Immigrant Detainees Get Public Defenders In New York City Pilot Program

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Immigrant detainees do not automatically have the right to an attorney if they can't afford one, but a new pilot program in New York City seeks to change that.

NPR reports that through the pilot program, New York Immigrant Family Unity Project provides poor immigrant detainees with court-appointed attorneys from the Bronx Defenders and Brooklyn Defender Services.

It's the country's first government-funded public defender service for immigrants facing deportation and it was launched in November.

The New York City Council appropriated $500,000 for the pilot program, which organizers say will be enough to meet about 20 percent of each year's need, according to Latin Times, which also noted that under the program, detainees whose income falls at no more than 200 percent of the federal poverty line can receive pro bono legal counsel from New York Immigrant Defenders, which consists of public defender offices the Bronx Defenders and Brooklyn Defense Services.

The founder and executive director of Brooklyn Defense Services says detainees could win the right to remain in the country through a wide range of ways and some even have status and don't know it.

"We had a kid who came to the country when he was two with his mom and dad," Lisa Schreibersdorf told Latin Times. "The parents got separated, and he went to live with his mom. His dad became a citizen before the kid turned 18. Now, that's automatic citizenship for the child, but the kid didn't know. When he was being interviewed by immigration officials, they'd ask if he was documented and he'd say, 'no.' So off he goes."

NPR also added that about 44 percent of detainees went to immigration court hearings last year without an attorney. Organizers say public defenders could not only help some immigrants avoid unnecessary deportations, but also speed up immigration proceedings and cut down on detention time.

Sources: NPR, Latin Times