Immigrant Advocates Applaud NY City Council Resolution On Right To Legal Counsel For Caribbean Immigrants

(CMC) – The New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) on Wednesday applauded the passage of a New York City Council resolution on the right to legal counsel in immigration proceedings for Caribbean and other immigrants.

“Today’s resolution in support of a right to counsel in immigration courts by the New York City Council is an indisputable signal to Albany,” NYIC’s Executive Director Murad Awawdeh told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC).

NYIC is an umbrella immigrant and policy organisation of over 200 immigrant groups in New York State.

“We cannot afford for the status quo to continue,” Awawdeh added. “New York has been a beacon of hope to immigrant families for generations, and we must carry that legacy by enacting the Access to Representation Act.

“It is a failure of our fundamental New York values for us to force immigrant families, including children, to represent themselves in court against deportation,” he continued. “Fair representation must be universal, not extended only to those who can afford attorneys. We thank the Council for their ongoing leadership and look forward to keeping up the good fight in Albany.”

New York City Council Resolution 556 calls on the New York State Legislature to pass and Governor Kathy Hochul to sign the Access to Representation Act, a first-in-the-nation measure that establishes the right to legal counsel in immigration court proceedings.

Sponsored by New York State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal and Assemblymember Catalina Cruz, Awawdeh said the legislation would be the first in the nation to create a statewide right to legal representation for people facing deportation who cannot afford it, whether they have recently arrived in the state or have been New Yorkers for decades.

Shayna Kessler, associate director of advocacy for the New York-based Vera Institute of Justice’s Advancing Universal Representation initiative, said: “Successfully navigating the immigration legal system is a daunting challenge under any circumstance.

“Without legal assistance, immigrants risk detention, deportation to life-threatening situations, and permanent separation from their loved ones,” she said. “We thank the City Council for overwhelmingly supporting sustainable immigration legal services and the Access to Representation Act.”

Kessler said Wednesday’s resolution sends “a strong message to Albany that universal legal representation must be a top priority in the new year.”

Camille Mackler, executive director of Immigrant ARC, said Wednesday’s passing of Resolution 556 by the New York City Council is “a welcome development in our fight for the right to representation and underscores the importance of New Yorkers getting the right to legal help when facing deportation.

“It is simple: the data shows that people facing deportation are far more likely to remain with their loved ones if they have a legal advocate on their side,” she said. “New York thrives when we keep families together, allow people to contribute to their communities and provide immigrants the stability to flourish.”

Awawdeh lamented that, currently, Caribbean and other immigrants facing deportation are not guaranteed a right to counsel.

“Instead, many who cannot afford to hire legal representation are forced to fend for themselves against a trained government lawyer,” he said, pointing to multiple studies that he said “underscore the benefits of universal representation, with immigrants in detention over 10 times more likely to establish their right to remain in the United States when they have lawyers on their side.”

For non-detained people, Awawdeh said legal representation increases the likelihood of a successful outcome to 60 per cent, compared to 17 per cent without it.