The OPIA Blog

Immigrants have an uphill climb in New York’s legal system

What is being done to address the issue of immigration (both legal and illegal) in New York City? This New York Times article highlights some of the problems occurring in the immigration law community in New York. Robert A. Katzmann, a federal judge on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, lead a “working colloquium” on the subject of immigration law and how to better connect the immigrant community and the legal community. Lawyers from all arenas of law (judges, big firm attorneys, legal service lawyers) showed up to this colloquium to discuss these issues. Many were on the same level and agreed that immigration law needs some fixing.

A big problem is the workload required of the immigration attorneys and judges–making it hard to
devote a great deal of time to any one immigrant’s case. Take the Varick detention center mentioned in the Times article. The center, operated for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is part of Homeland Security, has had a spotty past and precarious future. The article mentions that “leaders of the fledgling legal triage program said it has only enough volunteers to talk privately with a dozen of the 250 men held there, a few subway stops from federal and state courthouses and the skyscraping headquarters of international legal firms. Hundreds more immigrant New Yorkers are detained in New Jersey jails where few or no free lawyers visit regularly.”

On top of that, judges and attorneys are dealing with massive case loads of which many should not be on their docket.

The legal imbalance is clear. The writer points out that “studies show immigrants with legal representation are three to four times more likely to win their case, yet nationwide, only about 35 percent have any kind of lawyer.”