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Learning from Youth: Envisioning Freedom for Unaccompanied Children

June 30, 2022

Hundreds of thousands of unaccompanied children and youth from around the world have arrived in the United States over the past decade seeking protection from violence, persecution, war, and insecurity. Yet, their reception into the country has often led them into an immigration system characterized by systematic criminalization, a lack of transparency, and separation from their families. The reception system for children arriving to the United States needs to be reformed to demonstrate respect for their basic human dignity. In interviews and group discussions, Vera engaged with 32 young adults who were detained as unaccompanied minors by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). They shared their stories about navigating the complex U.S. immigration system. Drawing from their lived experience and expertise, they developed 10 proposals to reform the reception system for unaccompanied children and youth in a way that centers their freedom, safety, and family unity.

In Their Own Words: Learning from NYIFUP Clients about the Value of Representation

May 24, 2022

Immigrants are part of the fabric of New York--one in three children in the state has an immigrant parent, more than 280,000 immigrants own businesses, and immigrants make up more than one quarter of the state's civilian workforce. Universal representation programs like the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) are one crucial component of building an immigration system that promotes fairness and respect and welcomes our immigrant neighbors. This brief features firsthand accounts from NYIFUP clients who were detained and fought, or are continuing to fight, their cases in New York immigration courts. Vera interviewed nine clients to learn about their experiences working with their immigration defense teams as well as the challenges they faced.

Representation Matters: No Child Should Appear in Immigration Proceedings Alone

December 23, 2021

Each year, thousands of immigrant children are placed into court proceedings in which government prosecutors seek to deport them unless those children can prove they have a right to stay in the United States. Many face these immigration proceedings alone. Many children have legal options that establish their ability to remain in the United States, but these options are nearly impossible to access without the assistance of trained attorneys. Unfortunately, although the right to be represented by legal counsel is recognized in immigration proceedings, the right to appointed counsel is not. Children who are unable to find free counsel or afford private counsel must navigate the immigration system alone. This fact sheet outlines why universal, publicly funded representation for children in immigration proceedings is urgently needed.

60 Years of Fighting for Justice: Annual Report 2021

December 13, 2021

Vera started in 1961 with Herb Sturz sitting alone in the alcove adjoining Louis Schweitzer's secretary's office. Today it has grown to 290 employees with offices in Brooklyn, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Washington, DC.As we mourn our founder, and his successor Michael E. Smith (who died in May), we lean on the lessons they left us and work to build on their legacies.Herb's formula—using compelling data and tireless advocacy to transform unjust systems—continues to succeed. In our 60th year, we are applying that formula at the highest levels of power, as we focus intentionally on eradicating racial injustice. The criminal legal and immigration systems are fundamentally brutal, especially to people of color. Vera exists to transform these systems so that communities can thrive.On the pages that follow, read how Vera seeks to transform the role of the prosecutor to one that pursues justice, not jails; to make sure that every immigrant facing deportation has a government-funded lawyer and a fighting chance to stay with their family and in our communities; and ensure that every incarcerated student has the chance to receive a quality college education. Vera once incubated social justice organizations across New York City. Now we strive for national policy change across state capitals and in Washington, DC, alongside community partners and government leaders.Our founding charter stated that we exist "to seek and further the equal protection of the laws." We are now carrying this mission—and the legacy of our founders—forward at a larger scale, with 60 years of experience and our unwavering commitment to justice for all.

How Federal COVID-19 Relief Funding Can Support Immigrant Communities

October 5, 2021

Federal COVID-19 relief funding from the American Rescue Plan (ARP), intended for COVID-19 prevention and mitigation efforts as well as recovery and stability for communities—particularly those disproportionately affected by the pandemic—can be used to counter the harms endured by immigrant communities and to promote health and safety. One key way to do this is to invest in immigrant legal services, including deportation defense programs.Vera has researched and advocated for deportation defense programs through its SAFE Initiative, which furthers the movement for universal representation. ARP funding can be leveraged to create and expand such programs because they can help reduce the spread of COVID-19 by securing the release of people from detention, disrupt the pipeline between the criminal legal and immigration systems and reduce racial and economic disparities, and keep families and communities together.

Investing in Evidence-Based Alternatives to Policing: Community Violence Intervention

August 16, 2021

The human toll of gun violence is tragic. It's also, at its heart, a racial justice and public health issue. To address gun violence, we must focus on supporting the small number of people who are at the highest risk of involvement through behavior change, healing, and services to meet their basic needs and those of their loved ones. Community Violence Interventions (CVI) do just this—and are cost-effective and evidence-based strategies for change. 

