New York will soon offer free legal services for poor immigrants facing deportations, thanks to a new budget provision announced this week by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The state’s 2017-2018 budget sets aside $10 million for expanding immigrant legal defense services, $4 million of which will go to the Vera Institute of Justice’s New York Immigrant Family Unity Project — a coalition of groups that seek to ensure that all undocumented immigrants have public defenders.
Undocumented immigrants facing deportation proceedings do not currently have the right to a lawyer if they can’t afford one on their own, though an Obama-era federal policy essentially mandated that governments give attorneys to immigrants with serious mental disabilities. The new grant will allow the Unity Project to provide representation to all immigrants who cannot otherwise afford a lawyer in the state of New York.
The funds will be used to help prevent deportations and process green card applications, among other services, state Sen. Jeffrey Klein said in a statement.
Only three percent of detained immigrants avoid deportation without a lawyer, according to a 2011 study conducted by the Study Group on Immigrant Representation. The same study showed their chances increased tenfold when represented.
“The statewide expansion of [the project] will help thousands of unjust deportations and ensure due process for immigrants targeted by harsh immigration enforcement policies,” said Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, a member of the Unity Project. “New York is setting a powerful example that we hope other state and local governments will follow.”
The remainder of the $10 million budget allocation will reportedly be disbursed to the New York Immigration Coalition, the Empire Justice Center, the Northern Manhattan Immigration Coalition for Immigrant Rights, the Hispanic Federation and the Catholic Charities Community Services.
This news follows Cuomo’s March creation of the Liberty Defense Project, which the state government says is the nation’s first public-private, state-led program that aims to ensure immigrants have access to legal services.