NYC Project Shows Value of Legal Aid in Immigration Court

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Nearly two-thirds of the defendants in America’s immigration court system face a judge without legal help because immigrants have no right to counsel, reports Public Radio International. While it’s hard enough for the working poor to find qualified representation, doing so as an immigrant in detention is almost impossible. Just 37 percent of people facing deportation have an attorney with them. For people in immigration detention, that number falls to 14 percent, according to a study published in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review.

An apparent trend in a New York immigration court suggests how important legal representation can be. Deportation orders issued this year at the Varick Street Immigration Court in Manhattan are projected to be at their lowest level since 2013. In 2012, 1,202 people were ordered removed from the U.S. at that courthouse, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. This year, the number is just 535. The decline is partially credited to a first-of-its-kind legal project. In 2013, the New York Immigrant Family Unit Program began to provide publicly funded representation to poor detainees in removal proceedings. The initiative ensures that anyone in detention whose case is heard at the Varick immigration court has access to a qualified immigration attorney. “No family can have a loved one locked up and deported, simply because they can’t afford counsel,” says Peter Markowitz, director of the Immigration Justice Clinic at Cardozo School of Law. “That’s not justice, and we don’t do that in New York.”

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