January 7, 2020 / Times Union
Gov. Andrew Cuomo's State of the State address will celebrate New York's progress and underscore upcoming legislative priorities. The governor and state lawmakers should be proud of New York's leadership on justice issues, like working to end mass incarceration and supporting immigrants in the face of draconian federal policies.
New York's pioneering effort to advance due process in immigration court is particularly worth celebrating. Since 2017, we have been the first and only state to provide legal representation to all detained immigrants who face deportation but cannot afford a lawyer. In light of continued federal attacks, New York should build upon its legacy and prioritize justice for all immigrants this year.
Despite the high stakes, immigrants facing deportation do not have the right to a public defender. As a result, most people fighting deportation must navigate immigration court alone — including 81 percent of all people in detention.
That's why New York's bold leadership in establishing the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project — the nation's first statewide public defender system for detained immigrants — matters so much. Immigrants who are represented are up to 10 times more likely to prove their right to remain in the U.S.
New York has inspired a national movement for the right to publicly funded counsel for people facing deportation. Four states and more than 35 local jurisdictions have followed New York's lead.
Immigrant families need this program because New York remains a focus of federal enforcement: Between 2016 and 2018 there was a 1,700 percent increase in ICE enforcement at state courthouses. Nationwide, approximately half a million people were detained in the 2019 fiscal year, up 58 percent from two years earlier.
Through NYIFUP, New York funds deportation defense at all detained immigration courts upstate, while New York City funds representation downstate. Last year, state funding ensured representation upstate of more than 1,000 people. This year, 1,400 people are expected to need lawyers. In addition to NYIFUP, the state's Liberty Defense Project also ensures other critical legal services for immigrants facing deportation.
By prioritizing funding for immigration legal services programs like NYIFUP, New York will continue to stand with immigrants in the face of cruel federal attacks against those who are part of the fabric of New York.
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