The New York City Bar Association released a study supporting its position that federally-funded counsel for immigrants facing deportation would save the government more than $200 million by reducing costs for detention and speeding up resolution of immigration cases.
The study, solicited by Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, working pro bono on behalf of the bar, said providing public defender services would cost $208 million annually, but detaining those facing deportation would shrink costs by at least $173 million to $174 million. Foster care for children of detainees and deportees also would drop between $31 million and $34 million annually, the report said.
The city bar is advocating a government-funded counsel system, with an initial emphasis on those who are detained, as part of a broader movement to build support for a nationwide effort to meet the legal needs of the immigrant poor.
In 2013, the New York City Council voted to place $500,000 into a pilot program to provide detainees representation at the Varick Street Immigration Court. The result was the New York Immigrant Defenders, a group of attorneys and staff from The Bronx Defenders and Brooklyn Defender Services, who are expected to handle some 166 cases in 2014 (NYLJ, Sept. 30, 2013).
Immigration specialists at the city bar say the new report helps make their case.
“This study helps demonstrate that counsel for indigents facing detention and deportation is not only fairer and consistent with U.S. justice, but cost-effective,” said Lenni Benson, a professor at New York Law School and chair of the city bar’s Immigration and Nationality Law Committee.
Benson co-authored a separate study, also released Friday, that estimates that appointed counsel would save about 87,000 hearings and 115,000 hours of court staff time per year.
The study cites the opinion of immigration judges who overwhelmingly agreed that having a lawyer on a matter leads to the quick and efficient disposition of cases in a court system that is struggling with massive caseloads and multi-year backlogs.