City Bar Statement Praising New York City Council’s Efforts to Fund Immigration Public Defender System, and Urging Nationwide Action

The New York City Bar Association applauds the New York City Council for allocating $500,000 for the “nation’s first public defender system for immigrants facing deportation,” as the New York Times described it. The Council’s effort is a model for what Congress should enact nationwide, to support justice, economic fairness and efficient administration of the courts. The City Bar salutes the City Council’s commitment to fund lawyers for New York’s low-income immigrants through the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project. Research by a study group convened by Second Circuit Judge Robert Katzmann has demonstrated the inability of immigrant detainees to represent themselves, with only three percent of them achieving success in their cases without counsel. Lenni Benson, the chair of the City Bar’s Immigration and Nationality Committee, and Lynn Kelly, the Executive Director of the City Bar Justice Center, are participants in Judge Katzmann’s efforts. Congress should build upon New York’s model and provide appointed counsel to indigent non-citizens in immigration proceedings nationwide. In its position letter and in continued meetings with Congressional members and staff, the City Bar, through its Immigration & Nationality Committee, has emphasized that a right to counsel advances fundamental American values of fairness and due process. As the letter stated, “There is no citizenship test for counsel in America.” The familiar words “You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you” do not include “only if you are a citizen.” City Bar President Carey R. Dunne said, “When you consider that Congress, with bipartisan support, has granted a right to counsel to sex offenders and Al Qaeda suspects in detention hearings, and that 76 percent of Americans support a right to counsel for immigrants facing deportation, it’s hard to see why appointed counsel is still denied to non-citizen residents facing detention and deportation.” Counsel also provides economic and social benefits that outweigh its costs. Appointing counsel in these cases pays for itself by reducing costly detention, increasing court efficiency, and reducing societal costs due to the splitting up of families and the resulting abandonment of children. “Increasing access to justice by funding legal services for the City’s poorest residents actually benefits the entire City’s economy,” said Dunne. The City Bar’s 2013 Policy Recommendations for New York City’s Next Mayor sets out these benefits in more detail, and the City Bar’s Immigration & Nationality Law Committee is currently preparing a report to more specifically articulate these benefits in the immigration context. The City Bar’s efforts to expand the right to counsel in immigration proceedings follows its decades of advocacy to provide lawyers to those unable to adequately represent themselves when liberty and basic needs are at stake. In 1959, the City Bar’s groundbreaking report Equal Justice for the Accused advocated appointed counsel for criminal defendants as reflecting society’s interest in “fundamental human rights,” and provided support for the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1963’s Gideon v. Wainwright decision. In 2006, the City Bar co-sponsored the American Bar Association’s resolution supporting a right to appointed counsel in civil proceedings. In 2009, the City Bar’s Immigration & Nationality Committee released a report arguing for a right to appointed counsel for detainees in immigration removal proceedings. The City Bar’s recent positions on immigration reform can be read at the following links: City Bar President Carey Dunne on Immigration Reform: Immigration & Nationality Committee’s position letter: Policy Recommendations for New York City’s Next Mayor: