March 24, 2017
Albany, NY

Governor Cuomo Launches First-In-The Nation Public-Private Liberty Defense Project

Governor Cuomo Launches First-In-The Nation Public-Private Liberty Defense Project

More than $1 Million in Public and Private Investment Will Provide Services to Meet Urgent Legal Needs of State’s Immigrants The Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Ford Foundation Will Join Partnership and Provide Financial Resources to the Liberty Defense Project A Statewide Coalition of 230 Private Sector Law Firms, Legal Departments, Bar Associations and Advocacy Organizations Will Join Effort to Provide Pro Bono Legal Services to Immigrants

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today launched the nation’s first public-private immigrant legal defense initiative called the Liberty Defense Project in response to the surge in demand for help that is overwhelming nonprofit organizations serving immigrants. The partnership will be supported by more than $1 million in funding to provide legal assistance and representation to immigrants in New York State, regardless of their residency status, through a network of pro bono attorneys, law students and legal professionals.

The initiative is a public-private partnership between the New York Department of State, two dedicated philanthropic allies—the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Ford Foundation— and a statewide coalition of 182 advocacy organizations and legal entities. Private sector law firms, legal departments at universities, bar associations and advocacy organizations, will be coordinated by the State’s Office for New Americans to provide pro bono legal and additional resources for immigrants threatened by recent changes in immigration policies.

“New York is a beacon of hope and opportunity for all, and immigrants have always been part of the fabric of this great state,” Governor Cuomo said. “During these stormy times, it’s critical all New Yorkers have access to their full rights under the law. The first-of-its-kind Liberty Defense Project will provide legal support to protect immigrants and ensure this state is living up to the values embodied by the Lady in our Harbor.”

Through a central repository managed by the Office for New Americans, the Liberty Defense Project will:

  • Provide legal assistance and representation to immigrants in New York State through a network of pro bono attorneys, other legal professionals and law students.
  • Assist immigrants in deportation proceedings.
  • Assist in completing and filing applications for lawful permanent residence (also known as a green card), or temporary status, as well as work permits.
  • Provide outreach and educational help to assist parents who are potentially at risk of deportation to fill appropriate forms and prepare emergency plans for the care of their children in case they are detained or deported. This will enhance the work already being done at centers run by the State Office for New Americans throughout New York.

The Carnegie Corporation and the Ford Foundation have committed significant financial resources to this effort. The Carnegie Corporation has long committed to fostering a pluralistic democracy through civic integration of immigrants and the Ford Foundation’s lengthy commitment to the inherent dignity of all people aligns with the Governor’s dedication to making New York State a fair and safe place for all its residents.

In recognition of the scarcity of immigration attorneys in areas outside New York City, the Project will also partner with Equal Justice Works to place approximately 20 new attorneys and over 100 law students in communities with limited legal resources and high immigrant populations. These lawyers will work full-time to aid immigrants in New York State to access legal advice while adjusting their immigration status.

A statewide coalition of 182 advocacy organizations, 14 law schools, 21 law firms and 14 bar associations will be coordinated by the State’s Office for New Americans to provide pro bono legal services to immigrants. More than 200 experienced attorneys and paralegals will volunteer their time and work together so that immigrants are better aware of their legal options and are provided greater access to representation. During the upcoming months, volunteer attorneys will also travel across the state to help immigrants understand their rights, as part of the “know-your-rights” campaign being conducted by the Office for New Americans.

The initiative will also rely on established state partners and immigrant advocates, such as Catholic Charities, to help provide greater access to legal services for immigrants threatened by recent changes in immigration policies. They will help to organize the participation of volunteer attorneys and offer other support and guidance to this critical initiative by coordinating the participation of volunteer attorneys and offer other support and guidance to this critical initiative.

Secretary of State Rossana Rosado said: “New York’s immigrants are at the heart of our state's rich civic, and social diversity. Legal representation dramatically improves outcomes for all New Yorkers. The Liberty Defense Project will ensure that immigrants in need are provided with counsel that will protect their rights. I want to thank Carnegie Corporation and Ford Foundations for their support and commitment to this vital and much-needed assistance.”

Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation said, “We applaud the innovative step by Governor Cuomo and the state of New York to establish the Liberty Defense Project. Over the last five decades Ford’s work on immigration has focused squarely on protecting the dignity of vulnerable communities. The importance of the rule of law to protect and defend the human rights of all who live in this country is a key value underpinning our democracy since our founding and into the future.”

Geri Mannion, program Director of the U.S. Democracy and Special Opportunities Fund at the Carnegie Corporation said, “Carnegie Corporation of New York has a long supported the integration of immigrants as essential to the values of our American democracy and necessary for the vitality of our economy. Our support of Equal Justice Works and the state’s Immigrant Defense Project will strengthen important legal services to communities in need during this time of uncertainty and political polarization.”

