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Brooklyn to participate in nation’s first public defender system

Lisa Schreibersdorf, executive director of Brooklyn Defender Services. Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Defender Services

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

For the first time in the United States, detained immigrants who cannot afford attorneys of their own will be provided with court-appointed deportation defense counsel through the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP). 

Funded through the New York City Council, this first-in-the-nation pilot program will operate at the Varick Street Immigration Court in New York City. The pilot program will provide legal representation for New Yorkers who are detained and at risk of permanent exile from their families and the communities they call home.

The City Council’s $500,000 investment will allow two legal service organizations, the Bronx Defenders and Brooklyn Defender Services, to provide representation for 190 of the approximately 900 indigent detained and otherwise unrepresented immigrants who will face deportation in the New York City Immigration Court this year.

Lisa Schreibersdorf, executive director of Brooklyn Defender Services, predicted that the new program was likely to make a tremendous difference. “People facing deportation who are not represented by counsel are likely to be unaware of immigration remedies that can allow them to stay in this country,” said Schreibersdorf. “Our talented and dedicated staff will be able to assist hundreds of immigrants and their families by preventing wrongful deportations and reducing detention of people who are part of our community. Brooklyn Defender Services is honored to serve the large immigrant community of New York City as we embark on this first project of its kind in the country.”

The one-year pilot program emerged from research conducted by the New York Immigrant Representation Study working group, a committee convened by Judge Robert A. Katzmann, chief judge of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. This research demonstrated that approximately 60 percent of New Yorkers facing deportation at the Varick Street Immigration Court had no attorneys whatsoever, and, as a result, they had virtually no chance (3 percent) of stopping their deportation. Attorneys can increase these New Yorkers’ chances of remaining here with their families by as much as 1,000 percent.

Reflecting on the launch of the program, Judge Katzmann observed, “The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project is an historic commitment of local government support for counsel for immigrants and represents the joining together of local and federal governments, and concerned interests and organizations outside of government, to help address a crisis of tragic dimension.”

He added, “the NYIFUP demonstrates how even those who might be adversaries in court come together around core values we all share: safeguarding the integrity, fairness, and efficiency of our system of justice, which depends on adequate and effective counsel.”

November 8, 2013 - 1:30pm


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