The Fairness to Freedom Act has support from the Vera Institute of Justice and National Partnership for New Americans and more than 170 immigrants’ rights organizations, legal service providers, and government leaders across the United States
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 18, 2023
Washington, DC – Today, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) and Representative Norma Torres (CA), together with Senator Cory Booker (NJ), Representative Grace Meng (NY) and Representative Pramila Jayapal (WA), will introduce the Fairness to Freedom Act of 2023 in the House and Senate, a bill that would establish a right to counsel for anyone facing deportation, also known as “universal representation.” The Fairness to Freedom Act of 2023 calls for a universal right to federally funded legal representation for anyone facing deportation who cannot afford a lawyer on their own.
Advocates for universal representation across the nation have pushed for the bill through Fairness to Freedom: The Campaign for Universal Representation, spearheaded by the Vera Institute of Justice and National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA) and supported by immigrants’ rights organizations, legal service providers, and government champions across the United States. There are more than 55 jurisdictions around the country that have modeled and established their own publicly funded legal representation programs.
Having a lawyer makes a staggering difference to the outcome of a case. In the more than 2.1 million cases pending in immigration courts as of February 2023, over 1.3 million people—or 59 percent of immigrants facing deportation—lack legal representation and must defend themselves against the prospect of being forcibly removed from their home. This figure includes adults, families, and unaccompanied children. Studies show that people in immigration detention with attorneys are 3.5 times more likely to be granted bond (enabling release from detention) and up to 10.5 times more likely to establish their right to remain in the U.S. than those without representation.
The Fairness to Freedom Act of 2023 would establish the right to federally funded, full-scope legal representation, require the government to facilitate access to counsel for people in its custody, and establish the Office of Immigration Representation to oversee a new national system of representation and work with existing state and locally funded removal defense programs.
“Immigrants have always been an integral part of New York, contributing to the growth and strength of our state,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “However, they are being deprived of the fundamental right to due process, basic fairness, and human dignity. That’s why I’m proud to champion the Fairness to Freedom Act, which would ensure due process in immigration proceedings, leading to a more equitable and transparent system that gives immigrants a fair chance. Establishing a federal defender system for immigrants is achievable, and our country will be better for it—what we have in New York is proof and it is just the beginning of what we can accomplish.”
“The Fairness to Freedom Act is important and necessary legislation that will improve our broken immigration system by ensuring legal representation for immigrants facing deportation,” said Senator Cory Booker. “All people, regardless of their immigration status, should have the right to our nation’s foundational principles: fairness and due process under the law. I am proud to join my colleagues on this bill that would ensure no person is left to navigate the complexities of immigration court proceedings without legal representation.”
“Our nation’s immigration laws are complex and confusing, and this broken system fails too many immigrants, asylum seekers, families, and other vulnerable individuals facing federal immigration court removal proceedings. Nobody should be forced to face these proceedings alone. Providing legal representation is critical to ensure all individuals have a fair day in immigration court and understand their basic rights,” said Representative Norma J. Torres. “Among our neighbors, our friends, and family members, there are millions facing removal proceedings and I am proud to introduce the Fairness to Freedom Act to provide legal representation and give them a fair chance, regardless of their economic status.”
“Immigration removal has life-altering consequences but because immigration proceedings are civil in nature individuals are currently not entitled to an attorney,” said Representative Pramila Jayapal, ranking member of the Subcommittee on Immigration Integrity, Security, and Enforcement. “Due process and the right to an attorney are fundamental cornerstones of our legal system—and should be for all who have cases before it. By ensuring that all immigrants are able to access universal representation, we can take a major step toward restoring fairness, dignity, and justice to immigration proceedings.”
“While having a lawyer beside you is a critical immigrant rights issue, it is also much more than that. We cannot selectively advance our nation’s bedrock values of fairness and due process, which is why we need universal representation to protect the rights and freedoms of every person and community in the United States. Congress must take action and establish the right to federally funded legal representation for every person facing deportation who cannot afford a lawyer on their own,” said Nick Turner, president and director of the Vera Institute of Justice.
“Immigration proceedings that force people to fight deportation without legal representation are fundamentally unfair and violate due process. There has never been a greater need for the Fairness to Freedom Act, and here at NPNA, we are proud to co-lead this national fight to ensure that every person facing detention and deportation is fully seen, heard, and represented,” said Nicole Melaku, executive director of National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA).
