SAFE Network Expands to 18 Communities Fighting for Legal Representation for Immigrants Facing Deportation

July 16, 2019 

Liz Xiong

John Siqveland

Michael Earls


NEW YORK, NY - The Vera Institute of Justice today announced an expansion of the Safety and Fairness for Everyone (SAFE) Network with the addition of six new communities: Philadelphia, PA, 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 – which may include “catalyst” funding, technical expertise, training, and data collection and analysis -- to strengthen local legal representation efforts. The new sites join a politically, geographically, and ethnically diverse group of now 18 cities and counties across America dedicated to the goal of providing publicly-funded universal representation for people facing deportation.

The systematic targeting, raiding, detention and deportation of immigrants we are witnessing today embody our nation’s legacy 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.

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.”

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.

 “Vera has 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. Our safe and thriving community is directly tied to the strength and stability of immigrant families”

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 of our partners demonstrate the growth of a movement for fairness and due process that has been proven effective in keeping families together.

“The City of Saint Paul is committed to ensuring we are a safe, welcoming, and inclusive place for all of us,” said Mayor Melvin Carter.  “At a time when Federal Authorities are creating fear and apprehension amongst our residents, and discouraging the exercise of due process rights of immigrants, it is incumbent on local governments to address that fear and apprehension with support and resources to residents who are fighting to keep their families together and safe.”

“Ramsey is Minnesota’s most diverse county and throughout our history we have welcomed immigrants and refugees – indeed, this is one of our strengths,” said Ramsey County board chair Jim McDonough. “At heart, providing fair representation to immigrants in removal proceedings ensures that we uphold the constitutional guarantee of due process for all those who live here to maintain strong families and connected communities.”

READ - Feb. 2019 action by the Ramsey County Board authorizing a JPA with Saint Paul for Immigrant and Refugee Services

In the first year of the SAFE Network, 38 percent of people represented by SAFE attorneys whose cases 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 and detained people nationwide are successful. Read “A Year of Being SAFE” to access additional profiles and statistics during the Network’s first year (available here)

“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 & former Nationalities Service Center client. ”But then, I met my lawyer. My life is an example that if you can get a free 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.”

 In addition to the six new SAFE members, the SAFE Network includes the following jurisdictions:

  • Atlanta, GA

  • Austin, TX

  • Baltimore, MD

  • Chicago, IL

  • Columbus, OH

  • Dane County, WI

  • Denver, CO

  • Oakland/Alameda County, CA

  • Prince George’s County, MD

  • Sacramento, CA

  • San Antonio, TX

  • Santa Ana, 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.