Advocates Applaud Albany Common Council’s Support for Immigrant Legal Services Access

Council to vote Monday on resolution backing first-in-the-nation state bill establishing right to an attorney in immigration proceedings

ALBANY — Leading immigrant rights advocacy organizations today applauded Albany Common Council members for their support of state legislation that would establish a first-in-the-nation right to legal counsel in immigration proceedings, which is already available in criminal proceedings.

A resolution calling on the state Legislature to pass, and Gov. Kathy Hochul to sign the Access to Representation Act (ARA) is set to come before the full Council for a vote Monday evening. The ARA would create a first-in-the-nation right to counsel in immigration court, extending the same protections already available in criminal proceedings. The bill creates a fairer immigration court system, as 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.

The Council resolution cites data from Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse showing that, as of January 2024 less than 5 percent of those facing new immigration removal cases in Albany County have representation. Studies show that immigrants 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 ensure availability of legal services that help keep immigrant families intact.

The Council’s strong support of the ARA comes as asylum seekers and immigrants living in Albany and other municipalities locally continue to seek opportunities to obtain work, lay down roots in the Capital Region, and contribute to their local communities.

“Recent federal policies and immigration enforcement trends have greatly increased removal risk to immigrant New Yorkers,” the resolution states, noting that immigrants have a longstanding history of making a positive impact on city and state economic growth, and “contribute to our tax base, and enrich our arts and culture.”

The resolution further states that “Albany has a vested interest in ensuring asylum seekers are able to obtain legal documentation in order to ensure they are able to transition into our community.”

A full copy of the resolution can be found here.

“Gov. Hochul and the Legislature don’t need to go any further than across the street to Albany City Hall to understand why it is essential they ensure all New Yorkers, whether they’ve been here for 50 days or 50 years, have access to trained attorneys who can help them navigate an immigration court system that is stacked against them,” New York Immigration Coalition Executive Director Murad Awawdeh said. “We’re incredibly thankful for Council members who are standing up for what’s right and urge more local officials across the state to join them in strengthening our communities by embracing newcomers.”

“While efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform continues to stall at the federal level, we have an opportunity here in New York State to positively impact immigrants by providing necessary legal representation and support to those who wish to build a new life here in the United States,” Albany Common Councilmember and resolution sponsor Meghan Keegan said. “We should be doing all we can to remove barriers to legal employment and ensure that those seeking asylum are able to fully integrate into our communities.”

Keegan is joined in sponsoring the resolution by councilmembers Sonia Frederick, Deborah Zamer, Joyce Love, Ginnie Farrell, Kelly Kimbrough, Owusu Anane, Gabriella Romero, Sergio Adams and Tom Hoey.

“While we await overdue, serious immigration reform at the federal level, we have hundreds of asylum seekers at our doorstep in the Capital Region who need legal services to assist them in processing asylum cases, while also achieving necessary and urgent work authorizations to become self-supporting taxpayers as these cases wind their way through the immigration courts,” said Assemblymember Pat Fahy, a co-sponsor of the ARA. “While we continue to advocate for additional federal assistance to serve immigrant New Yorkers and asylum seekers, access to legal representation and eventually temporary work authorizations are essential in assisting them to become self-sufficient and to support their families.”

“Our immigration system is complex and requires experts to interpret and apply our laws. It is patently unjust to deny legal representation to immigrants facing deportation and other life-altering actions simply because they are unable to afford a lawyer, especially considering they will be facing well-trained government attorneys,” Councilmember Zamer said. “Anyone facing court action in our country has a right to legal representation. It is the cornerstone of our American Democracy.”


The ARA, co-sponsored by state Assemblymember Fahy and state Sen. Neil Breslin, also has received support from the New York State Bar Association, major labor unions and more than 100 elected officials statewide — including state Attorney General Letitia James.

With an estimated backlog of 325,000 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.

Advocates also continue to push for a $150 million investment in immigrant legal services in the 2024-25 state budget to ease pressure on the backlog of cases and ensure recent arrivals can swiftly apply for work. In her executive budget, Governor Hochul proposed $44.2 million for immigrant legal services — roughly $20 million less than provided in the current fiscal year.