Austin among 11 Communities United to Provide Public Defense to Immigrants Facing Deportation —
August 6, 2020

Austin among 11 Communities United to Provide Public Defense to Immigrants Facing Deportation

safe cities
SAFE Cities Network

At a time when harsh immigration policies are disrupting our communities, separating families, and increasing detention and deportation, leaders and legal service providers from across the country gathered in Columbus, Ohio to launch the Vera Institute of Justice’s Safety and Fairness for Everyone (SAFE) Cities Network, a multi-jurisdiction network dedicated to providing publicly-funded representation for people facing deportation.

SAFE Cities Network members come from 11 politically, economically, and ethnically diverse jurisdictions united in their commitment to the belief that, regardless of whether an immigrant will ultimately stay in the U.S. or leave, a crucial way to keep our communities safe is to ensure legal representation for those whose future depends on it.

Through their leadership and pioneering practices, SAFE Cities Network jurisdictions–which includes the cities of Austin and San Antonio–will offer an expanding model for encouraging both safe and welcoming communities. Each jurisdiction was selected by Vera through a competitive request for proposals process. All selected jurisdictions demonstrated their commitment to deportation defense by investing public dollars, which were matched by a catalyst fund administered by Vera.

“Immigration is part of our nation’s past, present, and future, and our communities will find more opportunities to grow and thrive when we recognize and embrace this fact,” said Nicholas Turner, president of the Vera Institute of Justice. “That means that all residents must see their justice systems—from our law enforcement to our courts—as delivering on our country’s promise of fairness,”

The launch of the SAFE Cities Network coincided with the release of a new study from Vera showing that providing universal public defense dramatically increases the likelihood of indigent immigrants prevailing and returning to their families, jobs, and communities. Providing legal representation to those facing deportation maintains trust in governmental institutions and supports public safety for the entire community.

“Local law enforcement is most effective when it can focus on keeping our community safe,” said Dr. Ronal Serpas, former Police Chief and Professor of Practice with the Loyola University New Orleans Criminal Justice Department. “This requires smart policies, such as those being advanced in these SAFE Cities, that build and maintain the trust all our residents have in law enforcement and the justice system.”

The evaluation of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, which pioneered universal representation for detained indigent immigrants in deportation proceedings, showed a successful outcome rate of 48 percent, an 1100 percent increase from the pre-NYIFUP 4 percent success rate for cases that did not have attorneys at the Varick Street Immigration Court in New York City.

“NYIFUP has helped hundreds of New York immigrant families receive due process, avoid permanent separation, and remain together,” said Oren Root, director of the Center on Immigration and Justice at the Vera Institute of Justice. “We are thrilled that NYIFUP’s success has led to its replication in the 11 SAFE Cities jurisdictions.”

Under the new SAFE Cities Network initiative, 11 jurisdictions are providing funding for trained legal service providers to represent immigrants facing deportation proceedings supplemented by a catalyst grant administered by Vera. Vera will provide technical expertise and support, including assistance in identifying and training legal service providers, providing opportunities to share best practices with other jurisdictions, and providing data collection and analyses for the purpose of evaluating the network’s impact.

The rest of the members completing the list of SAFE Cities Network are Atlanta, GA; Baltimore, MD; Chicago, IL; Columbus, OH; Dane County, WI; Oakland/Alameda County, CA; Prince George’s County, MD; Sacramento, CA; and Santa Ana, CA.

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