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Denver Celebrates One Year of the SAFE Network Providing Public Defense to Immigrants Facing Deportation

The network, created by the Vera Institute of Justice, includes 12 diverse jurisdictions nationwide

DENVER – At a time when harsh immigration policies are disrupting our community, separating children and parents, and increasing detention and deportation, the City and County of Denver celebrates the successes of the first year of work with the Vera Institute of Justice’s Safety and Fairness for Everyone (SAFE) Network. The SAFE Network is a diverse group of a dozen cities and counties across America dedicated to providing publicly-funded universal representation for people facing deportation and to build evidence for its effectiveness.

For too long, most immigrants facing the terrifying prospect of deportation from their homes, loved ones, communities, and families have had no access to legal counsel and have found themselves navigating the complexities of immigration law alone. The SAFE Network aims to change that imbalance and ensure due process for immigrants, providing clients with representation, legal information, and a fair day in court. In its first year, SAFE Network attorneys made a difference in the lives of their clients and related families and communities: in year one, a remarkable 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.

“Denver’s proud to work alongside Vera and all the partner cities and counties in the SAFE Network who have joined together to support our immigrant residents and promote due process and access to justice for vulnerable members of our communities,” Mayor Michael B. Hancock said. “I will never forget the outpouring of fear and anxiety our immigrant community has shared with me over the past two years. We hold dear the values of inclusion, acceptance and opportunity, and in the face of a continuing push at the federal level to target immigrants with inhumane policies, it’s never been more important to further our ability to meet a core mission – to preserve and protect families and children living in Denver and cities across the country.”

In October, Mayor Hancock and the Vera Institute announced the first $377,000 in grants from the Denver Immigrant Legal Services Fund. The grants will provide access to legal representation for qualified individuals in immigration detention and facing deportation and those seeking assistance in such areas as citizenship and asylum-seeking or renewals for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

The Denver Immigrant Legal Services Fund was created through Mayor Hancock’s Executive Order 142, which he signed on August 19, 2017. The fund provides access to legal representation for indigent individuals threatened with or in removal proceedings and is an important tool to help the city build and sustain a diverse, equitable and economically successful community. In developing the Denver Legal Services Fund, Denver applied for and received a $100,000 grant from the Vera Institute to join the SAFE Network and to match the public investment for immigrants detained and facing deportation.

While this distribution of funding will make a significant difference in the lives of several residents in need of both removal defense and affirmative relief, there remain hundreds, if not thousands, facing family separation and complex legal processes without representation. To contribute to the Denver Immigrant Legal Services Fund, please go here.

Meanwhile, many of the individuals represented by SAFE attorneys have demonstrated deep roots and ties to the communities and families in their midst - for example, clients served in the first year have been in the U.S. for an average of 14 years and 87 percent of the children with represented parents are U.S. citizens. The approach advanced by the SAFE Network and its universal representation model recognizes that a crucial way to keep our communities cohesive, stable, safe, and successful is to ensure legal representation for those whose future depends on it. Ultimately, it’s for a judge to decide what happens to each case in immigration court. But a fair decision cannot be reached when only one side is properly represented.

According to Annie Chen, Program Director for the SAFE Network at the Vera Institute of Justice, “Year one of the SAFE Network was a demonstrated success, resulting in positive outcomes for clients and their families at a rate ten times the national average for unrepresented individuals. We look forward to building on these successes and growing the SAFE Network in year two, working with local partners to advance due process for all residents, keep more families together, and maintain safe and strong communities for all.”

In light of its importance and first year successes, Vera also announced plans to expand the SAFE Network through a Request for Proposals. Applicants will be considered for one of three levels of membership: Member, Partner, or Affiliate. Vera will award up to five jurisdictions with Member status, which includes a catalyst grant of up to $100,000. Letters of Interest are due January 17, 2019.

The approach advanced by the SAFE Network and its universal representation model recognizes that a crucial way to keep our communities cohesive and safe, and to protect the values of due process and fairness, is to ensure legal representation for those whose future depends on it. Much like a public defense model in criminal cases, the universal representation model advanced by the SAFE Network 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.

