Creating a Statewide Legal Defense Fund

Keeping families and communities together by providing due process for all!

The Campaign for Dignity and Due Process is working to ensure all Colorado immigrants have access to legal representation through passing a statewide legal defense fund. Immigration detention is the ONLY legal procedure in the nation where someone can be detained without the right to a government-funded lawyer.  

Access to a lawyer if you cannot afford one is a pillar of our constitution under the Sixth Amendment and essential to have a just and fair trial. Under the current system, 70% of immigrants detained at the GEO immigration detention center in Aurora do not have a lawyer while the government trying to deport them always has a lawyer. Immigrants with legal representation are 3.5 times more likely to be released from detention on bond and 10 times more likely to win their cases.

Deportation can result in physical exile from home, separation from family, loss of employment, and even violence or death in a country of origin. In detention, people face inhumane conditions, loss of liberty, lasting trauma, and barriers to accessing a lawyer and legal assistance. Many people in deportation proceedings have valid legal claims to remain in the United States, but cannot fairly argue their cases effectively for themselves absent legal expertise in our complex immigration laws.

Legal defense is critical to address Anti-Blackness in immigration court and the detention to deportation pipeline. The compounding forces of systemic racism, over policing in Black communities, and entanglement between law enforcement and ICE has created an immigration system that disproportionately detains, deports, and harms Black immigrants. Black immigrants have a higher chance of being deported due to a criminal conviction, even though there are no studies that show Black immigrants commit crimes at higher rates. Despite Black immigrants making up only 5.4% of the undocumented immigrant population in the US, they disproportionately make up 20.3% of immigrants facing detention and deportation on criminal grounds due to the over policing of Black people and communities.

Immigration detention is also dangerous and deadly. COVID-19 is rapidly spreading in detention centers across the nation and in Colorado. There have already been confirmed COVID-19 outbreaks at the Aurora immigration detention center but statistical models show the numbers are likely as much as 15 times higher than what is being reported by ICE. In addition to the physical risk for people detained, this also has dramatic impacts on family stability during this economic downturn.

For all these reasons and more, it is urgent now more than ever that immigrants get access to universal legal representation in immigration court so they can be released on bond and win their cases from home with effective counsel.

State Background

In 2017, in the wake of a growing wave of national anti-immigrant sentiment and policies, advocates and leaders in the metro area worked to advance the New Denver Public Safety Enforcement Priorities.  This ordinance prohibits the collection and sharing of immigration information for immigration enforcement purposes. In addition, this created the Denver Immigrant Legal Services Fund (DILSF) to provide free, quality legal services for Denver residents in immigration proceedings through local non-profits.

In 2018, the city of Denver was selected to join the Vera Institute of Justice’s Safety and Fairness for Everyone (SAFE) Network—a growing group of jurisdictions around the U.S. that are committed to keeping families together and communities safe and strong by protecting due process and providing legal representation to immigrants facing deportation. SAFE Network Members have dedicated public funding to deportation defense, focusing on serving individuals who are detained. With the Denver program, Colorado has already taken a step towards leading the national movement for a “public defender” system for immigrants. It is time for Colorado as a whole to stand up for due process and dignity for all by passing a statewide legal defense fund!

National Background

The issue of legal defense is a federal issue at its core. Universal representation in immigration court should be a national mandate in the US. As we fight for that reality, cities and states across the nation have risen to stand up for immigrants who belong to their communities. The Vera National Institute of Justice created the SAFE (Safety and Fairness for Everyone) Network to continue growing the movement created by New York’s Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP). The SAFE Network is a coalition of local jurisdictions committed to publicly funded immigration defense. The network aims to advance equal access to justice by using a public defender model in immigration court that eliminates merit-based defense. Denver joined the SAFE Network in 2017.

An Act for Due Process and Dignity

This year we are running a bill to create a statewide legal defense fund in Colorado! The Act for Due Process and Dignity would create a public/private fund similar to the Denver Immigrant Legal Services Fund (DILSF). The administering agent will review grant applications and choose grantees. Through this statewide fund, any Coloradan with a deportation case would qualify to receive a free lawyer if they cannot afford one.

This statewide fund will advance a universal model for representation that replicates a public defender model for immigration court. This means that no one would be turned away based on their likeliness to win their case. Everyone means everyone. If passed, Colorado would join other states like Oregon, New York, Illinois, New Jersey, and California in standing up for due-process and dignity for all.


Posted on

December 14, 2020