Advocates and Lawmakers Demand $150 Million Investment in Legal Services, Passage of Access to Representation Act

As Budget Deadline Looms, Advocates Urge Lawmakers to Enact a Budget that Uplifts All New Yorkers

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Albany, NY—Today, the CARE for Immigrant Families coalition rallied with immigrant rights advocates, elected officials,  allies and impacted people at the State Capitol to demand a $150 million investment in immigrant legal services. Advocates also called for passage of the Access to Representation Act (ARA), a first-in-the-nation bill that would establish a right to counsel in immigration court, offering families who face deportation a lifeline for remaining united. The rally marks an escalation in pressure on lawmakers just days before the April 1 budget deadline.

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 with legal representation are 10.5 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.

With an estimated backlog of 330,000 pending immigration cases in New York, lawmakers must prioritize boosting capacity for legal service providers and investing in infrastructure that delivers long-term sustainability to our legal system.

The ARA has received support from the New York State Bar Association, major labor unions, 125 nonprofits and community-based organizations, and more than 100 elected officials across the state including Attorney General Letitia James.

“New York’s legal system is difficult to navigate for anyone, but especially for New Yorkers who cannot afford a lawyer or who might not speak English. But everyone who calls New York home, whether they arrived here 30 days ago or 30 years ago, deserves a fair fight in court. New York has an amazing opportunity to welcome new people to our state’s communities and economy, and Albany must stand up for immigrant New Yorkers with a $150 million investment in legal services to facilitate their integration. I look forward to working with the advocates, my Senate colleague Brad Hoylman-Sigal, and Governor Kathy Hochul to pass the Access to Representation Act and ensure its inclusion in this year’s budget,” said Assembly Member Catalina Cruz, District 39.

"I’m a proud cosponsor of the Access to Representation Act. New immigrants to New York State faced unfathomable hurdles to get here. Not having representation in immigration court is one more hardship they don’t need to face. We need to give those individuals and families who fought so hard to get to NY a fighting chance at being able to stay here. Everybody should have a right to counsel," said Assembly Member David Weprin, District 24.

"Due process of law is a fundamental tenet of our constitution and justice system. However, unlike in criminal proceedings where defendants are given a lawyer if they cannot afford one, immigrants do not have a right to a government-paid attorney in immigration court, even when facing deportation. As a result, many low-income residents are left without representation. I support this allocation of funds to meet an urgent, long-term legal and social service need. In my District, there are thousands of new Americans who are working tirelessly, following the American dream of a better life for their families. I am hopeful that the final budget will include this allocation to allow them to realize their dream," said Assembly Member Chris Burdick, District 93.

“Few principles are as important as the right to due process. Ensuring due process in immigration court is just as important as due process in any other scenario. The outcome of an immigration case can have the same impact on a family as the outcome in a criminal case, as communities in my district can attest. To ensure stability in our communities and prevent outcomes like the wrongful deportation of legal residents and even citizens, we must pass a law ensuring the right to representation and include funding for it in our final budget,” said Assembly Member Dana Levenberg, District 95. 

“We’re calling on the Governor to include $150 million for the Access to Representation Act in the final budget to make our legal system truly equitable and deliver much-needed relief for immigrant New Yorkers,” said Murad Awawdeh, President and CEO, New York Immigration Coalition. “There is no justice or due process in a system that does not extend legal representation to those who cannot afford it. This historic legislation would give back to immigrant families and ensure they have a fighting chance to remain together and continue contributing to our economy.  We must meet this critical moment by boosting the capacity of legal service providers to move thousands of cases forward and get recent arrivals on the path to work authorization and self-sufficiency.”

“Including $150 million for immigration legal services in this year’s budget is the single most important action New York State can take to tackle this crisis of representation in the immigration process. We are forcing immigrant New Yorkers to try to navigate an opaque system designed to make them fail without access to basic legal orientation, much less a representative on their case. At the same time, legal service providers, who are unable to meet the crushing needs for their services, cannot expand capacity without more resources that are guaranteed year over year. We urge the New York State Legislature and Governor to include and properly fund the ARA in this year’s budget so that New York can continue to be a beacon of hope and solidarity for the rest of the country,” said Camille Mackler, Executive Director, Immigrant ARC.

“Thousands of immigrant New Yorkers are facing deportation without legal support, risking heartbreaking family separations and immense hardship. With the budget deadline looming, lawmakers must take urgent action to make sure that our neighbors have access to legal services and are not left to navigate immigration court alone. A $150 million investment, coupled with the passage of the Access to Representation Act, is crucial to meeting urgent needs, protecting families, promoting safety and stability in New York’s communities, and ensuring a strong economy and the continued vibrancy of our state,” said Shayna Kessler, Associate Director for Advocacy, Vera Institute of Justice's Advancing Universal Representation initiative.