Immigrant Advocates Push Access to Representation Act in Albany as Budget Deadline Looms

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ALBANY, NY – Today, elected officials joined the CARE for Immigrant Families coalition at the Million Dollar Staircase to demand the passage of the Access to Representation Act (ARA). The first-in-the-nation bill would establish a right to counsel in immigration court proceedings.

As budget negotiations continue, elected officials and immigrant advocates called on Gov. Hochul and legislative leaders to ensure the Access to Representation Act is included in the final budget. This first-in-the-nation bill will establish the right to legal counsel in immigration court proceedings, offering immigrants at-risk of deportation a fighting chance to remain in their communities with their families.

The ARA has received support from the New York State Bar Association, business leaders, and major labor unions and more than 100 elected officials across the state including Attorney General Letitia James.

Last month, state legislators asserted their commitment to immigrant New Yorkers with $120 million investment in legal and essential services funding. The funding will help immigrant New Yorkers access attorneys as they navigate a complicated legal system, but it falls short without the passage of ARA. As legislative leaders negotiate the final FY 2024 budget, immigrant advocates urge Gov. Hochul and lawmakers to pass the ARA as a long-term legislative solution.

An estimated 77,000 individuals currently lack representation in immigration court. Immigrant New Yorkers who can’t afford to hire an attorney are currently forced to represent themselves in court—regardless of age or language abilities — against trained government attorneys. Studies show that immigrants in detention with legal representation are 10 times more likely to win their right to remain in the United States, making it more important than ever for legislative leaders to fund legal services and help keep immigrant families intact.

Sponsored by State Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal and Assemblymember Catalina Cruz, the passage of the ARA will help thousands of New Yorkers stay in their homes with their families, contributing to their communities and our economy.

“Families are facing deportation as we speak and it is unconscionable to allow people to go through this complicated and rigorous immigration process without access to legal services,” said Senator Nathalia Fernandez. “That is why I am proud to co-sponsor the Access to Representation Act and stand with my colleagues in the Senate and Assembly as we demand funding for legal services because in this country everyone should have the right to an attorney.”

"With the budget delayed, our communities find themselves in a precarious situation and cannot afford to wait any longer. Our focus on access to representation is paramount in ensuring that all immigrant families have a voice and the opportunity to thrive. We stand firm in our belief that timely action and robust support can make a world of difference for these communities, who contribute so much to the fabric of our great state” said Assembly Member Raga.

“With the budget already overdue, it is imperative that Gov. Hochul listen to the calls for inclusion on the Access to Representation Act funding. New Yorkers across the state have held a continual presence in Albany to guarantee this urgently needed bill is passed. The Governor must ensure that the $120 million investment into legal and essential services is maintained and that the Access to Representation Act is included in the final budget to ensure the well-being of immigrant families, communities, and our economy,” said Murad Awawdeh, Executive Director, New York Immigration Coalition.

"Legal representation should not be a luxury for the well-connected. Every single data point shows that people facing deportation are far more likely to remain with their loved ones if they have a lawyer on their side. New York communities and economies are stronger when our families and workforce remain stable and thriving. But time is running out. As negotiations continue in the coming days, we urge the legislature and Governor to deliver $120 million for legal and social services and enact the Access to Representation Act in the final budget,” said Shayna Kessler, State Advocacy Manager for the Vera Institute of Justice’s Advancing Universal Representation initiative.

“As negotiations continue, we urge the Senate and Assembly to include the Access to Representation Act in the FY2024 Budget. An estimated 77,000 immigrants face deportation without representation, while the government is represented by an army of attorneys. This is fundamentally unfair - and leaves immigrant New Yorkers in a highly vulnerable position. By passing the Access to Representation Act, the State can create a stable funding stream for immigration legal service providers, ensuring organizations have the stability they need to invest in staff and build a robust process to give immigrants a lawyer when they can’t otherwise afford it. The ARA addresses fundamental fairness issues in our immigration system and provides long-needed investments in the non-profit sector that communities and government offices alike rely on to serve the most vulnerable New Yorkers,” said Camille Mackler, Executive Director of Immigrant ARC.

"With immigration courts facing a backlog of almost 200,000 cases in New York State, and an already severe shortage of immigration attorneys, affordable access to representation is paramount, as we are also witnessing an influx of migrants searching for some form of safety and relief," said Hussein Adams, Executive Director of the American Civic Association.

"Los Estados Unidos deben ser un lugar de asilo y proteccion internacional para nosotros los amantes de la libertad civil, religiosa y libre de la discriminación por la que somos perseguidos en nuestros paises, Las grandes naciones se definen por cómo tratan a sus habitantes más débiles, garantizando el acceso a la orientacion y representación legal gratuita,” said Jose del Carmen, Member of the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project.

"The United States should be a place of asylum and international protection for us lovers of civil and religious freedom and free from the discrimination for which we are persecuted in our countries. Great nations are defined by how they treat their weakest inhabitants, guaranteeing access to free legal guidance and representation,” said Jose del Carmen, Member of the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project.