The Spectacle Blog

Representation Before Law: Immigration Law

By on 6.28.14 | 2:38PM

New York City and immigration go together. Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, cab drivers, and ethnic neighborhoods all point to the city’s role as a leader in immigration. As Democrats pressure Republicans to act on immigration reform, threatening executive action if legislation is not passed soon, over 180,000 illegal immigrants, many of them children from Central America, have poured over the Texas border, overwhelming facilities there. New York may be taking on immigrants en masse once again as the feds look at warehouses and abandoned Walmarts on Long Island as potential processing and housing facilities for the masses crowded in small Texas holding centers.

In addition to potentially relieving the immigrant facilities crisis, New York City has formed the country’s first public defender system for immigrants in the process of deportation. Those involved see this as an issue of justice, ensuring fair proceedings with equal representation for the defendant. Immigration law is complicated and a specialized public defender allows immigrants to navigate a lit path through it, rather than stumbling along on their own.

The city is funding this endeavor, and other cities, like Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, are considering programs much the same. The hope for the New York City program, however, is that legal counsel for illegal immigrants facing deportation will soon become a federal requirement, eliminating the difference in required representation between criminal courts and immigration courts.

NERA Economic Consulting conducted a study of the financial implications of immigrant legal representation this past May. They found that representation for illegal immigrants detained and facing deportation could both pay for itself and create savings as it would streamline the deportation process and decrease the number of detainees. On the lower end of a representation programs efficiency, the study believes it would at least pay for 98 percent of its implementation, leaving a cost of $4 million per year.

If U.S. Border Security sends its Texas detainees to New York, who knows how the city's representation program will be able to handle the influx of potential cases, especially considering the youth of so many of the immigrants. It could very well be a baptism by fire.

Whatever the solution to the border control and immigration crisis, conservatives should at least put some thought into the difference between legal representation in a court for breaking the plethora of laws that rule everyday life, and the court for breaking the plethora of laws that determine the fate of immigrants. Efficiency is not enough reason to enact new law; law enacting ought to require principled considerations of justice, so NERA’s survey is insufficient grounds for endorsement of an immigrant representation program. It is, however, worth thinking about why a country built by immigrants would not want to ensure that any immigrant caught up in the detention and deportation system who could legally stay here and wants to stay here, knows the law.

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