Other key statistics about the SAFE Network during its first year include:

  • SAFE clients include asylum seekers, longtime legal residents, parents or spouses of U.S. citizens, and people who came to the United States as children.
  • More than a third of clients (39 percent) came to the United States as children, arriving before the age of 18.
  • Many SAFE clients (44 percent) are part of mixed-status families, composed of family members with different citizenship statuses.
  • SAFE Network clients are responsible for supporting themselves and their families financially—79 percent of clients with families are the “breadwinners,” responsible for at least half of their family’s income.
  • Overall, the network has represented clients from 43 different countries who speak at least 20 different languages.
  • By the end of the SAFE Network’s first year, 41 percent of detained clients had been released from custody, either freed on bond or having won their cases outright.
  • A quarter of SAFE clients (25 percent) have been identified by their lawyers as possible victims of crime, domestic or intimate partner violence, or human trafficking. For female clients, the figures are even starker, with 41 percent identified as possible victims.
  • 67 percent of SAFE Network clients who have filed an application for relief are pursuing protection-based claims (asylum, withholding of removal, or seeking relief under the Convention against Torture).

For more information:

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


Additional Statements of Support


“For the past year, our work with Vera’s SAFE Network has allowed us to honor the contributions immigrants make to Columbus and affirm their place in our nation. Aggressive deportation policies unnecessarily break apart families and weaken entire communities. When we give immigrants the resources they need to establish their legal right to live in the United States, we make our city a stronger, safer, and more vibrant place to live.”

-- Councilmember Elizabeth Brown, City of Columbus, Ohio

“We’re honored to partner with the City of Denver, Vera, and community partners in the national movement for universal representation for individuals in civil immigration detention. Denver’s commitment to its immigrant community members and its participation in the SAFE Cities Network means that now there will be two new, full-time RMIAN attorneys to represent Denver residents who are ensnared in immigration enforcement actions and detained at the immigration detention center in Aurora, CO.”

-- Mekela Goehring, Executive Director of The Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network (RMIAN)

“Partnering with Vera has allowed us to help many Santa Ana families, including parents, children, seniors and victims of domestic violence.  As a City, our responsibility is to keep our community safe, and protect our residents from harm.  Effective legal representation will ensure that the due process rights of all our neighbors is a civic priority.”

-- Councilmember Vicente Sarmiento, City of Santa Ana, California

“Legal support and defense are concrete examples of our commitment to Keep Families Together here in Baltimore”

-- Mayor Catherine Pugh, City of Baltimore, MD

“The SAFE Network is critical in amplifying the important work of localities and states that are fighting back against our dangerous mass detention and deportation machines. For people in detention or otherwise immediately at risk of deportation, having a capable lawyer is the single most important factor to ensure a fair day in immigration court. No one should have to face deportation simply because they cannot afford a lawyer. The success of the network is proof that many understand that investing in immigration representation is a critical way to ensure that our families, our workforce and our communities stay strong."

-- Avideh Moussavian; Legislative Director, National Immigration Law Center

“Being part of the SAFE Network has allowed Dane County to leverage local resources in order to provide critical assistance to vulnerable residents, inform our stakeholders of national trends, and provide technical assistance to county and non-profit staff. Our community is grateful for the support in this time of uncertainty.”

-- Jamie Kuhn, Chair of Health and Human Needs Committee, Dane County Supervisor

"Everyone should be able to have legal representation when they appear in court no matter their status. In a moment were migrant communities are being attacked, providing Universal Representation in deportations proceedings ensures that community members have the tools they need to fight for their right to stay in the place they chose to make their home.”

-- Julio Lopez Varona, Director of Community Dignity Campaigns, Center for Popular Democracy

"We are proud to stand with the Vera Institute of Justice in its effort to ensure the rights of all people trying to access justice while in deportation proceedings. Before we separate families, before we tear apart communities, and before we remove someone who might face persecution or torture in their country of birth, we must respect the constitutional guarantee of due process. We see the change in people’s faces when we’re able to provide representation; they regain their dignity because now they have an attorney to explain complex immigration proceedings to them. ABLE and Vera are working together to make our communities strong, safe, and fair for everyone.”

-- Eugenio Mollo, Jr., Managing Attorney, Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE)

"The Vera Institute's SAFE Network helped us to jump start an effort in Dane County to provide legal representation and access to justice to our neighbors who are detained and accused of being deportable.  It has catalyzed our community to be more prepared for ICE raids, to support pro bono legal services, and to provide essential technical assistance in the effort to make our community safe."

-- Community Immigration Law Center

“Thanks to Vera’s commitment, there are now attorneys throughout the country providing representation to detained individuals who otherwise would be alone.  Universal representation empowers clients and allows them to make informed decisions about how they want to go forward in their cases.”

-- Juan Arguello, Detention Project Staff Attorney, National Immigrant Justice Center