Immigrants Fighting Off Deportation Just Got a Huge Boost in These 11 Cities and Counties

A new initiative wants to make free legal counsel available to all.

Stephanie Zollshan/The Berkshire Eagle via AP

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.

Eleven cities and counties across the United States announced on Thursday that they will provide free legal representation to immigrants facing deportation, part of a new initiative called the Safety and Fairness for Everyone (SAFE) Cities Network. The initiative, launched in collaboration with the Vera Institute of Justice, a national nonprofit and research organization, helps cities with funding and resources to help train legal service providers and share best practices. 

Unlike in criminal court cases, immigrants generally do not have the right to a free court-appointed attorney during removal proceedings, and often have to bear the costs on their own.  Nationally, only 37 percent of immigrants facing deportation proceedings get access to a lawyer, and only 14 percent of immigrants in detention do, according to a report from the American Immigration Council, a nonprofit and advocacy group. As Mother Jones has reported previously, studies have shown that access to legal representation can drastically improve an immigrant’s chances of winning relief from deportation or release from detention. Without it, often immigrants and families are quickly deported

Vera started soliciting competitive applications from cities and counties to be part of the network earlier this summer. Local governments had to commit some public cash, which Vera would then supplement with additional funding. Atlanta, GA, Austin and San Antonio, TX, Baltimore and Prince George’s County, MD; Chicago, IL; Columbus, OH; Dane County, WI, and Oakland/Alameda County, Sacramento, and Santa Ana, CA were selected. 

Vera’s project comes at a time when cities and states are ramping up their efforts to protect undocumented immigrants against a potential crackdown. A Reuters analysis found that arrests of undocumented immigrants with no criminal history increased by more than 200 percent in the first half of the year. Though deportations have slowed, ICE agents have made 43 percent more arrests since Trump has been in office, compared to the same time last year, according to the Washington PostAttorney General Jeff Sessions has also attempted to speed up deportations and reduce immigration court backlogs, though to seemingly little effect

For cities like Atlanta, it will be the first time the city has ever provided legal defense for those facing deportation. “This support is needed now more than ever,” Mayor Kasim Reed said

“Immigrants are our friends, neighbors, and co-workers, but new enforcement tactics are breaking up families and weakening our neighborhoods and our city,” Elizabeth Brown, council member for the City of Columbus, stated in a press release. The city will provide $185,000 to three groups, and received $100,000 in additional funding from Vera. 

Providing universal representation is an approach that Vera has tested before. In 2013, the group helped start a pilot project called the New York Immigrant Family Unit Project (NYIFUP) that provided free legal defense services to immigrants detained at the Varick Street Immigration Court. A new report evaluating the program found that immigrants who participated were able to able improve their chances of remaining in the US. Before the project began, only 4 percent of immigrants who had no legal representation at the court were able to win their cases. With the help of the free legal defense, NYIFUP estimates that 48 percent of its cases will end successfully. The program has represented more than 1,770 people and also helped reunite more than 750 people with their families, according to the report. 

Outside of the SAFE Cities Network, other cities have taken on their own efforts to provide funds for legal defense. In April, Seattle’s city council unanimously passed a resolution to allocate $1 million to a defense fund for immigrants and refugees, and increased that fund to $1.5 million with the inclusion of King County in August. Earlier this summer, Los Angeles city and county officials also approved an L.A. Justice Fund that, with help from outside donors, would provide up to $10 million for legal defense to immigrants. 

“It’s inhumane for people to go to court with no lawyer,” Omar Siagha, a green card holder who was able to win his case through the NYIFP, said in a press release. “Everyone deserves a chance to explain their case to the judge.”

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate