May 11, 2011
Human Rights First Awarded Grant for Asylum and Immigration Fellowship
New York, NY—Human Rights First is pleased to be the recipient of a grant from the Leon Levy Foundation to support a two-year fellowship and a pilot project to increase high quality pro bono legal representation of indigent asylum-seekers and other immigrants in New York City. The Study Group on Immigrant Representation, led by Judge Robert A. Katzmann of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, proposed this fellowship and pilot project, which aims to provide adequate counsel for immigrants by challenging the private bar to take on more pro bono asylum cases by creating greater capacity to screen potential clients, conduct intake interviews, place new pro bono cases with law firms, and mentor the pro bono attorneys in that representation. We also thank the Federal Bar Council’s Public Service Committee, which has committed to providing legal support for the pilot project by making available a select group of law firm associates to assist with the screening of potential asylum clients at the New York Immigration Court and by committing to have those law firms take asylum cases for pro bono legal representation. Many immigrants in removal proceedings, including asylum-seekers and others with legitimate claims to lawful immigration status, struggle to navigate our complicated immigration system on their own and are at increased risk of deportation because they cannot afford competent attorneys. According to preliminary findings of the New York Immigrant Representation Study, a joint project of the Study Group on Immigrant Representation and the Vera Institute, only 13 percent of unrepresented immigrants in New York City are successful in their cases, compared to 74 percent of those who have lawyers, and the numbers are even lower for those in immigration detention. Without government-funded counsel in immigration proceedings, there is a need for legal service providers to partner with law firms to provide pro bono legal representation for immigrants who cannot otherwise afford counsel. The purpose of the fellowship is to increase law firm pro bono representation of indigent immigrants and asylum seekers in an effort to address logistical and financial impediments to delivering increased representation to immigrants. This fellowship and pilot project were announced by Judge Katzmann on May 3, 2011 at a colloquium held at Cardozo Law School entitled “Innovative Approaches to Immigrant Representation: Exploring New Partnerships.” Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens (retired) delivered the opening remarks and set the stage for a well-attended gathering of immigration experts to discuss these and other innovative ways to address the unmet legal needs of the immigrant poor. Human Rights First looks forward to launching the fellowship and pilot project, and very much appreciates the commitment of the Study Group, the Federal Bar Council’s Public Service Committee, and the Leon Levy Foundation. The organization is deeply grateful for the opportunity to build on our decades of success in operating a pro bono representation program which partners with law firms to obtain immigration status for asylum-seekers. Through the fellowship, to be named the Leon Levy Fellowship, and the pilot project, Human Rights First will work with Federal Bar Council pro bono attorneys to identify indigent asylum seekers whose cases are before the New York Immigration Court and are in need of legal representation; the fellowship will also increase the capacity of Human Rights First to provide support and training to pro bono attorneys who take on these cases. These additions will allow us to increase the number of individuals served. In addition, we remain committed to our ongoing work with the Study Group on Immigrant Representation. Through these combined efforts, we will continue to work to improve access to legal counsel for indigent asylum-seekers.