The New Americans Campaign (NAC) is a nonpartisan national network of legal-service providers, faith-based organizations, businesses, foundations and community leaders committed to improving access to citizenship for immigrants. NAC currently organizes a national, nonpartisan citizenship campaign throughout the country, focused on major cities with large numbers of citizenship-eligible residents, including Houston.
NAC recently released a case study highlighting the the benefits of partnership between Human Services Agencies and New Americans Campaign collaborations to promote access to naturalization assistance.
The case study finds that “Partnerships with human services agencies have yielded up to, and at times exceeded, tenfold increases in the number of LPRs [lawful permanent residents] receiving naturalization assistance in one sitting.” It also highlights the way in which the partnerships help fee-waiver eligible populations. The case study gives specific pointers that other local governments across the country can use to implement a similar approach.
A new immigration representation study by National Civil Right to Counsel (NCCRC) participant Ingrid Eagly (UCLA) was published in December, 2015 in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. The title of the study is “A National Study of Access to Counsel in Immigration Court.”
Although immigrants have a right to be represented by counsel in immigration court, it has long been the case that the government has no obligation to provide an attorney for those who are unable to afford one. Recently, however, a broad coalition of public figures, scholars, advocates, courts, and philanthropic foundations have begun to push for the establishment of a public defender system for poor immigrants facing deportation. Yet the national debate about appointing defense counsel for immigrants has proceeded with limited information regarding how many immigrants currently obtain attorneys and the efficacy and efficiency of such representation.
This article presents the results of the first national study of access to counsel in United States immigration courts. Drawing on data from over 1.2 million deportation cases decided between 2007 and 2012, we find that only 37% of all immigrants, and a mere 14% of detained immigrants, secured representation. Only 2% of immigrants obtained pro bono representation from nonprofit organizations, law school clinics, or large law firm volunteer programs. Barriers to representation were particularly severe in immigration courts located in rural areas and small cities, where almost one-third of detained cases were adjudicated.
Moreover, we find that immigrants with attorneys fared far better: among similarly situated removal respondents, the odds were fifteen times greater that immigrants with representation, as compared to those without, sought relief, and five-and-a-half times greater that they obtained relief from removal. In addition, we show that involvement of counsel was associated with certain gains in court efficiency: represented respondents brought fewer unmeritorious claims, were more likely to be released from custody, and, once released, were more likely to appear at their future deportation hearings. This research provides an essential data-driven understanding of immigration representation that should inform discussions of expanding access to counsel.
United We Dream, the national network of immigrant youth, has just released its “No More Closets” report, the largest national survey of the LGBTQ immigrant community ever conducted.
The report tells the collective and individual stories of some 461 individuals who self identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer and who are either born outside of the United States or are U.S.-born citizens with foreign-born parents. The survey was conducted in late 2015 both online and through individual interviews.
The report uncovers high levels of discrimination and harassment in employment, healthcare, housing and education and a distrust of law enforcement among this highly resilient population.
“With this survey, we aim to both tell our stories to policymakers as well as to the young people in our communities who are struggling that they are not alone and that together we can turn our shared struggle and power into the change we seek,” said Carlos Padilla, National Coordinator of United We Dream’s Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project. “In fact, some of our nation’s leading change makers are LGBTQ immigrant youth – out of great struggle can come great strength.”
Among the findings:
73.4 percent of respondents say that their income either doesn’t cover or just barely covers their living expenses. Only 26.6 percent report earning enough to live comfortably
About half say they have experienced discrimination at school because of their sexual orientation
41 percent have no health insurance, significantly higher than the general LGBTQ population
46 percent said they have hid or lied about their sexual orientation or gender identity to a health care provider because of fear
Nearly half of all respondents say they are afraid to deal with police because of their immigration status or sexual identity.
Survey architect and report author Zenen Jaimes Perez, Policy & Advocacy Analyst for United We Dream, added, “The patterns of discrimination, lack of healthcare and harassment uncovered by this report are heartbreaking but the countless stories of resistance and hope are inspiring. We hope that this report is just the beginning of research into a community determined to live authentically despite the odds.”
In addition to the survey data, the report also includes several individual testimonies of LGBTQ immigrant leaders themselves including this one from Bianey Garcia of New York City:
“Coming out for me was not about visibility, it was about survival and about being able to share my strength with other youth who continue to remain in the shadows and in fear as undocumented and LGBTQ. As a transgender immigrant woman, being out and counted is a critical step so other people in my community can feel safe.”
United We Dream released “A Portrait of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Recipients: Challenges and Opportunities Three Years Later”, a survey first featured on Vox, of more than 1,750 immigrant youth with DACA.
In 2012, after a campaign led by immigrant youth, President Obama announced DACA, a program that currently protects more than 700,000 people from deportation and provides them 2-year, renewable work permits.
This survey is one of the largest of its kind, and it takes an in-depth look at life with DACA. The results show that DACA recipients have made great strides and are often the bedrock of economic and social support for their families. They do this while still struggling to find economic opportunities and the tools and information they need to navigate health care, workforce, financial, and educational institutions.
Among the key findings:
- Over two-thirds of respondents help their family financially by paying rent and other bills.
- Over 80 percent of survey respondents indicated that since DACA, they feel like they are more likely to achieve their career goals.
