Philadelphia is one of six new communities joining the growing movement to ensure a fair day in court for every immigrant

PHILADELPHIA — The City of Philadelphia announced a new partnership with The Vera Institute of Justice’s Safety and Fairness for Everyone (SAFE) Network today. Philadelphia joins five other new members, including: Long Beach, CA, Ramsey County/St. Paul, MN, Dallas, TX, San Francisco, CA, and New Haven, CT. All new partners will receive various levels of support from Vera—including “catalyst” funding, technical expertise, training, and data collection and analysis—to strengthen local legal representation efforts. The SAFE Network is a politically, geographically, and ethnically diverse group of now 18 cities and counties across America dedicated to the goal of providing universal representation for people facing deportation.

The systematic targeting, raiding, detention and deportation of immigrants happening today are a continuation of our nation’s history of cruelty towards marginalized communities. Across the country, and for generations, most immigrants facing the terrifying prospect of deportation from their communities have lacked access to legal representation and have navigated the complexities of immigration law alone. Now, in the face of ramped-up deportations that have thrown our communities into chaos and instability, the need to correct this imbalance has become increasingly urgent.

“Vera has been and continues to be a valued partner in our work around criminal justice reform, and I’m proud to stand alongside local and national partners in the SAFE Network,” said Philadelphia Mayor, Jim Kenney. “Philadelphia has emerged as a fearless leader in local responses to shifting immigration policy and this new deportation defense effort fits alongside other pro-immigrant policies we embrace and are advancing. The strength and stability of our immigrant families contributes to our city’s safety and success.”

The approach advanced by the SAFE Network and its universal representation model, much like a public defender model in criminal court, means that everyone at risk of deportation should have access to due process and a fair day in court even if they cannot afford an attorney. Universal representation recognizes that legal representation is a crucial way to keep our communities cohesive, stable, safe, and successful.

The City of Philadelphia has committed $100,000 in Fiscal year 2020 to support deportation defense, which will be matched by Vera.

According to Kica Matos, Director of Vera’s Center on Immigration and Justice, “What we are seeing today at the border is nothing short of horrific, but it is not just happening at the border. Detentions, deportations, and family separation are happening every single day. They are happening in our backyards, in our communities, and all across America. In the face of this chaos, we’re proud to be standing with our partner cities and counties in the SAFE Network to support our immigrant communities, promote access to justice and due process, and to stand up for a welcoming vision of America. By expanding the reach of our network, we hope to help more immigrant families stay together, and help bring stability back to communities that deserve to thrive.”

Through the SAFE Network, Vera aims to empower and support local governments and communities across the country that are taking a lead to correct the injustices with our immigration system. By standing together as a national network, all 18 partners demonstrate the growth of a movement for fairness and due process that has been proven effective in keeping families together.

“No one ever should be torn away from their loved ones, their community, and their life because they don’t have a lawyer,” said Philadelphia City Councilmember Helen Gym. “In the face of cruelty, racism and xenophobia, we won’t back down from our commitment to keep families together and uphold civil and human rights.”

“Philadelphia is excited to step forward and join this group of local government leaders who are fighting to ensure that immigrants facing deportation get a fair day in court,” added Miriam Enriquez, Director of Philadelphia’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. “Due process should extend to all people in the United States, and the work of the SAFE Network in its first year has made great progress towards that aspiration. We look forward to working with all of the SAFE partners to increase access to legal representation in immigration court.”

In the first year of the SAFE Network, 38 percent of cases represented by SAFE attorneys and completed in immigration court resulted in successful outcomes, permitting SAFE clients to remain in the United States. By comparison, only approximately 3 percent of unrepresented cases nationwide are successful. Read “A Year of Being SAFE” to access additional profiles and statistics during the Network’s first year.

“I left the Ivory Coast with my husband and son, seeking protection in the United States. When I was detained, I thought I was going to be deported because I didn’t have any money for a lawyer. I was very afraid that I would never see my son again”, said Lea Dezai Epse Wanhi, Philadelphia community member and former Nationalities Service Center client. “But then, I met my lawyer. My life is an example that if you can get a lawyer they can help you stay in the United States and reconstruct your life. I hope that everyone can have a lawyer like I had. It doesn’t just mean you can win your case, it means that you can have hope and believe in yourself again.”

Including the six new SAFE members (marked with an asterisk*), the SAFE Network consists of the following jurisdictions:

  • Atlanta, GA
  • Austin, TX
  • Baltimore, MD
  • Chicago, IL
  • Columbus, OH
  • Dallas, TX*
  • Dane County, WI
  • Denver, CO
  • Long Beach, CA*
  • New Haven, CT*
  • Oakland/Alameda County, CA
  • Philadelphia, PA*
  • Prince George’s County, MD
  • Ramsey County/St. Paul, MN*
  • Sacramento, CA
  • San Antonio, TX
  • Santa Ana, CA
  • San Francisco, CA*

Learn More About the SAFE Network here.

Read “The Case for Universal Representation” from Vera, along with The Center for Popular Democracy (CPD) and the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), released in December 2018. The report makes the case for the importance of publicly-funded legal representation for everyone facing deportation and the advantages of the universal representation model.

About the Vera Institute of Justice:
The Vera Institute of Justice is a justice reform change agent. Vera produces ideas, analysis, and research that inspire change in the systems people rely upon for safety and justice, and works in close partnership with government and civic leaders to implement them. Across projects, Vera is committed to explicitly, pointedly and effectively reducing the burdens of the justice system on people of color, and frame all work with an understanding of our country’s history of racial oppression. Vera is currently pursuing core priorities of ending the misuse of jails, transforming conditions of confinement, providing legal services for immigrants, and ensuring that justice systems more effectively serve America’s increasingly diverse communities.