Elected Officials, Immigrant Advocates Demand Passage of Access to Representation Act

By A Correspondent
New York state legislature building in Albany. (Pakistan Week photo)
Sen. Brad Hoylman, Assemblymember Catalina Cruz, and the Campaign for Access, Representation & Equity (CARE) for Immigrant Families coalition rallied on the State Capitol’s Million Dollar Staircase in Albany on February 14 to call on Governor Hochul and legislative leaders to support the Access to Representation Act (ARA).

The first-in-the-nation “Access to Representation Act” would guarantee that “no one must defend themselves against a trained-government lawyer alone to protect themselves and their families from deportation.”

People at the rally shared stories about how they have been forced to navigate an overburdened and under-resourced court system without any legal resources. “By passing the ARA, Governor Hochul and the legislature can help thousands of New Yorkers keep their families intact and allow them to continue contributing to their communities and our economy,” said a press release issued by Immigrant Advocates Response Collaborative. It added having a lawyer makes a massive impact: immigrants in detention are 3.5 times more likely to win release from detention and more than 10 times more likely to prove their right to remain in the United States.

There are thought to be over half a million undocumented immigrants residing in New York City. They come from many parts of the world, especially Latin America, Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Caribbean.

New York State currently has a backlog of more than 190,000 deportation cases in immigration courts. Across the state, 93 percent of New Yorkers—including 86 percent of upstate residents—said that they believe it is somewhat or very important that all people, including those in immigration court, have access to legal representation. Investing in humane immigration policies that enable more community members to remain safely at home, on the job, and with their families makes our state safer and benefits our economy. Passage of the ARA would continue to position New York State as a model for other jurisdictions where immigrants face similar challenges while delivering on behalf of New Yorkers.

“Having a lawyer in an immigration hearing can be the difference between life and death. Non-detained people in immigration hearings are over three times more likely to achieve a successful outcome if they have representation. Our Access to Representation Act will help immigrants get the legal representation they need. I am grateful to Assembly Member Catalina Cruz, the New York Immigration Coalition, the Vera Institute of Justice, and Immigrant-ARC, for their advocacy in support of this critical bill,” said State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal.

“Every day thousands of immigrants statewide face the possibility of deportation without due process of law and a meaningful opportunity to be heard. They are our friends, our neighbors, our loved ones. Our nation was and is built on their backs, and they have built their lives on the promises of our nation. However, if they cannot afford a lawyer, they are left to fight a complex immigration system on their own. While immigration law is civil in nature, the consequences of violating the law are the same as those faced by criminal defendants- loss of liberty, forced separation from family, or worse- death when forced to return to a country that persecutes their very existence. As the migrant crisis intensifies, the need for legal services skyrockets. The Access to Representation Act seeks to right this wrong by ensuring that effective legal services are provided to everyone, not simply those who are able to afford them,” said State Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz.

“DC 37 represents thousands of new immigrants in many titles, including those providing critical healthcare and community services. New York’s history proves that today’s new immigrants are tomorrow’s hardest-working citizens. Immigrants come to the city to work and support their families and are in turn invaluable contributors to our economic growth and recovery. Expanding the right to counsel to help our members and their families remain working here rather than in jail awaiting deportation is a moral imperative and sound economic policy,” said Henry Garrido, Executive Director, District Council 37, AFSCME.

“Access to a lawyer when facing an immigration hearing can be the difference between a years-long battle of attrition in the US court system and a fair resolution,” said 32BJ SEIU President Manny Pastreich. “The Access to Representation Act ensures that our immigrant community no longer faces our nation’s byzantine court system alone. 32BJ is proud to support this vital legislation and we thank Senator Hoylman and Assemblymember Cruz for introducing this bill and immigrant advocates for their fierce advocacy.”

“Breaking up families who contribute to our communities doesn’t just hurt households, it also hurts the local economies that thrive because of their immigrant neighbors. Without legal representation, there is a real financial and human cost for immigrants and communities across New York. Access to legal representation allows families to pursue their asylum cases, change legal status, and it ensures that no immigrant child or adult is left to fend for themselves navigating our complex immigration court system. Governor Hochul has the opportunity to demonstrate how much New York values our immigrant workers, business owners, friends, and community members by fully investing in legal services funding and passing the Access to Representation Act to keep families together and New York’s economy thriving,” said Murad Awawdeh, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition.

“This is a moment for bold action. Every New Yorker deserves representation in immigration court. Increasing funding for these essential services and passing the Access to Representation Act will ensure that our immigrant neighbors have a fighting chance in a system that is heavily stacked against them. Without legal representation, immigrants are far more likely to be separated from their families and loved ones or sent to countries where their lives are in danger. Our state has been a national leader in this fight, and we can continue to pave the way by offering immigrant New Yorkers the right to legal help and a chance to seek safety, security, and family unity when faced with the terrifying prospect of detention and deportation,” said Shayna Kessler, state advocacy manager with the Vera Institute of Justice.

“Including the Access to Representation Act in this year’s budget is the single most important action New York State can take to protect immigrant communities right now – be they long-established or recently arrived in search of safety and a new home,” said Camille Mackler, the executive director of Immigrant ARC. “The crisis of representation in immigration processes has gone on for too long, and many continue to try to navigate an opaque system designed to make them fail without access to basic legal orientation, much less a representative on their case. At the same time legal service providers, who are unable to meet the crushing needs for their services, cannot expand their capacity without more resources that are guaranteed year over year. We thank Assemblymember Catalina Cruz and Senator Brad Hoylman for their continued leadership on this issue and urge the New York State Legislature and Governor to include the ARA in this year’s budget so that New York can continue to be a beacon of hope and solidarity for the rest of the country.”

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