The second subcommittee report on improving service delivery, "The Immigration Representation Project: Meeting the Critical Needs of Low-Wage and Indigent New Yorkers Facing Removal," was written by Jojo Annobil, attorney in charge of the immigration law unit at the Legal Aid Society and an adjunct clinical professor at New York University School of Law.
Ms. Annobil said that the dramatic increase in enforcement actions against "asylum seekers, undocumented immigrants and permanent residents with criminal convictions and other immigration violations has resulted in a deepening due process crisis."
A second report from the subcommittee on improving service delivery, "Barriers to Representation for Detained Immigrants Facing Deportation" presents a case study on problems facing immigrants detained at the Varick Street Detention Facility in Manhattan and addresses the problems facing overwhelmed immigration judges who deal with thousands of pro se litigants, and, the "cancer of disreputable elements of the immigration bar."
The author of that report, Peter L. Markowitz, assistant professor of law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, emphasized that one of the problems "at the heart" of the immigration representation crisis is that there is no right to counsel in immigration proceedings.
The third subcommittee report, "Regulating Immigration Legal Service Providers, Inadequate Representation and Notario Fraud," addresses the exploitation of immigrants.
"Immigrants are often easy prey for bogus or incompetent attorneys, 'notarios,' scam artists, and other bad actors who take advantage of immigrants' limited knowledge of U.S. law, lack of English fluency, and lack of cultural knowledge to charge exorbitant fees for wild promises of green cards and citizenship that the bad actors cannot, and in some cases never intended to, deliver," wrote Careen Shannon, of counsel at Fragoman, Del Ray, Bernsen & Loewy.
But this exploitation, she said, "is merely a symptom" of the larger problem of inadequate access to competent legal counsel, and Shannon advocates several changes to local, state and federal law and policy to help improve that access. Among the changes recommended is a toughening of the law on the unauthorized practice of law, by, for example, making it a felony.
Also among the study group's efforts has been a focus on training. The group convened a meeting of legal service providers and community organizations at Cardozo in April 2009 to assist in the training and placement of deferred and furloughed law firm associates.
That was followed by a September training session at Cardozo, and in October, the announcement by New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of a plan to partner with private law firms to send deferred associates into immigrant communities, as well as a $2 million city grant to support a team of supervising attorneys to train associates and provide technical support.
For Judge Katzmann, who said he has witnessed first-hand poor immigration lawyering in the 2nd Circuit, the idea behind the study group and the subcommittee reports is to raise awareness and build momentum for serious change.
There is much to do, he said, but the involvement of so many lawyers is a promising sign.
"As a judge who feels frustrated by all-too-inadequate counsel, it is encouraging and energizing to see this extraordinary group of lawyers so dedicated to urging the larger legal community to get involved in improving representation for immigrants," Judge Katzmann said.