Immigrants Should Have Right To Atty, NY State Bar Says

By Emma Cueto | June 18, 2019, 5:58 PM EDT

The New York State Bar Association has urged the state’s governor and legislature to give people in immigration proceedings a right to counsel in New York, a measure that would be the first of its kind in the nation.

The resolution, which passed the NYSBA’s House of Delegates on Monday, cited the increase in removal proceedings initiated in immigration court and data that shows people with attorneys fare significantly better than their unrepresented counterparts.

“We have long supported equal access to justice and courts of law for immigrants residing in New York state,” NYSBA President Henry Greenberg said in a statement.

“Recent policies and immigration enforcement trends have increased removal risks to immigrant New Yorkers and our immigration court backlogs have reached historical highs,” he continued. “We must ensure for immigrants due process and that the principles of fundamental fairness are observed in any judicial setting in which they appear.”

The resolution comes in the midst of ongoing debates over federal immigration policy and legal challenges to the way immigration courts and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency operate.

So far in 2019, advocates have challenged allegedly unlawful restrictions on phone access for people detained while awaiting immigration hearings, pushed for the right to counsel for migrant children, and argued that ICE detention hearings are unconstitutional, among other court cases.

“It was the right time in New York for this to be happening,” Camille Mackler, the director of legal policy for the New York Immigration Coalition and a member of the NYSBA’s Committee on Immigration Representation told Law360. “As an immigration attorney, I’m really excited to see the bar take this step.”

According to a report prepared by the NYSBA, immigrants in New York are “extremely vulnerable to increasingly anti-immigrant policies coming out of Washington.” ICE arrests in New York have jumped and far exceed the national average, the report said, and between 2012 and 2019, the backlog in immigration court doubled.

The report also noted that having access to an attorney makes a major difference on the outcome of immigration cases. For immigrants who aren’t detained pending a hearing, those with attorneys prevail 78% of the time, while those without attorneys prevail in only 15% of cases, according to national data cited in the report. Those who are detained have a 48% chance of success with an attorney and a 4% chance without one, the report said.

Mackler said that the support for the resolution in NYSBA was “overwhelming” and that the association’s leadership was very much behind it.

Following the resolution, she and other advocates plan to call on the state legislature to act, she said. She added that she hopes there will be a bill ready to be introduced by January 2020.

--Additional reporting by Suzanne Monyak, Nicole Narea, Dani Kass and Aaron Leibowitz. Editing by Haylee Pearl.