By Gina Martinez
City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillside), The Legal Aid Society and immigrant advocates rallied at City Hall last week demanding that Mayor Bill de Blasio drop a proposal in his executive budget that would restrict access to counsel for detained immigrants convicted of certain crimes.
The mayor drew praise when he revealed his executive budget last month and announced $16 million in additional funding for immigrant legal services, building on the successes of the City Council program known as the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project. NYIFUP provides due process for those detained by immigration authorities, yet cannot afford representation. De Blasio then announced that the city will not fund lawyers for immigrants facing deportation if they have been convicted of certain crimes, angering many immigration advocates.
The Legal Aid Society said NYIFUP was founded on the same principles of fairness and justice as Gideon v. Wainwright, which found that no one, regardless of the crime they allegedly committed, should be denied an attorney because of money, and certainly not because of the nature of the charges against them.
Lancman said de Blasio’s insistence on denying due process to certain immigrant New Yorkers would further fuel the Donald Trump deportation machine.
“We have watched this same song and dance with the mayor before,” he said. “He talks a big game about protecting immigrants from Trump, but refuses to take the actions necessary to do so. If the mayor is serious about backing up his tough talk against Trump, for once, then he should ensure every immigrant New Yorker has access to counsel.”
The Legal Aid Society said representation in removal proceedings truly makes a difference. A study on New York City immigration representation found that detained immigrants who had legal representation were 10 times more likely to beat their case, and those who lack representation prevailed only 3 percent of the time in court, the organization said.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said New York’s provision for legal aid to immigrants facing deportation has been a model for the rest of the country.
“Limiting access to the program is particularly dangerous now,” she said. “As the federal government promises to escalate detentions and deportations in immigrant communities in New York City and nationwide, when the stakes are as high as deportation, everyone no matter their history deserves an attorney. Due process demands no less.”
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