City Bar Welcomes NERA Report Finding Appointed Immigration Counsel Would Pay for Itself

The New York City Bar Association welcomes the issuance of NERA Economic Consulting’s report “Cost of Counsel in Immigration: Economic Analysis of Proposal Providing Public Counsel to Indigent Persons Subject to Immigration Removal Proceedings.” NERA’s report, by Dr. John Montgomery, affirms the City Bar’s longstanding support for appointed counsel in immigration removal proceedings.  The report finds that a national immigration federal public defender system’s benefits could offset the federal government’s costs, through detention, foster care and transportation savings, even without quantifying other likely fiscal, social and administrative benefits.  As Dr. Montgomery said, “When we conducted our analysis, we found that under plausible assumptions, providing counsel to indigent respondents could pay for itself.” “In our advocacy to Congress for representation in deportation hearings, policymakers repeatedly asked us: ‘How much does it cost?’” said Lenni Benson, Chair of the City Bar’s Immigration and Nationality Law Committee. “This study helps demonstrate that counsel for indigents facing detention and deportation is not only fairer and consistent with U.S. justice, but cost-effective.” “Many immigrants are deported each year, leaving families behind, who may have had a right to remain in the U.S. but were unable to assert that right because they lacked legal representation,” said Debra L. Raskin, President of the City Bar.  The NERA report should eliminate the argument that the federal government cannot afford to provide this essential representation to those in deportation proceedings.” The NERA report makes these key findings:

  • A national immigration appointed counsel system “would pay for itself” through federal fiscal savings under plausible assumptions. Savings come from
    • Detention (“$173-174 million/year” and “likely substantially more”);
    • Federal foster care outlays ($18-21 million/year);
    • Transportation ($10 million/year); and other areas.
  • National federal defenders could help 17,550 eligible immigrants (14,754 of them detainees) stay in the United States with their families.
  • Providing counsel to immigration detainees alone—like New York’s pilot project, but nationally—“would more than pay for itself,” saving $38 million/year.

Notably, NERA’s report conservatively does not quantify other savings.  But as the report notes, additional benefits may include:

  • Detention cost savings from lawyers at bond hearings helping secure release.
  • Economic benefits from those released detainees working, supporting their families, and paying taxes.
  • State cost savings (such as state foster care costs).
  • The potentially “substantial” economic and social benefits from persons avoiding deportation and making “productive investments in their business, home, and education,” with their increased spending and potential multiplier effects.
  • Administrative savings from more efficient immigration courts.  Appointed counsel would save about 87,000 hearings and 115,000 hours of court staff time per year. In a bipartisan study, co-authored by Committee Chair Professor Benson, immigration judges overwhelmingly agreed that lawyers would help them conduct cases more efficiently and quickly.

The City Bar asked NERA for its independent pro bono analysis to inform the debate.  NERA was retained by WilmerHale LLP, which has been providing extensive pro bono assistance to the New York City Bar in its immigration reform advocacy.  “NERA’s economic assessment is valuable to policymakers, and its model is a groundbreaking analytical framework for researchers,” said Benson.  “Holistic economic analysis such as this is a necessary part of the access to justice debate.  Policymakers have too often considered only costs of civil legal assistance and then naturally cut costs.  Yet increasing funding for legal services typically generates economic benefits that exceed the costs.” Benson added, “In the last seven years over two million people have been deported, with their U.S. families and children left behind.”  Against this backdrop, the City Bar’s support for immigration representation is longstanding.  In a 2013 position letter, the City Bar called for nationwide appointed counsel to indigent non-citizens in immigration proceedings, following its 2009 report advocating for appointed counsel for immigration detainees.  It also has advocated to increase funding in New York for immigrant legal services. The City Bar Justice Center represents immigrant detainees and coordinates leading law firms’ pro bono assistance. Additionally, to expand the bar’s expertise, the City Bar’s Immigration & Nationality Law Committee has hosted panels on immigration reform and a training session on representing immigrants at bond hearings.  A separate subcommittee to improve access to counsel for immigrant children conducted six free trainings inside the New York City family courts last year. The report can be downloaded here: