for serious investments in legal representation for our immigrant neighbors to ensure their safety and well-being for years to come.”

“It is hypocritical for us to lean on immigrant work and not provide them the legal representation within our own system afforded to other New Yorkers,” said Council Member Carmen De La Rosa. “Immigrants are an asset to our city, yet they are subjected to harsher conditions in our justice system while lacking the resources for fair and accessible representation. They are some of our most vulnerable, and if we commit to supporting them, the infrastructure we build around them must be robust and holistic.”

State lawmakers affirmed their support for our immigrant neighbors and friends by including this historic funding in their one-house budget resolutions, but it is imperative that Gov. Hochul keeps the momentum going. Once we pass and fund the Access to Representation Act, immigrant New Yorkers will be better equipped to defend their rights and keep their families together. We urge the governor to maintain these commitments in immigration service funding and pass the Access to Representation Act in the final budget to ensure equity in our legal system for all now and into the future,” said Murad Awawdeh, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. 

“Legal representation should not be a luxury for the well-connected. Every single data point shows that people facing deportation are far more likely to remain with their loved ones if they have a lawyer on their side. New York communities and economies are stronger when our families and workforce remain stable and thriving. Governor Hochul must recognize this, and stand up for all New Yorkers regardless of wealth or legal status. As the three-way budget negotiations continue, we urge the legislature and Governor to build upon the Senate and Assembly proposals by delivering $120 million in funding millions for legal and social services and enacting the Access to Representation Act in the final budget,” said Shayna Kessler, state advocacy manager for the Vera Institute of Justice’s Advancing Universal Representation initiative. 

“The Access to Representation Act is an investment in our immigrant communities and, once passed, will show how New York once again stepped up in the face of federal inaction to protect the rights and liberties of all New Yorkers,” said Camille Mackler, Executive Director of Immigrant ARC. “It is also an investment in the non-profit sector that supports immigrant New Yorkers, particularly those that provide legal services. For too many years, legal advocates have been on the frontlines, working around the clock to ensure that each family or individual didn’t get lost in the obscure and labyrinth-like immigration process. They have also had to fight back against changes to law and procedure that was designed to harm immigrants even further, going to court and challenging new rule after new rule. They are exhausted, their caseloads are at capacity, and they cannot continue to be asked to take on new cases without not only the robust influx of funding the ARA would provide, but also the long-term guarantee of investment in their staff and their organizations. Governor Hochul must include the ARA in the final budget to show meaningful support of our immigrant communities and those who serve them.”

“As an immigration legal services provider, Cabrini Immigrant Services of NYC sees on a daily basis the impact that access to legal services can have on the lives of immigrant families. Without legal representation, immigrants facing deportation are at risk of being torn apart from their families or forced to return to dangerous conditions – for many, legal representation is the difference between life or death. We strongly believe that no person should have to navigate our complex immigration legal system without expert help, especially when the stakes are so high. This is why we are joining our partners in demanding the passage of the Access to Representation Act (S.999/A.170) to support safety and fairness for all immigrants at risk of deportation.”

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 over 100 leading organizations, religious groups, and elected officials united to pass the Access to Representation Act. The bill (S00999/A00170) will guarantee access to legal representation for immigrants at risk of deportation in New York. Sponsored by Senator Brad Hoylman 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.  

The New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) is an umbrella policy & advocacy organization that represents over 200 immigrant and refugee rights groups throughout New York. The NYIC serves one of the largest and most diverse newcomer populations in the United States. The multi-racial and multi-sector NYIC membership base includes grassroots and nonprofit community organizations, religious and academic institutions, labor unions, as well as legal and socioeconomic justice organizations. The NYIC not only establishes a forum for immigrant groups to voice their concerns, but also provides a platform for collective action to drive positive social change. Since its founding in 1987, the NYIC has evolved into a powerful voice of advocacy by spearheading innovative policies, promoting and protecting the rights of immigrant communities, improving newcomer access to services, developing leadership and capacity, expanding civic participation, and mobilizing member groups to respond to the fluctuating needs of immigrant communities.

The Vera Institute of Justice is powered by hundreds of advocates, researchers, and policy experts working to transform the criminal legal and immigration systems until they’re fair for all. Founded in 1961 to advocate for alternatives to money bail in New York City, Vera is now a national organization that partners with impacted communities and government leaders for change. We develop just, antiracist solutions so that money doesn’t determine freedom; fewer people are in jails, prisons, and immigration detention; and everyone is treated with dignity. Vera’s headquarters is in Brooklyn, New York, with offices in Washington, DC, New Orleans, and Los Angeles. For more information, visit vera.org.

Immigrant ARC (I-ARC) is a collaborative of over 80 organizations and professional associations providing legal services to New York’s immigrant communities throughout the State. Born out of the legal effort at JFK Airport during the Muslim Travel Ban in 2017, our mission is clear: to increase access to counsel and access to justice for all immigrant New Yorkers. For more information, visit www.immigrantarc.org

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