New York City Allocates $500K to Fight Feds on Deportation

Advocates hope that the program will become permanent.

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Protestors demonstrate calling for immigration reform in Chicago, Illinois.

Immigration advocates are thrilled that New York City is footing the bill for a pilot program to provide free legal representation to people fighting deportation.

The City Council allocated $500,000 in June for the pilot program, with Speaker Christine Quinn – a candidate for mayor – taking the lead in shepherding the funds into the fiscal year 2014 budget, advocates say.

"There really was no controversy because the statistics bore out the injustice," Angela Fernandez of the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights told U.S. News.

Non-citizens living in the U.S. without legal permission aren't guaranteed a free lawyer in non-criminal deportation cases.

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Immigration law is "as complex as tax law," Fernandez said. She pointed to a research conducted by federal judge Robert Katzmann that found defendants without attorneys prevail less than 10 percent of the time in immigration cases.

"If they have access to a high-quality deportation defense attorney, their chances of prevailing is 67 percent," she said.

The Vera Institute of Justice, a legal advocacy group, will administer the program and approve grants to experienced non-profits whose attorneys specialize in immigration defense.

Fernandez said it costs up to $4,000 to defend a person during the course of immigration proceedings.

"The stakes are pretty high," said Brittny Saunders of the Center for Popular Democracy. "Folks who are detained, in many cases on minor infractions of immigration law, have no right to counsel ... so they're going up against federally trained attorneys."

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Fernandez and Saunders agreed that the pilot program - officially called the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project – is the first publicly funded endeavor to defend immigrants against deportation, and they hope it will become permanent.

Quinn's office confirmed to U.S. News that the program was funded in the city's recently approved budget.

Immigration advocates, attorneys and Quinn are scheduled to discuss the program during a Friday event at Yeshiva University's Cardozo School of Law.

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