Gov. Cuomo Announces Fund for Immigrant Representation
New York City—Human Rights First today applauds New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement that New York will establish the nation’s first emergency public/private legal defense fund to ensure all immigrants, regardless of status, have access to legal representation.
“Legal representation is absolutely crucial—especially for asylum seekers fleeing violence and persecution,” said Human Rights First’s Lori Adams. “We know from our pro bono representation of asylum seekers that having a lawyer can mean the difference between a safe life in the United States or being sent back to danger.”
The fund announced yesterday is recognition of the fundamental difference a lawyer can make for those caught up in the immigration system. A recent study by the Government Accountability Office found that asylum seekers who were represented by legal counsel were three times more likely to be granted asylum in affirmative cases, and nearly twice as likely in defensive cases, than applicants who were not represented. In 2011 the New York Immigrant Representation Study, a two-year project of the Study Group on Immigrant Representation, found that a large percentage of New Yorkers—27 percent of those not detained and 60 percent of those who were detained—face deportation without any legal representation whatsoever and that those represented by a lawyer in the New York system were six times more likely to win their cases as those without representation.
“We will stand up for the rights of immigrants because we believe our diversity is a strength, not a weakness,” said Governor Cuomo at his speech on Sunday, November 20th announcing the establishment of this fund.
“At a time when negative rhetoric about immigrants at the national level is pervasive, this is an impressive and positive step made by New York to ensure access to representation, and we commend Governor Cuomo for addressing this need,” noted Adams.
Ensuring that immigrants and asylum seekers have access to quality counsel will not only ensure that these vulnerable persons’ rights are protected, but it will also assist the overburdened asylum office and immigration court system by helping to avoid further congestion of the system with erroneous decisions and inefficiencies. Earlier this year a Human Rights First released a report report documenting the impact that the current backlog. In a survey of immigration judges conducted by Administrative Conference of the United States, 92 percent agreed that “when the respondent has a competent lawyer, I can conduct the adjudication more efficiently and quickly.” A recent study by the NERA Economic Consulting Firm concluded that the provision of representation to indigent immigrants in removal proceedings would ultimately save taxpayers money.