Claire P. Gutekunst, President of the New York State Bar Association said, “Immigrants are at the core of every New York community. Some now risk being ripped from their families, jobs and homes, because they cannot afford an attorney to protect their rights. The New York State Bar Association is pleased to join with the Governor’s initiative to provide legal representation to vulnerable immigrants in New York State. Building on the prior work of our Committee on Immigration Representation, NYSBA will participate in the initiative by helping to recruit attorneys to represent immigrants on a pro bono basis and by offering appropriate training to volunteer attorneys.”

Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, said: “Non-profit providers of legal immigration services have been doing impactful work in responding to the current state of anxiety and fear within our immigrant communities. However, the demand brought on by the recent Federal policy changes has stretched capacity to the limit. This initiative, which will rely on collaboration with other legal service providers, is specifically designed to alleviate this strain and increase accessibility to quality legal services for immigrants.”

A full list of current partners of the Liberty Defense Project include:


1. Carnegie Corporation
2. Ford Foundation

21 Private Sector Firms/Legal Departments, including the following 10:

1. Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP
2. Cooley LLP
3. Debevoise & Plimpton LLP
4. Greenberg Traurig LLP
5. Morrison & Foerster LLP
6. Nixon Peabody LLP
7. Ropes & Gray LLP
8. Shearman & Sterling LLP
9. Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP
10. Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP

Bar/Legal Associations

1. American Immigration Lawyers Association
2. Asian American Bar Association of New York
3. Association of Black Women Attorneys
4. The Dominican Bar Association
5. Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA) – New York Regional Chapter
6. Korean American Lawyers Association of Greater New York
7. The LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York (LeGaL)
8. Latino Lawyers Association of Queens County
9. Long Island Hispanic Bar Association
10. Metropolitan Black Bar Association
11. New York City Bar Association
12. New York State Bar Association
13. Puerto Rican Bar Association
14. South Asian Bar Association of New York

Law Schools

1. Albany Law School
2. Brooklyn Law School
3. Columbia Law School
4. Cornell Law School
5. CUNY School of Law
6. Fordham University School of Law
7. School of Law at Hofstra University
8. New York Law School
9. Pace Law School
10. St. John’s University School of Law
11. Syracuse University College of Law
12. Touro College Touro Law Center
13. University at Buffalo School of Law

Advocacy Organizations

1. 27 New York State Office for New American Opportunity Centers
2. Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation
3. Immigrant Justice Corps
4. New York Immigration Coalition (150 members)
6. Safe Passage

The Department of State will begin implementation of the Liberty Defense Project by conducting training and outreach events designed to prepare pro bono attorneys for their work with immigrants:

1. April 10, 2017 – Training on Securing T Visas
2. April 12, 2017 – Family Safety Planning: Protecting Undocumented Children
3. April 13, 2017 – Survey of Immigration Law
4. May 18, 2017 – Legal consequences of criminal records for immigrants
5. May 24, 2017 – Family Based Immigration Law
6. June 19, 2017 – Deportation Defense
7. August 17, 2017 – Preventing Immigration Legal Services Fraud
8. September 15, 2017 - Survey of Immigration Law
9. October 12, 2017 – Advanced Issues in Immigration Court
10. November , 2017 - Two day Immigration Court Training
11. November 12, 2017 – Immigration Appeals

Protecting New York’s Immigrants
New York State has and continues to serve as a beacon for immigrants. For the past five years, New York State, through the Office for New Americans, has helped immigrants fully participate in New York State civic and economic life through a network of 27 community-based centers around the state that provide English classes, civic education, guidance on how to start / grow a business, and naturalization assistance. ONA also has a hotline, a toll-free, multi-lingual information center, as well as a dedicated website that guides New Americans to available resources. The hotline number is 800-566-7636 (operating 9AM-8PM (ET), Monday through Friday) and the website is

Since taking office, the Governor has taken aggressive steps to provide assistance to immigrant communities. In 2011, he signed a wide-reaching Executive Order to ensure language access across state agencies, suspended the State’s participation in a federal program that required local law enforcement to help identify deportable individuals, signed legislation holding entities that defraud immigrants accountable, and established the Office for New Americans. He launched NaturalizeNY, the first public-private partnership of its kind to encourage and assist eligible immigrants in New York State with becoming U.S. citizens. As Attorney General, Governor Cuomo also worked to combat immigration fraud, having utilized general civil rights laws to successfully investigate and prosecute companies for defrauding immigrants. He also secured court judgments and settlements in excess of $23 million dollars on behalf of the state's immigrant population.

New York State is home to over 4.4 million immigrants, representing one out of every five New Yorkers. Immigrants contribute significantly to our state’s economy as business owners, workers, consumers, and taxpayers.


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