The City of Atlanta has joined 10 other cities and counties across the nation in the launch of 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.
SAFE Cities Network members are united in their commitment to the belief that, regardless of whether an immigrant will ultimately stay in the United States or leave, ensuring legal representation for those who depend on it is an essential tool to keep communities safe.
“Time and time again, Atlantans have rallied in support of our immigrant and foreign-born communities. This support is needed now more than ever,” said Mayor Kasim Reed. “Atlanta is proud to be a welcoming city that stands up for the civil and human rights of every person. I am proud to join the launch of the Safe Cities Network and offer – for the first time in our city’s history – legal defense to individuals facing deportation.”
Through their leadership and pioneering practices, Atlanta and other SAFE Cities Network jurisdictions will offer a new model for encouraging both safe and welcoming communities. The City of Atlanta was selected by Vera through a competitive request for proposals process this summer.
“Immigration is part of our nation’s past, present, and future, and our communities will find more opportunities to grow and thrive when we recognize and embrace this fact. That means that all residents must see their justice systems – from our law enforcement to our courts – as delivering on our country’s promise of fairness,” said Nicholas Turner, president of the Vera Institute of Justice. “Common sense immigration policies like those embodied by the SAFE Cities Network ensure that all people, regardless of background, income, and history, are guaranteed a fair day in court. Not only does such public funding for indigent immigrants facing deportation maintain trust within our communities, it ultimately increases public safety and keeps deserving families together.”
The launch of the SAFE Cities Network coincided with the release of a new study from Vera showing that providing universal public defense dramatically increases the likelihood of indigent immigrants prevailing and returning to their families, jobs and communities. Providing legal representation to those facing deportation maintains trust in governmental institutions and supports public safety for all local residents.
“Local law enforcement is most effective when it can focus on keeping our community safe,” said Dr. Ronal Serpas, former Police Chief and Professor of Practice with the Loyola University New Orleans Criminal Justice Department. “This requires smart policies, such as those being advanced in these SAFE Cities, that build and maintain the trust all our residents have in law enforcement and the justice system.”
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 percent, an 1100 percent increase from the pre-NYIFUP four percent success rate for cases that did not have attorneys at the Varick Street Immigration Court in New York City.
Under the new SAFE Cities Network initiative, the City of Atlanta will provide funding for trained legal service providers to represent immigrants facing deportation proceedings supplemented by a catalyst grant administered by the Vera. Vera will provide technical expertise and support, including assistance in identifying and training legal service providers, providing opportunities to share best practices with other jurisdictions, and providing data collection and analyses for the purpose of evaluating the network’s impact.