- Nearly half of the respondents’ families rely on the DACA recipient for key information about immigration, healthcare, education, etc.
- Nearly 70 percent of respondents did not have enough income to meet their monthly expenses or could just barely meet them.
- Over 85 percent of respondents feel that they have been held back from their career goals because of their immigration status.
This is United We Dream’s second nationwide survey of immigrant youth and with its release, UWD is launching an ongoing research initiative on the lives and needs of immigrant youth and families.
United We Dream is the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the nation, a powerful nonpartisan network made up of 55 local groups in 26 states. UWD organizes and advocates for the dignity and fair treatment of immigrant youth and families, regardless of immigration status. UWD seeks to address the inequities and obstacles faced by immigrant youth and believes that by empowering immigrant youth, it can advance the cause of the entire community—justice for all immigrants.
Learn more about UWD at www.unitedwedream.org.
One of the first acts of the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative was to commission a baseline report on Houston’s immigrant population from the Migration Policy Institute. MPI is a non-partisan and trusted source of accurate data on immigration trends in the U.S. and internationally.
The report, “A Profile of Immigrants in Houston, the Nation’s Most Diverse Metropolitan Area,” provides an overview of the demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of Houston’s immigrants, along with their naturalization rates, legal status, and potential eligibility for immigration benefits such as citizenship or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The report finds that Houston’s strong labor market and growing economy provide a solid foundation for the integration of immigrants and their children. At the same time, Houston has a relatively low-wage economy, and the low incomes of Houston’s immigrants—particularly Latinos—may present barriers to their integration and access to legal assistance, health care, and other needed services.
Using data from the American Community Survey (ACS), the authors tabulate numbers of immigrants potentially in need of community-based immigration assistance. The report finds that an estimated 350,000 legal permanent residents, most of them from Mexico and Central America, are eligible for naturalization but have not yet applied. In addition, nearly half of the metro area’s 400,000 unauthorized immigrants are potentially eligible for either DACA or the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program.
The greater Houston area is home to the majority of Texas’ immigrant population. In 2013, immigrants comprised over one quarter (25.3%) of Harris County residents, and 22 percent of residents in the Houston/The Woodlands/Sugar Land Metropolitan Statistical Area. Houston is one of six metropolitan areas nationally that experienced the most significant new immigrant growth between 2000 and 2010, and is one of the most diverse regions of the state. Over 75 percent of the foreign-born in the 11-county Houston-Galveston region live in Harris County. An estimated 67 percent of Harris County’s foreign-born and 64 percent of the foreign-born in the MSA are non-US citizens.
The future impact of immigrants on the Houston metro area cannot be overstated. The immigrant population grew by almost 50 percent from 2000 to 2012, with populations from Guatemala and Honduras more than doubling during that period (see chart, below). It is important to note that the total foreign-born population grew by only 28% nationally during this same period.
Approximately one-third of the foreign-born in the Houston metro region are naturalized US citizens, compared to 44 percent in the United States as a whole. Citizenship rates are much lower for immigrants from El Salvador (24%), Mexico (22%), Guatemala (17%), and Honduras (14%). U.S. citizenship provides substantive economic, social, and civic benefits to immigrants and their families. For example, the average income of adult citizen immigrants is 33 percent higher—and the poverty rate is nearly six percentage points lower—than that of non-citizens.
The Migration Policy Institutes that only 56 percent of the legal permanent residents (LPRs) who are eligible to apply for citizenship are naturalized citizens, compared to 61 percent of LPRs nationwide. These are typically legal permanent residents married to U.S. citizens or who have sufficient U.S. residency. There are many more immigrants in the Houston area eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship, but cost, educational gaps, lack of legal services, and confusion about programs for which they might qualify, such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), may prevent them from seizing these opportunities.
Overall, it is important to note that the populations of immigrants most in need of affordable legal services are those who are currently unauthorized (gray columns in Figure 2, above) and the non-immigrants (purple columns in Figure 2, above). In the Houston community, these immigrants are disproportionately from Mexico and Central America, though significant numbers of immigrants from the other top 10 origin countries also fall into these categories.
 U.S. Census Bureau, Selected Social Characteristics in the United States, 2013 American Community Survey 1-year Estimates.
 Michael Emerson, Jenifer Bratter, and Junia Howell, Houston Region Grows More Racially/Ethnically Diverse, With Small Declines in Segregation. (Houston, Texas, Kinder Institute for Urban Research and the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas, 2012).
 U.S. Census Bureau, American Fact Finder http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml
 U.S. Census Bureau, Selected Social Characteristics in the United States, 2013 American Community Survey 1-year Estimates.
 Shierholz, Heidi. “The Effects of Citizenship on Family Income and Poverty.” Economic Policy Institute Briefing Paper #256. Washington, DC: Economic Policy Institute, 2010. Web. http://www.epi.org/publication/bp256/
The Collaborative plays a critical convening, coordinating, and communication role in the legal services community. Through our work, more immigrants are receiving low-cost, high-quality legal services for immigration issues in Houston. Our work has become even more urgent in 2019, as the policy environment in which we work becomes increasingly hostile to immigrants. We have seen a dramatic increase in the demand for immigration legal services and education & outreach efforts in Houston’s diverse immigrant communities.