Publication Date

Winter 2019


The unprecedented pace of deportations in recent years has led to increased investment, at the local level, in the provision of high volume legal services to immigrants facing deportation. Each investment in greater legal representation of noncitizens offers unique opportunities to raise the bar in a practice area that has been plagued by low quality representation and to experiment with institutional design as the immigration system slowly but surely moves toward a civil Gideon system. This paper takes a look at questions of institutional design and attorney practice norms within the context of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (“NYIFUP”), the nation’s first public defender program for detained indigent immigrants. Drawing from the experiences of the authors of this paper—former attorneys at Brooklyn Defender Services who were among the first attorneys to represent immigrants as part of NYIFUP—the paper argues that to maximize meaningful relief to detained immigrants facing removal, immigration defense attorneys must embrace not only zealousness in litigation but also an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach to litigation.


The authors are enormously grateful to: Sarah Deri-Oshiro, Sarah Gillman, Jean Koh Peters, Andrea Saenz, Lisa Schreibersdorf, Marianne Yang, and Steve Zeidman for feedback on earlier drafts of this paper; Zoë Joly for her insights into the role of social workers in detention work; Noran Elzarka and Erin Baldwin for their valuable research assistance; and the staff of the CUNY Law Review, and in particular JP Perry, Malita Picasso, Francesca Buarne, and Blosmeli Leon-Depass, for all of their work on editing this paper. Lastly, this paper would not be possible without the tireless and fearless work of NYIFUP attorneys, social workers, and support staff, and the resilience and power of all of the clients they serve.

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