Bill would guarantee immigrant legal counsel

Massarah Mikati/Columbia-Greene MediaState Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-27, speaks to reporters at a press conference about the fight to ban flavored tobacco sales in the state.

ALBANY — The 2020 legislative session has continued the previous year’s initiatives to establish more rights for immigrants.

The day after activists and lawmakers rallied at the state Capitol to bar U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents from making arrests around courthouses, state Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-27, and Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, D-39, introduced the Access to Representation Act. The new piece of legislation would create a statutory right to a lawyer for New Yorkers facing deportation who cannot afford their own attorneys.

“While immigration law is civil in nature, the consequences of violating the law are the same as those faced by criminal defendants — loss of liberty, forced separation from family, or worse — death when forced to return to a country that persecutes their very existence,” Cruz said in a statement Wednesday.

“Our bill seeks to right this wrong by ensuring that the promises made by our Constitution are provided to everyone, not simply those who are able to afford it.”

Data has found nearly 80% of immigrants facing deportation who have attorneys win their cases, as opposed to 15% of those without attorneys.

“The Access to Representation Act ... will provide due process to all New Yorkers and add some fairness to our unjust immigration system,” Hoylman said in a statement.

The piece of legislation comes seven months after the New York State Bar Association published a resolution about the need for access to attorneys among immigrants, urging the state Legislature to enact such a law.

“If we’re truly committed within the state of New York to people having their rights for justice and due process to be had in our courts, including immigration courts, the people should have the right to counsel,” said state Bar Association President Hank Greenberg. “If they can’t afford it, there should be a means to provide them with that counsel.”

The legislation was drafted in collaboration with NYSBA and the New York Immigration Coalition. If enacted, New York would be the first state to establish such a law.

Massarah Mikati covers the New York State Legislature and immigration for Johnson Newspaper Corp. Email her at, or find her on Twitter @massarahmikati.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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