Major Impact Seen from Mayor’s Carve-Out of Deportation Defense Program


When families are brought into the court-room at Varick Street Immigration Court, they see their loved ones seated side-by-side on a bench with other detainees, clad in orange jumpsuits, hands shackled.

As those detainees are called one by one to have their cases heard, they are seated across the table from an attorney representing the Department of Homeland Security. DHS attorneys will be prepared with documentation and arguments meant to portray the detainee as a flight risk—someone liable to skip further hearings if released—and a danger to society. They will discuss prior convictions, residences, details on family members’ citizenship and criminal history.

DHS attorneys can go to great lengths to get detainees to incriminate themselves. In a hearing on June 27, an attorney asked a detainee with a drug charge if he would ever sell marijuana again, even if his family was starving. The man said no, to which the government-backed attorney retorted, “So you’d just let them suffer?” The man’s family, at court, was startled by the line of questioning.

Despite the tough odds facing detainees, people facing deportation in New York’s immigration courts did not have publicly funded legal representation before 2013. In the U.S., removal hearings occur in civil rather than criminal court, where federal law does not require court-appointed, government-funded defenders. This creates unique challenges for immigration trials, where defendants often do not have money for a private lawyer, may speak little English, and must navigate complex laws, forms, and requirements. The New York City Council began a pilot program to remedy this in 2013, called the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project. NYIFUP has sought to provide universal representation to those detained in the federal immigration system and facing trial in courts in New York City. The experiment is the first attempt nationwide at a public defender model for immigration hearings.

But the program’s universal representation may be short-lived. As of the beginning of the current 2018 fiscal year on July 1, the de Blasio administration seeks to restrict legal funding to those convicted of any of 170 crimes it deems serious. It is the same list of crimes used to determine—along with other preconditions—whether the NYPD or city Correction department will honor a federal “detainer” and hand someone over to federal immigration officers.

Read the entire article at