Legal Aid's Chief Attorney Warns That Implementation of Secure Communities Program Will Destroy the Fabric of New York Immigrant Families and Communities

On May 14, The Legal Aid Society joined City Council Christine Quinn, members of the New York City Council and Citywide elected officials in denouncing the implementation of the Department of Homeland Security's Secure Communities Program, warning that it will destroy the fabric of New York immigrant families and communities. Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, sent a letter to members of the New York City Council expressing concern about the impact on our clients' ability to access justice. We would like to acknowledge the following Staff Attorneys for their hard work on this issue: Marisol Arriaga, Jack Newton, and Hannah Shapiro. Below is the letter.

Dear Council Member:

Like members of the Council, The Legal Aid Society learned last week that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will activate the Secure Communities (S-Comm) program in the remaining counties of New York State, including the five boroughs of New York City. S-Comm will tear apart and destroy the fabric of countless New York immigrant families and communities. Its implementation at a citywide level has serious implications for all of the Society's non-citizen clients across our Criminal, Civil and Juvenile Rights practices and we are extremely concerned about its impact on our clients' ability to access justice.

As the largest provider of legal representation to indigent criminal defendants, the Society's Criminal Practice has already witnessed firsthand the due process problems raised by the Department of Corrections' (DOC) prior collaboration with ICE. S-Comm will lead to an increase in the numbers of non-citizen indigent New Yorkers who will be trapped in the deportation pipeline. Despite the high stakes of deportation, non-citizens in deportation proceedings have no right to appointed counsel.

Moreover, S-Comm will only amplify domestic violence and human trafficking survivors' current fears of reporting their victimization to the NYPD. Mandatory, dual and retaliatory arrests often result in the improper arrest of the survivor and under S-Comm would lead to their immediate identification as candidates for removal. The planned implementation of S-Comm will reinforce a common perception among survivors: reporting leads to deportation. Detained survivors with children who end up under the care of the Administration for Children's Services (ACS) because of abuse or in the Family Court system will also find it impossible to comply with reunification plans or court appearances. As you know, the Society has a long history of fighting for access to justice and human rights for all New Yorkers. For these reasons, the Society is committed to working with the City Council as developments unfold to limit Secure Communities' negative impact on non-citizen New Yorkers. For further information, please feel free to contact us.

Steve Banks,