2021 – S.81A / A.1961

2021 – S.81A / A.1961

Position Statement

S.81A (Hoylman) /A.1961 (Cruz)


The Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York (“WBASNY”) supports S.81A/A.1961, which will establish the right to legal counsel in immigration court proceedings and provides for the administration thereof.

This Access to Representation would: (1) establish a universal right to counsel for indigent New Yorkers who are subject to removal proceedings under federal immigration law, as well as related proceedings such as efforts to obtain special findings orders or certifications of helpfulness in state court; (2) appoint the Director of the New York State Office of New Americans as the administrator to promulgate rules, policies, and procedures as needed; (3) monitor and improve the legal services provided to covered individuals and submit an annual report to state officials summarizing its activities; (4) require the New York State appropriate the sums necessary to effectuate the right to counsel; (5) encourage local governments and private sources that currently provide funding for legal services to continue providing such funding; and (6) establish an advisory committee to advise and assist the administrator in carrying out its responsibilities.

Due process and access to justice for immigrant New Yorkers is severely lacking because Federal law does not provide a guaranteed right to counsel in immigration proceedings, in particular, removal proceedings. This legislation is necessary to ensure due process and access to justice for three main reasons: (1) Immigrants face potentially severe consequences in immigration proceedings, including removal and family separation; (2) Immigrant New Yorkers face significant challenges in accessing counsel in immigration court proceedings, including geographic distances, political fears, financial considerations, long waiting lists, and language barriers; and, (3) Immigrants with access to counsel fare dramatically better in immigration court proceedings as they are more likely to (a) be released from custody, (b) not be removed in absentia because they did not know their court date, (c) successfully defend against removal charges and (d) successfully defend relief applications.

As one of the greatest cultural hubs in the United States, New York State has welcomed, throughout its history, nearly one-quarter of the State’s population. In 2018, New York was home to 2.3 million women and 206,980 children who were immigrants[1]. Over half a million U.S. citizens in New York live with at least one family member who is undocumented (between 2010-2014), and about 1 in 12 children (approximately 351,146 children) in the state was a U.S. citizen living with at least one undocumented family member[2].

This legislation will increase access to representation, help ensure that due process is served for all vulnerable immigrant New Yorkers and that the principles of fundamental fairness are observed. This legislation will also help ensure appropriate funding for immigration legal services and remove these common barriers so that all immigrant New Yorkers can access counsel, regardless of their income, language, or geographic location.

WBASNY has a long and honored role in making life better for all women and children, by advocating for equality and fair treatment, regardless of citizenship, and will continue to be a powerful force to affect policy change on issues affecting women and children. With over 4,000 members strong, WBASNY speaks as one voice to advocate for equal access to justice here in the State of New York and beyond.

[1] Amer. Immigration Council, Immigrants in New York 8/6/2020, https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/immigrants-in-new-york .
[2] Id.