Compassion, Not Confinement

June 16, 2021

In the first five months of 2021, about 65,000 children were apprehended by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) after arriving in the United States unaccompanied by a parent or legal guardian. These children come to the United States seeking protection, stability, and a chance to reunite with their families, but are instead processed at federally run stations and incarcerated in jail-like conditions with often freezing temperatures, inadequate food and water, limited access to showers and hygiene products, and no access to private toilets, sinks, or beds.Rather than incarcerating unaccompanied children in such awful conditions, there is another way: to urge the federal government to respond to their arrival with compassion, not confinement, and to work as quickly as possible to reunify them with family and kin in the United States. This brief provides concrete recommendations to states and localities to intervene and use their authority toward this goal.

People in Jail and Prison in Spring 2021

June 1, 2021

Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) researchers collected data on the number of people in local jails and state and federal prisons throughout 2020 and into spring 2021. Vera researchers estimated the incarcerated population using a sample of approximately 1,600 jail jurisdictions, 50 states, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS), and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The data shows that a little more than a year since the first calls to release incarcerated people during the COVID-19 pandemic, decarceration efforts appear to have stalled—even as the pandemic still rages and the country continues to lead the world in incarceration. The relative stasis in incarceration since late 2020 is the result of a refilling of many jails and a small, further decrease in prison populations.

Gatekeepers: The Role of Police in Ending Mass Incarceration

August 1, 2019

Reforming the criminal justice system has become a bipartisan priority and a topic of intense public interest. Much of the focus is on reversing mass incarceration—lowering the numbers of people in prison and jail, creating constructive pathways for people returning to their communities, and addressing the stark racial and ethnic disparities that have been a primary feature of the American criminal justice system. This work remains essential: in the United States, half of all adults have an immediate family member who is or has been incarcerated. Moreover, black adults are 50 percent more likely than their white counterparts to have had an incarcerated immediate family member.But ending the practice of mass incarceration and repairing its extensive collateral consequences must begin by focusing on the front end of the system: police work. A police officer's encounter with a civilian, if it ends in custodial arrest, is where mass incarceration begins. And the enforcement numbers—most notably arrests—are staggering. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), as of 2017, some 70 million Americans had been arrested. If everyone with an arrest record held hands, they would circle the globe three times. 

New York, New York: Highlights of the 2019 Bail Reform Law

July 1, 2019

n April 2019, New York passed legislation on bail reform to update a set of state pretrial laws that had remained largely untouched since 1971. Compared to California's Senate Bill 10, passed in August 2018, or New Jersey's Bail Reformand Speedy Trial Act, enacted in January 2017, New York's new bail law received relatively little media coverage or national press. To many interested in bail and pretrial justice, New York's reform seemed un-newsworthy as it didn't go as far as originally promised to eliminate money bail entirely.Yet the relative lack of fanfare over the passage of New York's new bail law belies its historic and transformative potential to end mass incarceration at the local level. If implemented effectively, a conservative estimate of the  legislation's impact suggests that New York can expect at least a 40 percent reduction overall in the state'spretrial jail population.1 That bests the 30.4 percent reduction achieved by bail reform in New Jersey, and the anticipated impact of Senate Bill 10 in California— which is currently on hold pending a challenge by the bail bond industry—if it goes into effect in 2020.What exactly comprises New York's new bail law? What inspired this set of reforms? Can bail reform truly claim to be bold if money isn't eliminated entirely? And what precedent might New York's model of bail reform set for other jurisdictions?This primer provides historical context and an overview of the legislation itself, highlights five unique aspects of the legislation, and offers a few thoughts for how the wins in New York can inspire more comprehensive and transformative bail reform elsewhere. 

Every Three Seconds: Unlocking Police Data on Arrests

February 6, 2019

Collectively, the data represented in Arrest Trends, and the findings in this report, challenge the notion that America's reliance on enforcement is a necessary component to achieving oft-stated public safety goals -- or indeed, a means of achieving justice or equity. The launch of Arrest Trends marks Vera's most recent effort to reduce the criminal justice system's footprint -- by unlocking key policing data and, in doing so, elevating the narrative of overreliance on arrests and the need for viable alternatives. In this report, readers will find information about the need for greater access to policing data, and overview of the Arrest Trends tool as well as several initial findings gleaned from it, and future directions for this work. 

Arrest Trends

January 1, 2019

Police enforcement, that is an arrest, or giving someone a summons or citation, is wide-reaching and is the first step someone takes into the criminal justice system. Enforcement of all forms but arrests in particular have substantial effects on communities, officers, and the nation. This interactive visualization tool enables users to better understand arrests.