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Op-Ed: Give Immigrants Advocates

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New York is a city of proud immigrants, and a city proud of its immigrants. It is also a city that believes everyone deserves a fair shake.

The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project embodies those values. Established in 2013, it is the nation’s first program to provide universal legal representation to indigent immigrants facing deportation — regardless of whether they are here legally. It has helped more than 2,000 immigrants and become a model for other cities, including Los Angeles.

A deal with the City Council last week led to a fully funded program that the council approved on Tuesday, but Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to exclude immigrants who have prior convictions that are among more than 170 criminal offenses he has designated.


His retreat not only undermines NYC’s commitment to its residents, but is a surprising capitulation to President Donald Trump’s agenda. Trump scapegoats immigrants for complex problems gripping America. Immigration arrests are up, while his deportation program separates families.

Immigrants are in more peril than in recent memory, and New Yorkers expect our leaders to stand up to Trump’s cruelest impulses. It is in this moment that this program is most needed — for all New Yorkers caught in the clutches of the Trump deportation machine.

Without lawyers, those facing deportation are thrust alone into a daunting and unbalanced system. The federal government dispatches prosecutors to every deportation proceeding. The deck is stacked.

Forcing anyone to make his or her case from jail without an attorney is contrary to the most basic principles of fairness and due process. De Blasio’s exclusions will land heavily on poor people and people of color, whose communities are disproportionately hurt by the criminal justice system.

At the American Civil Liberties Union, we have fought for years to establish the right to an attorney for detained immigrants facing deportation. Until that right is won, the mayor must commit to universal representation.

If NYC and the mayor intend to lead in the Trump era, he can do no less.

This op-ed appeared in amNew York

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