New Report: Legal Aid For NY Immigrants Could Generate Billions In Economic Gains

March 18, 2024

Providing universal legal representation in immigration proceedings in New York could generate billions of dollars for the economy.

In addition, this enable tens of thousands of individuals to stay in their communities, New York City Comptroller Brad Lander finds in a new report, Economic Benefits of Immigration Legal Services. The report also finds that asylum seekers currently living in City shelters could earn a collective total of over $470 million. 

“Immigration is a boon for New York City’s economy – immigrants are more likely to work, start a business, and contribute billions of dollars into our New York economy in spending power and tax revenue,” said Comptroller Brad Lander. “Investing in immigration legal services will bolster New York City’s bottom line by keeping workers in the workforce, getting new arrivals work authorization, keeping families together and providing pathways to upward mobility.” 

Specifically, the Comptroller’s report finds: 


  • Providing access to attorneys for all immigrants in New York State facing deportation proceedings could result in an additional 53,000 New Yorkers being able to remain in communities across the state. 
  • Preventing deportation of these 53,000 New Yorkers could result in an estimated net benefit of $8.4 billion for the federal, state, and local governments, calculated as the net present value over 30 years of new tax revenues less services received. 
  • The approximate earning potential of asylum seekers in City shelters is over $382 million and, if the federal government granted all working-age asylum seekers work authorizations, that earning potential could rise to over $470 million. 

New York State’s Access to Representation Act (ARA) (S999A/A170A), sponsored by State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal and Assemblymember Catalina Cruz, guarantees that any New Yorker facing deportation has a right to an attorney. The current wait time for the first immigration court hearing for asylum seekers or others seeking legal status is estimated to be four years, due to the backlog of cases. Universal legal representation would make immigration court more efficient, increase the likelihood of winning in court, and ensure asylum seekers can join the workforce and further contribute to the economy. 

The Comptroller’s report analyzes the potential economic benefits of enacting the Access to Representation Act, the economic detriments of deportation, and the potential earning power of the approximately 64,800 new arrivals in New York City shelters upon receiving work authorization.   

“Immigration is a central part of New York’s story, yet our immigration courts are in a state of disarray. There are currently around 330,000 cases pending in immigration courts in New York State and less than half of those people have lawyers to represent them. This is unacceptable, as it goes against the spirit of the Sixth Amendment and the New York State Constitutional right to an attorney. It is also costing New York a significant amount of money. The need for a permanent investment in our immigration system, and in our immigration legal system, is needed now more than ever. We can do this by passing the Access to Representation Act (S999A) and guaranteeing that all those in New York State facing legal challenges related to their immigration status do so with the assistance of legal representation.


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According to the New York City Comptroller’s office, this law would likely result in an additional 53,000 New Yorkers remaining in our community. That’s 53,000 parents, children, and neighbors who without this law will be forced to leave the country, not because they did anything wrong, but simply because they did not have help navigating the legal process. The comptroller’s report also shows that the net benefit of preventing these 53,000 deportations for our State, Federal, and Local budgets would be a staggering $8.4 billion. When the moral and financial implications of a policy so clearly point in the same direction, we must take action. The ARA will save us money and give those who come to our country seeking a better life a fairer shot at making their case to stay here. It is time to pass this bill into law,” said Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, sponsor of the ARA. 

“Your ability to protect your rights, fight to stay in the country you love, and remain with your family shouldn’t depend on your ability to afford a lawyer. That is why we must pass the Access to Representation Act and guarantee that anyone facing a possible deportation can be represented by a lawyer. This investment not only greatly increases a person’s ability to win their case, but as we see in the NYC Comptroller’s report, more than 53,000 New Yorkers would be able to stay in our state, providing a much needed boost our economy. We thank the Comptroller for his timely report and for understanding the importance of keeping immigrant families together,” said Assemblymember Catalina Cruz, sponsor of the ARA. 

“Immigrants going through deportation proceedings are currently not entitled to an attorney if they cannot afford one, in contrast to those in the criminal justice system. The NYC Comptroller’s report illustrates the positive impact of investing in legal services, including allowing 53,000 more immigrant New Yorkers to stay with their families and in their communities. This investment would result in an $8.4 billion net benefit to our local, state and federal governments. New York State must pass the Access to Representation Act and invest $150 million in legal services – to keep our families and communities whole, build the economy of New York, and create equity in our court systems,” said Marlene Galaz, Director of Immigrant Rights Policy at New York Immigration Coalition. 

“Ensuring access to representation in immigration proceedings is not just about legal support—it’s about keeping families together and ensuring people have the stability and tools to actively participate in their local communities and economy. Multiple reports, including the Comptroller’s, highlight the tremendous economic benefits of immigration for New Yorkers, as immigrants play a pivotal role in filling critical job vacancies, starting and leading businesses, contributing to our culture, and breathing new life into struggling communities throughout the state,” said Shayna Kessler, Associate Director for Advocacy at Vera Institute’s Advancing Universal Representation Initiative.


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