Coalition, Legal Aid Society Release Groundbreaking New Study on Immigrant Access to Legal Services in NY

February 22nd, 2018

Criminal carve out in NYC funding creates serious impediments

NEW YORK, NY– The New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), together with the Legal Aid Society and the Immigrant Advocates Response Collaborative (I-ARC) released a 2018 update on the groundbreaking report No Safe Harbor: Challenges in Obtaining Immigration Legal Services in New York.

No Safe Harbor is the only comprehensive study of the political, geographic, and systemic issues that prevent immigrant New Yorkers from protecting their legal rights in the current climate. The report is based on a statewide survey of 34 legal service providers and the communities they serve.

The report covers a range of findings, but the most troubling take-away relates to the criminal carve-out in New York City’s investment in legal services. While the amount of city money– $48 million– is a historic investment, legal service providers receiving city funding must abide by a new, troubling provision that bars them from assisting clients convicted of a long list of more than 170 crimes. This "carve out" seriously limits providers’ abilities to restore due process in immigration proceedings and piles on additional administrative burdens.

Other report highlights:

  • New York providers benefit from $65.2 million in funding (city and state), one of the highest public investments in immigration legal services, but lack transparency in how funds are allocated
  • Lengthy bureaucratic delays in getting the funds to the field. At time of publication, 28% of City-granted funds had not been allocated for FY 2018.
  • Rigid contract requirements create obstacles for providers and prevent clients from accessing the services they need.
    • 79% of state funding covered citizenship services;
    • 33% of city funding covered a mix of complex and straight forward immigration cases;
    • The top three case types are: Defense of Removal, representation before ICE, and complex case representation.
  • Immigrants in large portions of New York state have no access to legal services, even from private providers. Of the 158 immigration legal service providers in New York, 121 (75%) are in New York City; many upstate New York regions have 0-2 providers.

“Legal service providers are the front line of defense against Trump’s brutal attacks on immigrant New Yorkers,” said Steven Choi, Executive Director at The New York Immigration Coalition. “But the carve out is a capitulation to the same attempts to criminalize immigrants for their very existence, and threaten immigrants with an unjust 'life sentence of deportation.' The criminal justice system and the immigration system are, and must remain, two separate systems."

“This No Safe Harbor report reinforces the fundamental truth that unrestricted access to immigrant legal services is a lifeline for immigrant New Yorkers ensnared in Trump’s overzealous deportation dragnet,” said Sarah Gillman, Supervising Attorney in the Immigration Law Unit at The Legal Aid Society. “To keep families together, local governments must heavily invest in immigrant defender services to a degree that equips attorneys with the resources needed to fully represent their clients. A regressive criminal carve out that bars access to representation is a true disservice to the cause. New York will fail to live up to its promise as a sanctuary city until it discards such misguided policies.”

“I’ve been here in the United States for almost eight years, and until recently, I was undocumented from El Salvador. Without access to the legal services at Staten Island Legal Services and Catholic Charities, I would not have known that I was eligible for asylum because I entered the country as an unaccompanied minor, despite being over 18 when applying for asylum and having a deportation order. Because of my lawyer Lorilei Williams, I had the deportation order removed from my case and was granted asylum. Now because of my asylum status, my daughter, my husband, and I are all on track to get green cards,” said Mirna Calderon Castillo.


The New York Immigration Coalition first released a review of legal services in 2017, but updated the report this year to highlight the significant changes in both the local funding landscape and the breadth of issues facing immigrant communities in the Trump era.

I-ARC is a collaborative of 65 immigration, legal, nonprofit services around New York State, including The Legal Aid Society, the Immigrant Justice Corps, Legal Services NYC, Sanctuary for Families, the Immigrant Defense Project, Catholic Charities Community Services, the Community Justice Clinic at the University of Buffalo School of Law, My Sister’s Place, CARECEN-NY, the Association of Pro Bono Counsel, the New York Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and the New York Immigration Coalition. I-ARC was formed by several legal service providers building on the momentum of the legal efforts at JFK airport in January 2017 in response to President Trump’s initial Muslim Ban and the subsequent #NoBanJFK movement.