Access to Representation Act ensures no one will fight alone


My life was completely different in 2017. I lived in El Salvador, the only country I’ve ever called home. I loved El Salvador, but core parts of my identity made me no longer welcome.

My gender and sexual identity turned me into an outsider, and the victim of relentless discrimination and death threats. That’s why I made the difficult decision to leave my friends and family behind to find safety.

After a year-long journey, I finally declared asylum in the United States in 2022, and my life changed forever.

Seeking asylum was not an easy decision. To the more than 100,000 asylum seekers who’ve recently arrived in New York City, this journey is a leap of faith. Violence and persecution forced us to leave our loved ones behind in the hope that we could find safety and stability in the United States.

We arrived with little to no money, and most of us don’t yet speak English fluently. We’re here because the United States and the Statue of Liberty are global symbols of hope and freedom, having welcomed generations of immigrants in search of refuge before us.

Life in the United States means I can be my true self. Shortly after arriving in New York, I began gender-affirming care, and introduced myself to the world as Bruneth. Here, I can express myself as I’ve always wanted to, and wear clothes and accessories that finally make me feel comfortable in my own skin.

And while I’m so excited about the life I’m just beginning to build here, I never realized just how difficult it would be to apply for asylum and seek legal assistance. Despite our limited knowledge of this country, the language and the legal system, asylum seekers are required to file complex paperwork in court and represent ourselves in court if we cannot afford an attorney.

My search for legal representation was exhausting. I visited 16 different attorneys before I was able to secure representation. Each denial delivered a wave of hopelessness as I felt the looming 12-month deadline to apply for asylum inch closer and closer.

Finally, on my 17th attempt, I found a pro-bono attorney willing to take on my case.

This legal representation has been a game changer. I’m proud to share that my asylum case is moving forward and I have recently received my work authorization.

I am now a peer navigator with the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, where I accompany and lend emotional support to asylum seekers who are just starting their cases.

I’m well aware that while I finally have the tools to plant my roots here, access to an attorney remains out of reach for too many asylum seekers.

That’s why I’m proud to stand with the New York Immigration Coalition and the Campaign for Access, Representation and Equality for Immigrant Families in support of the Access to Representation Act. This historic bill would guarantee access to an attorney to all New Yorkers navigating the immigration court system.

Studies show that immigrants in detention are 10 times more likely to prove their right to remain in the United States if they have representation than those without any counsel.

The ARA is an investment in the entire legal system, boosting capacity for many service providers who are currently overworked and stretched thin with massive caseloads. The bill would increase the capacity of these providers so that no one would have to experience the 16 rejections that I did.

No one will have to lose hope.

The ARA will give us a fighting chance to stay in a country we risked everything to get to.

I’m sharing my story because I believe we can build a better future for asylum seekers and this country. I believe in the American promise of freedom and due process. The Access to Representation Act delivers just that.

I urge Gov. Kathy Hochul and lawmakers in Albany to invest $150 million to support this bill and ensure New York continues to live up to its status as a beacon of hope to those who need it most.

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