On May 14, 2014, Roosevelt House hosted an event that looked into the state of immigrant justice in America. Mirela Iverac of WNYC moderated a panel that consisted of Justice Robert Katzmann, Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Angela Fernandez, Executive Director of the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights and co-founder of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, and Peter L. Markowitz, Interim Executive Director of the Immigrant Justice Corps. Jonathan provided introductory remarks, which are included below. Video will be made available shortly.
Improving Immigrant Access to Justice: Innovative Approaches
May 14, 2014
Good evening, I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. It is my pleasure to welcome you to a discussion on innovative approaches to improving immigrant access to justice.
Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt would have been pleased that we gather in their home tonight to explore this topic so central to our values and national character. Hear Franklin’s words in his October 1940 radio address to the Herald Tribune Forum. He spoke of how immigrants contribute to our country when he said:
“…These varied Americans with varied backgrounds are all immigrants or the descendants of immigrants. All of them are inheritors of the same stalwart tradition—a tradition of unusual enterprise, of adventurousness, of courage ‘to pull up stakes and git moving.’ That has been the great, compelling force in our history. Our continent, our hemisphere, has been populated by people who wanted a life better than the life they had previously known. They were willing to undergo all conceivable perils, all conceivable hardships, to achieve the better life. They were animated just as we are animated by this compelling force today. It is what makes us Americans…They built a system in which Government and people are one—a nation which is a partnership and can continue as a partnership. That is our strength today.” It is this sense of partnership and our panelists’ commitment to fairness and the rule of law that brings us together tonight.
But I think FDR would be troubled, as we are, by these startling facts:
- In New York City, 60% of detained immigrants facing deportation do not have attorneys by the time their cases are completed.
- It is estimated that 40% of undocumented children are eligible for legal status but only a few have legal counsel to help them secure that status.
- And individuals not detained but who face deportation are successful in their case 74% of the time if they have legal counsel, but only 13% if they are unrepresented. Quite a difference.
One of our panelists tonight, Chief Judge of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Robert Katzmann, has taken the lead in addressing this shocking situation. In 2007 he gave the Marden Lecture at the Association of the Bar of the City of New York about the unmet needs of the immigrant poor. It was rich in evidence of how badly immigrants facing deportation were treated by both administrative and judicial arms of our government. And it was a clarion call for reform. “We are a nation of immigrants, whose contributions have been vital to who we are and hope to be. All too often immigrants are deprived of adequate legal representation, essential if they and their families are to live openly and with security. This failure should be a concern for all of us committed to the fair and efficient administration of justice.”
A year later, Judge Katzmann convened a study group on immigrant deportation made up of 50 leading lawyers in private practice, leaders of immigrant service organizations, government officials and more. It commissioned a New York Immigrant Population Study which documented the statistics I cited earlier. Its work lead to the establishment of two important projects we will discuss this evening. Starting this year, the Immigrant Justice Corps-spearheaded by Justice Katzmann’s efforts – began its work of providing New York’s immigrant population with high-quality legal assistance. The I.J.C. recruits from a pool of talented young lawyers and law students around the country, partnering them with non-profits that specialize in immigration assistance. The founding of the Corps marks the largest expansion of immigration legal services in New York’s City’s history.
We have a distinguished moderator today who will help to facilitate what I know will be a thoughtful and lively discussion. I am delighted to introduce Mirela Iverac, a reporter for WNYC, where she covers topics on poverty and immigration. In 2013, Mirela won a Gracie award for Outstanding Reporter for her coverage of those issues. Prior to joining WNYC, she was a freelance contributor to the New York Times. Mirela holds master’s degrees in journalism from Columbia University and in international affairs from the University of Cambridge, U.K.
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Mirela Iverac from WNYC who will introduce the other panelists this evening.