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Documented June 4

Documented: Number of Unrepresented People in NYC Immigration Courts Marks 18-Year High

Despite an increase in recently arrived immigrants coming to New York City, organizations have seen budget cuts for programs providing representation in immigration court. Given the complexities in immigration legal proceedings, people are far less likely to achieve the outcomes they seek without an attorney, leaving our new neighbors in a vulnerable and dangerous cycle that limits their abilities to achieve stable, safe, and healthy lives.   

In the absence of the right to counsel in immigration court, NYLAG and our partner organizations created the Pro Se Plus Project (PSPP), a community-based model centered on advising asylum seekers on their legal rights, assisting them in preparing and filing asylum applications, and empowering them to represent themselves in court.   

“In response to the large number of migrants arriving in New York in the past two years and needing legal assistance, a group of organizations began to work together to form the Pro Se Plus Project (PSPP), an initiative to increase legal assistance for newly arrived migrants – with funding help from foundations, and the city and state. 

“’More than half a dozen organizations work together on PSPP, helping migrants with asylum m applications, Temporary Protected Status documents, change of address paperwork, appeals, and a variety of other needs’, said Allison Cutler, supervising attorney at the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) Immigrant Protection Unit, who also runs the Pro Se Plus Project. 

“The group aims to prepare immigrants, including many asylum seekers, to represent themselves in immigration court when the day comes – or to set them up to find an attorney at a lower cost, since much of their application will be prepared with the assistance of PSPP. Though the individuals who attend legal clinics through the project won’t necessarily have an attorney represent them at the day of their hearing, NYLAG and other groups are organizing to provide what they view as the next best option in the absence of enough attorneys for every single person showing up to immigration court. 

“’The entire mission of the Pro Se Plus Project is to give those resources into the community and into their hands so that they don’t feel like they have to have an attorney to move forward with their case,’ Cutler said. ‘Absent a right to counsel in immigration court, we’re always going to see individuals who do not obtain an attorney.’ 

  About half of the people the project serves are staying in shelters, while others are renting rooms, or staying with family members, Cutler said. For newly arrived migrants, some unique considerations may apply to their cases. For example, those staying in shelters are subject to 30- and 60-day limits imposed by the city, and an additional hurdle is presented — with each change of address, it can become harder to track important hearing dates they must attend that are only sent through the mail.   

From January through March, the project has trained over 150 advocates, provided advice and/or counsel to over 1,000 recently arrived migrants, and filed over 350 pro se applications, according to NYLAG. Through this initiative, the groups are able to reach a larger number of individuals than they would have been able to serve individually, Cutler said.” 

Read the full piece by Giulia McDonnell Nieto Del Rio and Rommel H. Ojeda in Documented from June 3, 2024. 

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