IJC’s mission is to recruit, train, and populate the immigration field with the highest quality legal advocates to create a new generation of leaders with a lifelong commitment to immigrant justice.
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, as a response to the crisis in legal representation for immigrants he saw every day as a federal judge. In 2007, he gave the Marden Lecture of the NYC Bar, calling on the legal community to help address the problem, leading to the creation of the Study Group on Immigrant Representation. In 2010, he spearheaded the Study Group’s 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.
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.
These findings inspired Judge Katzmann to find a solution.
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 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. An Advisory Council of leading lawyers also provided input.
Immigrant Justice Corps was launched in January 2014, with its first class of Fellows entering in September 2014. The original IJC board of directors consisted of William D. Zabel (chair), the late Robert Morgenthau, and IJC founder Robert A. Katzmann
IJC is committed to addressing unique geographic needs and changing immigration policies by using innovative models.
Long Island Project
A suburb located next to New York City, Long Island has quickly entered the national conversation on immigration reform. Unlike their counterparts in New York City, immigrants on Long Island have long suffered from disparate access to competent legal representation in Immigration Court. That is why in September 2015, following an unprecedented number of Central American immigrants arriving on Long Island, IJC responded by partnering with the Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) in Nassau County to help meet the urgent need for quality immigrant representation.
In 2018, this partnership gave birth to the Long Island Project, a long-term collaboration between IJC and CARECEN to bolster Long Island’s pool of high-quality immigration lawyers and advocates. Through this partnership, IJC created a team of Justice Fellows (lawyers), Community Fellows (federally accredited legal representatives), a Social Worker, and a Supervising Attorney to increase CARECEN’s ability to litigate complex deportation cases in defense of Central American families. In less than a year and in partnership with the rest of CARECEN’s legal staff, the Long Island Project has already offered over 200 consultations, agreed to defend over 100 Central American asylum seekers in Immigration Court and in their appellate cases, and more importantly, offered the Long Island community a new source of holistic defense against the anti-immigrant rhetoric from Washington.
Since inception, Immigrant Justice Corps has defended immigrants in desperate need of a lawyer, often on a crisis basis. When our government has moved to inhumanely deter immigration through large-scale breaches of due process, we have supported groundswell legal responses to bring justice to harmful policies.
In response to to the dramatic increase of immigrant parents with children arriving from Central America to the U.S. in 2015, IJC mobilized its resources. Justice and Community Fellows were sent to Karnes, Texas, on two-week and three-month rotations to provide critical legal assistance at the Karnes Family Detention Center. Fellows helped more than 1,000 detained Central American mothers and children who were at risk of deportation, despite having viable asylum claims. Committed to ensuring a permanent solution, IJC established two Justice Fellows at the host organization, RAICES, to continue this important work.
In February 2019, in response to the humanitarian crisis at the border, IJC began sending team of Fellows to Tijuana, Mexico to volunteer at Al Otro Lado (AOL), a bi-national direct legal services organization. At AOL the teams spend a week assisting asylum seekers: preparing people for credible fear interviews during which they can explain why they fear return to their home countries and the results of which dictate whether they will be able to remain in the U.S. to fight their cases, leading Know Your Rights (KYR) presentations, and consulting on individual cases.
Every week, AOL has new volunteers join them. However, only a small portion of their volunteers are immigration lawyers or Department of Justice (DOJ) accredited representatives. Even fewer have direct experience working on asylum claims. As immigration lawyers and advocates, the IJC team was uniquely qualified to support AOL’s mission, all in their own unique ways.
Center for Immigrant Representation
In October 2018, IJC launched the low bono practice, Center for Immigrant Representation in Jersey City, New Jersey. The practice offers high quality legal services to immigrants with incomes that make them ineligible for pro bono services. The practice meets demand for quality representation in under-served locations, trains committed young attorneys and legal representatives to run a high quality private practice, and develops a sustainable, replicable business model based on reasonable fees and exceptional management.
IJC is uniquely positioned to pioneer a low bono practice because of its expanding talent pool, robust network of partners and record as a champion for justice.