The Robin Hood Foundation will award more than $1.3 million in grants in support of efforts to address the shortage of competent legal representation for immigrants in New York City, the New York Times reports.
Long promoted by Robert A. Katzmann, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the Immigrant Justice Corps will recruit up to twenty-five graduating law students or recent graduates a year, immerse them in immigration law, and dispatch them to community-based organizations working to represent immigrants caught up in the legal system, particularly those of modest means facing deportation. Justice Fellows would commit to at least two years of service and as many as three — for an annual salary of $47,000, plus benefits. Organizers estimate that by the third year, the corps will be handling nearly fifteen thousand cases annually, about double the number of immigration cases currently overseen by New York City nonprofits, theTimes reports.
"It's a very simple concept, but it's one that will not only ensure fairness for immigrants but will infuse our legal system with a generation of lawyers committed to serving those in need," said Katzmann.
Deeply concerned about the quality and availability of representation for immigrants, Katzmann started a study group in 2007 which found that most immigrants detained in the New York region did not have counsel at the time their cases were adjudicated. The group's findings led to the creation of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, which seeks to provide legal representation for every low-income immigrant in New York facing deportation. When Katzmann subsequently called for the creation of a national corps of young lawyers similar to the Peace Corps, the Robin Hood Foundation agreed to fund a planning process.
While the funds from Robin Hood will get the initiative — which initially is limited to New York City — off the ground, operating costs are expected to total $4 million in the first year and about $7 million annually after that. Robin Hood officials and corps board members hope to raise additional funds from other foundations, individual philanthropists, and the federal government.
Immigrant Justice Corps executive director Nisha Agarwal told the Times the project could be replicated in other cities with large immigrant populations and could also serve as a kind of feeder system for legal talent. Said Agarwal, "Maybe these fellows will leave these fellowships and go elsewhere in the country and be leaders in immigrant representation."