Our story

Immigrant Justice Corps (“IJC”), is the nation’s first and only immigration legal fellowship program. IJC seeks to expand access to counsel by increasing the quantity of immigration lawyers and the quality of the immigration bar. Each year IJC recruits talented young lawyers (Justice Fellows) and college graduates (Community Fellows) many of whom are first-generation immigrants and bi-lingual graduates from the country’s top universities, for a two-year fellowship.  IJC trains Fellows to be experts in immigration law and pairs them with leading non-profit legal services providers and community based organizations in New York City, Long Island, the Lower Hudson Valley, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Texas to provide legal services to low income immigrants.

The fellows provide a broad range of immigration services including deportation defense, applications for asylum, naturalization, green cards and other forms of relief available to juveniles and victims of crime, domestic violence or human trafficking.  Quality legal assistance allows immigrants to avoid deportation and separation of families.  Immigrants who can to improve their legal status are better able to gain lawful employment, receive financial aid to college, access health care and live stable, productive lives in the United States.

Dedicated to meet the urgent need for high quality assistance for immigrants, IJC fellows have since September 2015 also travelled to Karnes, Texas to provide legal assistance to detained Central American mothers and children (popularly referred to as AWCs) at risk of deportation.

IJC is infusing the legal profession with a new generation of lawyers and advocates committed to providing high quality representation and innovative thinking about the delivery of legal services to a vulnerable population, including the use of new technologies.

The beginning of Immigrant Justice Corps

Immigrant Justice Corps is the visionary idea of the Hon. Robert Katzmann, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to provide legal representation to poor immigrants originating as a response to the crisis in legal representation for immigrants that he saw every day as a federal judge.
With the substantial support of The Robin Hood Foundation, under the programmatic direction of Eric Weingartner and Veyom Bahl, a process was created to develop the Immigrant Justice Corps.  IJC was designed through extensive research and consultation with experts across the legal field.  For advice, Robin Hood contracted with a team of consultants, including Professor Peter Markowitz of Cardozo Law School, Nisha Agarwal, then of Make the Road, NY; and David Stern, Executive Director of Equal Justice Works.
IJC was also supported initially by an Advisory Council, including:

  • Judge Robert Katzmann (Chair), Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
  • Victoria Bjorklund, Of Counsel, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and Robin Hood Board Member
  • Stacy Caplow, Associate Dean for Professional Legal Education, Brooklyn Law School
  • Andrew Friedman, Co-Executive Director, The Center for Popular Democracy
  • Kathryn Greenberg, Founder and Honorary Chair, New York Legal Assistance Group
  • Robert Juceam, Of Counsel, Fried Frank
  • Robert M. Morgenthau, former District Attorney for New York County
  • Andrew Scherer, former Executive Director, Legal Services NYC
  • Fatima Shama, former Commissioner of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs
  • Claudia Slovinsky, Founder, Claudia Slovinsky & Associates
  • Jeffrey Soros, President, Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship Program
  • William Zabel, Founding Partner, Schulte Roth & Zabel

The Need for Legal Advocacy

Immigration is our past, our present, and our future.  But these are uncertain times for immigrants, and the need for free and affordable competent counsel has never been more critical.  The U.S. government’s aggressive and relentless efforts to deport millions of immigrants including vulnerable unaccompanied minor children, mothers with children fleeing extreme violence, long time immigrants with deep family and community ties has created fear and anxiety in immigrant communities.  America’s immigration laws are extraordinarily complex, making the price of admission high, unjust, and inhumane.  As non-citizens, immigrants have no right to appointed counsel, and most cannot afford to hire their own attorney.  Having an attorney is the difference between being allowed to stay in this country and suffering catastrophic deportation.

Immigration status is directly linked with economic well-being. Immigrants and their children make up nearly half of those living in poverty in New York City – more than 800,000 people – and non-citizens experience poverty at much higher rates than the city overall. Detention and deportation practices have exacerbated these challenges. Between 2005 and 2010, the parents of over 7,000 U.S.-citizen children in New York City were deported and over 10,000 were detained without bond, resulting in significant hardship and emotional trauma.