“Legal representation and due process are cornerstones of our American democracy—but many immigrants have been systematically excluded from this fundamental right,” said Murad Awawdeh, executive director of New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC). “Without access to counsel, many people facing deportation are forced to defend themselves against trained government lawyers, often in a language that is not their own, resulting in people being cruelly ripped from their families and communities. The Fairness to Freedom Act would establish a universal right to legal representation for people facing deportation, removing oppressive barriers and opening up access to justice for all. We call on Congress and President Biden to swiftly pass this critical legislation, so that our country can finally uphold its essential democratic ideals for all who call it home.”
“Immigrants are essential in our communities. When an immigrant faces removal from the country they call home, it impacts their entire well-being and the lives of their families and community. No immigrant should stand alone in immigration court when the consequences of that hearing could mean permanent exile from their community, separation from their family, or even losing their life. As a society we must demonstrate our commitment to the rule of law and due process by righting the current imbalance in our immigration courtrooms,” said Lindsay Toczylowski, executive director of Immigrant Defenders Law Center.
“I was detained for six months, and it was a very difficult time for me. When I met my lawyer, she took the time to sit with me and explain the law. It was important to have a lawyer because of the language barrier in my case. She helped me survive the confinement and with her help I was released on bond. Having an attorney explain my options and give my family peace of mind that I would not be facing immediate deportation made all the difference to me,” said Ramon, an impacted community member represented by the Immigrant Defenders Law Center.
“The Fairness to Freedom Act seeks to fix a major flaw of our immigration system where lives are upended as a result of lack of legal representation. When a person is facing detention and deportation yet is unable to be represented in court, they are not just at risk of losing a case. If they cannot speak, be heard, and be fairly represented, an immigrant can lose their livelihood, family, belongings, and dreams. We stand in support of this bill alongside NPNA to bring back fairness and due process to an immigration system that is deeply in need of restoration,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA).
“As the nation’s first universal deportation defense representation program, the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project’s attorneys, paralegals, and social workers have prevented hundreds of people from being unjustly torn from their families since 2013. No one should stand alone while facing this country’s complicated and confusing immigration system. We urge Congress to enact the Fairness to Freedom Act so that all people facing the harsh outcome of permanent banishment from their family, friends, job, school, and community have a qualified attorney by their side, regardless of financial means,” said Ellen Pachnanda, director of Brooklyn Defender Services’ Immigration Practice.
About the Fairness to Freedom Act of 2023:
The Fairness to Freedom Act of 2023 would establish the universal right to federally funded legal representation for individuals facing removal who are unable to afford an attorney. The Act would ensure full-scope representation, require the government to facilitate access to counsel for people in its custody, establish the Office of Immigration Representation to oversee the new national system of representation, work with existing state and locally funded removal defense programs, and ensure access to representation for anyone facing deportation who cannot afford a lawyer on their own.
To learn more about the Fairness to Freedom Act, please see the summary linked here.
About the Fairness to Freedom Campaign
Fairness to Freedom: The Campaign for Universal Representation was launched by the National Partnership for New Americans and the Vera Institute of Justice in April 2022. Fairness to Freedom is a national campaign supported by a coalition of over 170 civil rights groups, immigrant justice organizations, legal service providers and government leaders who are calling on Congress to establish a federally funded right to representation for anyone facing deportation. The campaign’s vision is for all people whose life, liberty, or ties to their community are at risk in the immigration system to have access to high-quality, independent legal representation, regardless of their ability to afford it.For more information, visit www.vera.org/fairness-to-freedom.
About the Vera Institute of Justice
The Vera Institute of Justice is powered by hundreds of advocates, researchers, and policy experts working to transform the criminal legal and immigration systems until they’re fair for all. Founded in 1961 to advocate for alternatives to money bail in New York City, Vera is now a national organization that partners with impacted communities and government leaders for change. We develop just, antiracist solutions so that money doesn’t determine freedom; fewer people are in jails, prisons, and immigration detention; and everyone is treated with dignity. Vera’s headquarters is in Brooklyn, New York, with offices in Washington, DC, New Orleans, and Los Angeles. For more information, visit vera.org.
About the National Partnership for New Americans
The National Partnership for New Americans is a national multiethnic, multiracial organization that represents 60 of the largest regional immigrant and refugee rights organizations with reach across 40 states. Its members provide large-scale services for the communities, to leverage their collective power and expertise for a national strategy.