N.Y. Could Give Aliens Free Lawyers in Deportation Court  


November 11, 2022

By Jason Hopkins

You don’t like the idea of paying for a lawyer to represent an illegal alien in Immigration Court? Too bad, you may soon have a legal obligation to do so.

New York lawmakers have introduced a new bill in the Empire State’s legislature – creating a right to counsel for illegal aliens and other noncitizens facing potential removal from the United States. Should the so-called Access to Representation Act, introduced by a former illegal alien-turned state representative, be signed into law, noncitizens in New York State who are currently in deportation proceedings could enjoy the benefits of a cost-free public defender.

This is significant because immigration is a civil matter, and litigants aren’t entitled to a free lawyer at government expense. Criminal defendants are subjected to the possibility of losing their life or liberty. That’s why they get a free lawyer. Deportation proceedings simply determine whether foreign nationals have a legal basis for remaining in the U.S. If they don’t, they are simply returned to their home country, where they have full rights of citizenship. It’s also worth noting that U.S. citizens in civil proceedings do not get free lawyers at government expense.

While creating a legislative right to free counsel in immigration proceedings is a novel concept, public-private partnerships to pay for immigration lawyers are not. Understanding how activists have pushed this issue through the formation of programs that are partially based on public funding is the key to understanding how New York’s could be the start of a nationwide trend. Anti-borders activists in the Empire State have been at the epicenter of a years-long push to provide taxpayer-funded counsel for noncitizens across the country.

The primary advocate for these programs has been the Vera Institute of Justice, a radical, pro-illegal-alien nonprofit based in New York City. Vera typically seeks out cities with progressive mayors and city councilors. Then it enters into a partnership with the jurisdiction to launch a deportation defense initiative. Once the program is up and running, Vera slowly withdraws financial support and starts pushing for its program to be funded fully by taxpayers.

If New York legislators have been hit with an overwhelming need to expend taxpayer funds on some type of free giveaway, then they should direct their largesse at Americans in need – not foreign nationals who have broken our laws.

The first jurisdiction to launch a cost-free deportation defense program was New York City nearly a decade ago. Now more than 50 similar programs exist in the United States. That is a rapid expansion, especially in light of the fact that neither the states, nor the federal government, have any legal obligation to provide foreign nationals with free lawyers to contest deportation.

The Immigration Reform Law Institute has analyzed the free counsel programs run in conjunction with Vera and estimated that they are costing U.S. taxpayers $5.6 million dollars this year alone. Programs outside New York run in conjunction with other nonprofits are likely costing taxpayers as much or more.

Now consider the potential cost to taxpayers if states began guaranteeing foreign nationals a free lawyer any time they wind up in deportation proceedings – which are triggered only when the foreign national breaks the law. What happens when other states soft-on-immigration-violators states – such as Massachusetts, California, Oregon, or Washington – follow New York’s example?

The price tag for the New York bill, should it pass, would be enormous. In the law’s first year, lawyers for immigration violators would cost Empire State taxpayers $55 million and become increasingly more expensive each year, according to a memo accompanying the bill. Once fully implemented, by year six, the law would cost state taxpayers $300 million annually.

Part of the bill’s text references eligibility criteria, in particular domicile in the state of New York. That is beyond bizarre considering many of the beneficiaries of the bill will be illegal aliens. How does one establish legal domicile in a place where one has no right to reside? Equally surprisingly, a criminal background does not disqualify an alien from receiving a free lawyer. For example, illegal aliens found guilty of murder, rape, or any other felony would ostensibly still be able to take advantage of the law – despite the fact that they likely already had a free lawyer during criminal proceedings.

Ultimately, this bill makes no sense. Giving illegal aliens a free attorney to fight their deportations would almost certainly encourage more illegal immigration – an odd move to make when this country is experiencing record levels of illegal border crossings and New York City appears to be buckling under the weight of just a few busses of illegal migrants. Moreover, saddling cash-strapped American taxpayers with the legal bill for uninvited foreign trespassers seems particularly tone-deaf in the midst of a massive recession.

If New York legislators have been hit with an overwhelming need to expend taxpayer funds on some type of free giveaway, then they should direct their largesse at Americans in need – not foreign nationals who have broken our laws.

Jason Hopkins serves as Investigations Manager at the Immigration Reform Law Institute, a public interest law firm working to defend the rights and interests of the American people from the negative effects of mass migration.

Also published at American Thinker, November 11, 2022.

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