Immigrant Justice Corps (IJC), a national program, recruits talented lawyers and college graduates from around the country and partners them with New York’s leading non-profit legal services providers and community-based organizations serving New York City, Long Island, Lower Hudson Valley and New Jersey. Together, we offer a broad range of immigration assistance including naturalization, deportation defense, and affirmative applications for asylum seekers, juveniles, and victims of crime, domestic violence or human trafficking. The largest expansion of immigration legal services in New York City’s history, IJC fellows have also travelled to Karnes, Texas to provide legal assistance to detained Central American mothers and children at risk of deportation. IJC is infusing the legal profession with a new generation of lawyers, committed to providing high quality representation and innovative thinking about the delivery of legal services to a vulnerable population, including the use of new technologies.
The Hon. Robert Katzmann, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, originated the idea for Immigrant Justice Corps as a response to the crisis in legal representation for immigrants that he saw every day as a federal judge. The Robin Hood Foundation recognized IJC’s unique potential to help individuals escape a life of poverty. With $1.4 million in seed-funding, Robin Hood enabled IJC to develop its model and prepare for launch. IJC was designed through extensive research and consultation with experts across the legal field.
Immigration status is directly linked with economic well-being. Immigrants and their children make up nearly half of those living in poverty in New York City – more than 800,000 people – and non-citizens experience poverty at much higher rates than the city overall. Detention and deportation practices have exacerbated these challenges. Between 2005 and 2010, the parents of over 7,000 U.S.-citizen children in New York City were deported and over 10,000 were detained without bond, resulting in significant hardship and emotional trauma.
Legal assistance provided by lawyers or trained legal advocates is the most direct intervention available to help lift immigrant families out of poverty. Legal assistance can facilitate immigrants’ transition to valid legal status, which enables them to obtain lawful employment, receive financial aid and in-state tuition to attend school (thus improving their earning potential), access health insurance and, if necessary, obtain temporary benefits such as food and income supports. Preventing detention and deportation keeps immigrant children from being funneled into foster care or suffering the educational and health complications of family separation.
Unfortunately, high-quality legal assistance for immigrants is grossly insufficient in New York City and across the country. In 2010, Chief Judge Robert Katzmann spearheaded the New York Immigrant Representation Study to better understand the issue. This report revealed some startling facts about access to counsel for immigrants:
• Legal services are in short supply. In New York City, 60% of detained immigrants facing deportation did not have attorneys by the time their cases are completed. Further, an estimated 40% of undocumented children were eligible for legal immigration status under current law, but too few had legal counsel to help them access those opportunities.
• Legal services, particularly when provided by solo practitioners, are of poor quality. Immigration judges ranked nearly half of the lawyers appearing before them as “inadequate” or “grossly inadequate.”
• Legal services have a real impact. Individuals facing deportation who are not detained are successful in their cases 74% of the time when they have counsel, and only 13% of the time when they don’t.
As a result of these and other troubling statistics, the idea for Immigrant Justice Corps was born.
With the substantial support of The Robin Hood Foundation, under the programmatic direction of Eric Weingartner and Veyom Bahl of Robin Hood, , a process was created to develop the Immigrant Justice Corps. For advice, Robin Hood contracted with a team of consultants, including Professor Peter Markowitz of Cardozo Law School; Nisha Agarwal, then of Make the Road, NY; and David Stern, Executive Director of Equal Justice Works.
IJC was also supported initially by an Advisory Council, including: