5-11-2012By Eleanor Acer
Refugee Protection Program
Last week the Federal Bar Council presented Judge Robert A. Katzmann with its Learned Hand Award. In accepting this prestigious award, Judge Katzmann used the opportunity to reiterate his call to address the urgent need for adequate legal representation for indigent immigrants and asylum seekers. As Judge Katzmann explained in his speech accepting the Learned Hand Award:
Since 2006, the Second Circuit has adjudicated more than 16,000 immigration cases. In all too many cases, I could not but notice a substantial impediment to the fair and effective administration of justice: the too-often deficient counsel of represented non-citizens. For immigrants, the stakes could not be greater – whether they can stay in the United States, whether they will be separated from their loved ones, often their children.
Over the last few years, Judge Katzmann has galvanized and led efforts to address the legal representation needs of indigent asylum seekers and immigrants in New York, working with a group of attorneys, bar associations, non-profit organizations, judges, New York City and State officials, law schools, and other concerned New Yorkers. This group is known as the Katzmann Study Group. In his speech, Judge Katzmann outlined a number of steps the group has initiated – including the creation of a Fellowship at Human Rights First, with the support of the Leon Levy Foundation, to help promote pro bono representation in asylum cases in New York.
Judge Katzmann also highlighted a number of the Katzmann Study Group’s disturbing findings – including:
- A striking percentage of detained (67%) and non-detained (27%) immigrants who appear before the New York Immigration Courts do not have legal counsel.
- The two most important variables affecting the ability to secure a successful outcome in an immigration court case are having legal representation and being free from detention.
- The greatest impediments to increasing the capacity of existing legal providers are a lack of funding and a lack of resources to build a qualified core of experienced removal-defense attorneys.
In closing his speech, Judge Katzmann eloquently made the case for why American lawyers and all Americans should care about the legal representation needs of immigrants and asylum seekers:
As I reflect on my subject tonight, immigrant representation, my own family’s past no doubt plays a part. My father is a refugee from Nazi persecution, my mother the child of Russian immigrants. I can still hear the accents and voices of my own relatives, who escaped persecution, who wanted to become part of this great country, and who, through their toil and belief in the American dream, made this great nation even greater. When we work to secure adequate representation for immigrants, not only are we faithful to our own professional responsibilities, not only do we further the fair and effective administration of justice, but we also honor this nation’s immigrant experience.
There are so many ways for the legal community – and for all Americans– to respond to Judge Katzmann’s call to action. Lawyers can volunteer their time. Individuals and other donors can support legal providers so that they can hire competent staff to provide counsel to indigent immigrants. Bar associations and other concerned Americans can replicate the work of the Katzmann Study Group across the country. And all Americans can tell their representatives in Congress that they are concerned about the lack of legal representation for indigent immigrants and want the government to take steps to address what Judge Katzmann accurately calls a “dire problem of grave human consequences.”
Human Rights First congratulates Judge Katzmann on his receipt of the prestigious Learned Hand Award, and expresses its deep appreciation for his commitment and leadership in highlighting the legal representation needs of immigrants and asylum seekers.
To read Judge Katzmann’s speech, click here.
Click to learn about Human Rights First and our pro bono representation program for asylum seekers.