New Report Reveals Significant Need for Legal Services for Immigrant New Yorkers

The report offers recommendations for improving legal services, calls for a guarantee of legal representation for immigrant New Yorkers, and a $25 million investment in immigration legal and related services

New York, NY—The New York Immigration Coalition, in partnership with Brooklyn Law School’s Safe Harbor Clinic and the Immigrant Advocates Response Collaborative, today released a new report entitled No Safe Harbor: The Landscape of Immigration Legal Services in New York (2020). The report comes amid heightened enforcement efforts and an awareness of the challenges faced by immigrants navigating our complex systems without representation or language access. Drawing on detailed surveys circulated to legal service providers as well as interviews with communities throughout New York State, the paper reveals the toll three years of anti-immigrant Federal policy has taken on legal service providers and communities alike, the geographic and language barriers immigrant New Yorkers face in trying to access justice in our federal immigration courts, and the problems caused by tight inconsistent funding streams.

“Ensuring immigrant communities have access to legal representation is one of the most effective ways in which New York State can push back on the draconian policies coming out of Washington,” said Camille Mackler, Director of Immigration Legal Policy. “The No Safe Harbor report is the result of countless hours of state-wide interviews and surveys conducted with immigration lawyers and community members detailing New York’s national leadership in meeting this need. However, the report also shows how much further we need to go to provide meaningful access to counsel for all immigrants given that the outcomes of these cases can have life or death consequences for our community-members and their families.”

“The Federal government’s dismantling of immigration systems over the past three years has taken a tremendous toll on New York’s residents, ⅓ of whom are foreign-born,” said Carmen Maria Rey, Visiting Assistant Professor of Clinical Law, Brooklyn Law School. "The No Safe Harbor report closely examines the methods used by the Federal Administration to undermine stability and access to permanent status by immigrant New Yorkers, and the ever-more-vital role that New York's immigration attorneys have taken to defend our immigrant neighbors and friends."

“As a community-based organization on the ground in Western New York, the number one request we receive is for immigration attorneys,” said Jennifer Connor, Executive Director, Justice for Migrant Families WNY Buffalo. “Every week we get calls from families and from those who are in ICE detention in Batavia, NY asking for help finding a lawyer. Sometimes, New York's LDP funds fill the gap, but often they don't and we witness firsthand the effects of someone going through proceedings without a lawyer: children missing a parent, people deported to dangerous situations and the negative impact on the well-being of the entire family. These are avoidable circumstances and a universal representation model would have a wide-reaching, positive impact on our community.”


The report was authored by the New York Immigration Coalition, Brooklyn Law School, and the Immigrant Advocates Response Collaborative (I-ARC) and draws on detailed interviews and surveys to ascertain the core challenges facing legal service providers and immigrant New Yorkers seeking legal assistance. 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.

Key Findings:

  • In New York State, only 60% of legal service providers report using interpreter services (whether by phone or in-person). 40% of providers statewide continue to rely on their staff’s language skills or require non-English-speaking clients to bring in their own interpreters.
  • Immigrant New Yorkers located outside of New York City are more likely to obtain legal representation if they are connected with a community-based organization (CBO) that can help facilitate their access to legal services.
  • Over one-third of CBOs did not have at least one attorney with more than ten years of experience on staff.
  • The number of organizations providing immigration legal services in the State fell by nearly 11% (from 158 to 141) between 2017 and 2019, with the biggest drop in New York City (26%, from 121 to 89).
  • Community groups are better suited to conduct outreach and act as a bridge between communities and legal representative organizations.
  • Sixty percent of organizations received public funds through New York City and/or New York State. New York State funds spent on immigration legal services dipped slightly from FY2018 ($17.7M) to FY 2020, ($16.9M) whereas New York City funding increased substantially from FY2019 ($46.5M) to FY 2020 ($58.2M).

Report Recommendations:

  • Invest $25 million in immigration legal and related services
  • Pass the Access to Representation Act, which creates a guarantee of legal representation for immigrant New Yorkers
  • Invest in capacity building to enable organizations to make capital investments in areas surrounding language lines, technology, and physical space to allow them to grow, as well as to develop staff to best supplement lawyers with accredited representatives and legal support
  • Provide meaningful support of supervisory positions
  • Invest in critical integration and support services
  • Disburse funds and issue contracts for State and City grants in a timely and transparent manner to ensure that all providers have an equal chance to access public funds