- Provides assistance to defense attorneys who represent immigrants in the criminal-justice and immigration systems
- Opposes deportation of illegal immigrants
The Immigrant Defense Project (IDP) was established in 1997 as an initiative of the New York State Defenders Association, and eventually became a “more independent” organization in 2010.
Promoting “fundamental fairness for immigrants accused or convicted of crimes,” IDP seeks to “minimize the harsh and disproportionate immigration consequences of contact with the criminal justice system” by:
- serving as a legal resource and training center for criminal defense attorneys, advocates, and immigrants;
- using “impact litigation” to challenge “overreaching government interpretations” of criminal-immigration laws;
- engaging in policy advocacy efforts to “scale back criminal grounds of deportation” and “return to a more proportional, fair, and discretionary immigration system”; and
- “build[ing] the capacity of community-based organizations to understand and respond to criminal-immigration issues.”
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, IDP adopted as its first priority the protection of illegal immigrants—launching a Detainee Defense Initiative to provide or arrange legal assistance for immigrants detained or at risk of detention or deportation.
In 2002, IDP co-founded the Defending Immigrants Partnership, a national effort to ensure that immigrants in criminal proceedings received proper legal counsel. IDP’s allies in this campaign included the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association.
IDP signed a March 17, 2003 letter exhorting members of Congress to oppose the Domestic Security Enhancement Act, also known as “Patriot [Act] II.” In addition, IDP gave its organizational endorsement to the Community Resolution to Protect Civil Liberties campaign (a project of the Coalition for Civil Liberties), which tried to persuade city councils to create “Civil Liberties Safe Zones” defying the provisions of the Patriot Act.
In a May 2005 paper entitled Immigration Consequences of Guilty Pleas or Convictions, IDP director Manuel Vargas lamented that because the federal government had “adopted stricter policies on enforcement” of “harsh” immigration laws post-9/11, immigrants who committed crimes were now open to the “risk of detention and removal from the United States.”
IDP vehemently opposed HR 4437—otherwise known as The Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005—which sought to criminalize violations of federal immigration law, affirm states’ “inherent authority” to assist with immigration-law enforcement, enhance security along America’s southern border, and increase civil penalties against employers guilty of hiring illegal immigrants.
IDP’s major programs today include the following:
* Federal Immigration Reform: After years of collaboration, IDP in 2006 officially joined forces with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center and the NLG‘s National Immigration Project to form the Immigrant Justice Network, to “protect the rights of immigrants accused of crimes … and seek just immigration reform” on their behalf. Today IDP remains committed to “changing current discriminatory and punitive immigration laws and policies,” in order to ensure that “the fundamental American values of fairness and due process” are “upheld for all immigrants.”
* Policy: From IDP’s inception, its policy initiatives were designed to “respond directly to the 1996 immigration laws … that dramatically expanded grounds for removal for so-called ‘criminal aliens.’” Rooted in the “core belief” that immigrants who have been convicted of crimes “should not face a double punishment of deportation when they have already ‘paid their dues’ to society,” IDP aims to “transform our criminal-justice and immigration systems to stop the exile of immigrants with criminal histories from their families and communities.”
* Other National Policy: Condemning generally the use of terms such as “criminal,” “alien,” and “terrorist,” IDP works to “turn the tide against growing mass deportation/enforcement programs.” Toward that end, the organization offers trainings and webinars designed to “help communities fight back” against programs like Secure Communities, the Criminal Alien Program, and 287(g). Many of the webinars are conducted in collaboration with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, the NLG‘s National Immigration Project, the National Immigration Law Center, and other likeminded organizations.
IDP also co-founded a coalition known as the New York State Working Group Against Deportation, and published Deportation 101, a manual providing guidance on how to “organize communities directly impacted by deportation.”
* Criminal Defense: IDP seeks to “hel[p] the criminal bar provide noncitizen defendants with effective counsel to avoid and minimize the immigration consequences of their criminal dispositions.”
* Hotline: IDP provides a free criminal-immigration hotline whose services are geared for immigrants as well as immigration attorneys and advocates.
* Resources: IDP regularly develops and disseminates written materials designed to help those dealing with criminal-immigration issues “better understand and respond to laws and policies.”
* Community Education: IDP provides legal support to community-based organizations that conduct trainings and seminars about recent trends concerning immigrants who are caught up in what IDP terms “the criminal (in)justice system.” The Rikers Workshops series, for instance, consists of bi-weekly presentations (offered in both Spanish and English) where incarcerated immigrants at the Rikers Island prison facility can learn “practical tips and strategies to fight deportation,” and “how to protect [their] rights when dealing with the police and ICE.”
 As authors William Hawkins and Erin Anderson write: “It is unthinkable to groups like the IDP that a non-citizen should be expelled from the United States simply because they have been found guilty of committing aggravated felonies.”