A task force assembled to meet the needs of poor immigrants facing deportation last week introduced a model program for providing counsel to immigrants in removal proceedings.
The group and its report, "Accessing Justice II," are the latest step in a five-year effort launched by Judge Robert Katzmann of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, who began in 2007 to rally the legal community to study the problems of immigrants in removal proceedings and advocate a legal services support network at a time when record numbers of immigrants are subject to deportation.
"Basically, this is a blueprint for deeper discussion about how to secure access to the justice system with counsel," Katzmann said last week. "Bit by bit, we are trying to make a dent in a huge problem."
The report proposes a "New York Deportation Defense Project," which the authors hope will be a model for the nation.
The deportation project focuses first on detained immigrants, "the most underserved population with the greatest obstacles to representation and to a fair process."
A report released by the group in 2011, "Accessing Justice I," outlined the dire need for quality legal representation by immigrants who face removal and the splintering of their families but who have little knowledge of how the U.S. immigration system works.
That document detailed a radical disparity in outcomes in immigration courts for those who have lawyers and those who do not.
In New York, the first report stated, 60 percent of detained immigrants, and 27 percent of non-detained immigrants, did not have counsel. Seventy-four percent of non-detained immigrants with counsel were able to defeat deportation, but those without counsel had a mere 13 percent chance of remaining here.
For detained immigrants, the report said, those with counsel have an 18 percent chance of remaining but those without a lawyer have only a 3 percent chance of fending off removal.
The first report also highlighted the poor quality of some lawyers who represent immigrants, either through incompetence or lack of ethics.