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Today, Columbus Hosted Launch of Vera Institute’s National SAFE Cities Initiative

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City and Community Leadership Proving that Positive Policies at Local Level Can Impact Real People’s Lives

Columbus, OH – Today, Columbus hosted the launch of a new nationwide initiative to improve access to justice in US immigration courts.  As the Vera Institute of Justice explained in their press release announcing the SAFE Cities Network:

At a time when harsh immigration policies are disrupting our communities, separating families, and increasing detention and deportation, leaders and legal service providers from across the country gathered in Columbus, Ohio to launch the Vera Institute of Justice’s Safety and Fairness for Everyone (SAFE) Cities Network, a multi-jurisdiction network dedicated to providing publicly-funded representation for people facing deportation.

The Vera Institute chose Columbus to announce this ground-breaking national initiative due to the leadership of the Columbus City Council, led by Councilmember Liz Brown, and the broader Columbus community.     

Matt Hildreth, America’s Voice Political Director and Columbus resident, said:

Councilmember Liz Brown is a champion for the most vulnerable in our community. Because of her work, Columbus is a first-rate American city where all residents, regardless of their background, can feel safe and pursue their dreams. We applaud Councilmember Brown and the Columbus City Council’s work to stand with immigrants and their families.

A new piece from Dara Lind of Vox explains the stakes of this ground-breaking initiative and how it improves access to justice for U.S. immigrants and their American families.

Immigration court cases are often matters of life or death.  They determine whether a persecuted individual is sent back to his or her persecutors or afforded a chance to build a new life in a safe and welcoming community like Columbus.  They determine whether American children will be able to continue growing up with the daily presence of loving parents or forced to live in broken families.

Under U.S. law, immigrants are entitled to representation in immigration court, but they are not entitled to low-cost or pro bono representation.  Even if immigrants have paid taxes in the United States for decades, they can still be deported without legal representation, leading to serious miscarriages of justice and scars left behind on both immigrants and Americans.

Said Lynn Tramonte, Director of America’s Voice Ohio:

Our U.S. immigration laws are far from fair and humane.  But under the law there are some avenues for individuals facing deportation to be able to stay.  Those who do qualify – including many who have lived in Ohio and paid taxes for decades – should not be held back because they cannot afford a lawyer.

Underscoring the importance of this initiative is a new report, also from the Vera Institute of Justice: “Evaluation of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project,” which highlights the results of a pilot project providing legal representation to immigrants facing deportation in New York City.  According to the report: “The evaluation of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP), which pioneered universal representation for detained indigent immigrants in deportation proceedings, showed a successful outcome rate of 48%, an 1100% increase from the pre-NYIFUP 4% success rate for cases that did not have attorneys at the Varick Street Immigration Court in New York City.”

Tramonte continued:

The stakes are too high in these cases, for individuals and Ohio families.  It’s wonderful to see Columbus stepping up in support of justice in this critical way.  It’s time for other cities in Ohio, including Cleveland and Akron, to follow their lead.