Legal assistance provided by lawyers or trained legal advocates is the most direct intervention available to help lift immigrant families out of poverty. Legal assistance can facilitate immigrants’ transition to valid legal status, which enables them to obtain lawful employment, receive financial aid and in-state tuition to attend school (thus improving their earning potential), access health insurance and, if necessary, obtain temporary benefits such as food and income support. Preventing detention and deportation keeps immigrant children from being funneled into foster care or suffering the educational and health complications of family separation.

The crisis of inadequate legal representation

The crisis of inadequate legal representation is at an all-time high because millions of immigrants are at risk of arrest, detention and deportation as a result of the government’s draconian immigration policies.  A majority will have no opportunity to consult with counsel and will be denied a most basic premise of our constitution – due process of law.  In 2010, Chief Judge Robert Katzmann spearheaded the New York Immigrant Representation Study to better understand the issue. This report revealed some startling facts about access to counsel for immigrants:

  • Legal services are in short supply. In New York City, 60% of detained immigrants facing deportation did not have attorneys by the time their cases were completed. Further, an estimated 40% of undocumented children were eligible for legal immigration status under current law, but too few had legal counsel to help them access those opportunities.
  • Legal services, particularly when provided by solo practitioners, are of poor quality. Immigration judges ranked nearly half of the lawyers appearing before them as “inadequate” or “grossly inadequate.”
  • Legal services have a real impact. Individuals facing deportation who are not detained are successful in their cases 74% of the time when they have counsel, and only 13% of the time when they don’t.

Our approach

IJC’s solution is to populate the immigration bar with well trained and high caliber attorneys, creating a generation of leaders with a life-long commitment to immigrant justice, leveraging the latest technologies and fostering a culture of innovative thinking that will produce new strategies to reduce the justice gap for immigrant families, and ensuring that immigration status is no longer a barrier to social and economic opportunity.  In little more than two years IJC has assisted more than 28,000 immigrants and their family members, with a 93% success rate in its cases.
Every year, IJC recruits and trains talented law graduates (Justice Fellows) and college graduates (Community Fellows) for a two-year fellowship and pairs them with leading non-profit legal services providers and community based organizations.  Justice Fellows provide representation in complex immigration matters, particularly in deportation defense.  Community Fellows conduct outreach, screen, and provide assistance with completing immigration benefit applications for low-income immigrants.  Presently, there are 78 Fellows (57 Justice Fellows and 21 Community Fellows) working at 34 non-profit and community based organizations throughout New York and New Jersey, with expansion in 2017 to Connecticut and Texas.  IJC is developing plans to replicate its model in other parts of the country.

Our Impact

  • Our first two classes of 50 Justice Fellows have graduated from the fellowship program and 92% have secured employment practicing immigration law.
  • Our fourth class of Justice Fellows and Community Fellows arrived in September 2017. The Fellows, selected after a highly competitive selective process, include many first-generation immigrants and bilingual graduates from the country’s top law schools and universities. The Fellows bring their unique experiences and skills to the critical legal services they provide.
  • Our Fellows have screened more than 35,000 immigrants and their families for immigration benefits.
  • Our Justice Fellows have opened more than 3,600 complex cases and 92% of closed cases have successful outcomes, avoiding deportation and separation of families.
  • Our Community Fellows have filed more than 5,00 benefit applications for New Yorkers with a success rate of 95%. The Community Fellows have also filed more than 2,200 fee waiver applications seeking waiver of approximately $1,000,000 in fees.
  • Our Fellows have substantially increased the capacity of 35 premier non-profit organizations in New York City, Long Island, Lower Hudson Valley, New Jersey, Connecticut, and South Texas. Hosts include The Legal Aid Society, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, The Door, Brooklyn Defender Services and non-traditional partners like the Brooklyn Public Library.
  • Rapid Response Teams:  Since September 2015, Justice Fellows and Community Fellows have traveled to Karnes, Texas, on two week and three month rotations to provide legal assistance to more than 1,000 detained Central American mothers and children (AWCs) who are at risk of deportation, even though they have viable asylum claims.
  • We are currently staffed with 77 Justice Fellows and Community Fellows and a core team of six full-time employees.
  • More on our impact here