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New York Becomes First State to Ensure Detained Immigrants Have Legal Representation

New York became the first state to ensure that all immigrants in upstate detention facilities have legal representation during their deportation hearings, according to a statement issued Friday by the Vera Institute of Justice.

That’s thanks to the state’s fiscal year 2018 budget, which includes $4 million to expand a public defense program — the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project —for those facing deportation. It will impact hundreds of immigrants detained in four upstate facilities.

While it’s always been difficult for immigrants to obtain lawyers — only 37 percent of immigrants secure legal representation for removal proceedings, and that number drops to just 14 percent if the immigrant is detained — legal services have become even more of a scarcity in recent weeks. As the Department of Homeland Security has begun to expedite deportation hearings, timely access to lawyers has dwindled, experts say.

“There is no guaranteed counsel in removal proceedings,” says Kevin Johnson, dean of the University of California–Davis School of Law. “There are extremely few attorneys in the remote locations where immigrants are detained [compounded by] President Trump promising to increase the number of immigrants detained.”