Jan. 16, 2020 By Kristen Torres
A Queens lawmaker has introduced legislation that would ensure immigrants facing deportation have access to an attorney.
Assemblymember Catalina Cruz—who represents Corona, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights—introduced the Access to Representation Act on Wednesday, which would provide immigrants facing deportation with the legal right to an attorney, even if they cannot afford one.
State Sen. Brad Hoylman, of Manhattan, introduced the bill in the senate.
Low-income New Yorkers facing deportation must currently rely on non-profit attorneys or navigate the legal system alone.
“Every day thousands of immigrants statewide face the possibility of deportation without due process of law and a meaningful opportunity to be heard,” Cruz said in a statement Wednesday. “If they cannot afford a lawyer, they are left to fight a complex immigration system on their own.”
Under the bill, the state would fund representation for anyone facing deportation within certain income brackets. And while New York already funds two public programs for immigrants facing deportation—the Liberty Defense Project and the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project—the new bill would make the right to counsel a law.
“Our bill seeks to right this wrong by ensuring that the promises made by our Constitution are provided to everyone, not simply those who are able to afford it,” Cruz said.
Advocates for the bill said the legislation is necessary to relieve pressure from city and state organizations, and guarantee fundamental rights for the immigrant population.
A recent study conducted by the American Immigration Council found that nearly 80 percent of immigrants facing deportation who have attorneys win their cases. The study found that only 15 percent of those without attorneys win.
“Just as the Constitution guarantees that everyone in criminal justice proceedings is given a lawyer if they cannot afford one, New York’s immigrants should also be guaranteed access to high-quality, low-cost lawyers,” said Steven Choi, executive director of the New York State Immigration Coalition.
“We need bold action from New York State to protect our immigrant communities,” he added.