What is the only group of US residents who are not afforded representation in court? Individuals not born in the US. The arguments for withholding representation from such a large segment of the population are misaligned with American values.

Universal legal representation for all who face immediate deportation supports the vision that whole communities are built of strong families and just institutions. This issue cuts to the heart of the immigration justice for those facing deportation and are forced to undergo their court case alone.

According to The Washington Post’s release of the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) Myths and Facts About Immigration Proceedings, immigrants with and without legal representation are mischaracterized and depicted out of context in these statistics.

Some of the impacts of detention or deportation are long-term instability for a family. Employment and job security are at risk, if not terminated due to detainment. Thus, financial support is interrupted for a household, even when US born members are present. In a study by NYU Law School, 23% of detainees have US born children, and that the impacts on children are far reaching including obesity, lack of health coverage for children and families. Mental health can be a factor impacted by fear of family separation, loss of income, and loss of home. In addition, some children drop out of school, having far long term adverse consequences, while some children invariably enter the foster care system.

Conversely, the EOIR claim insinuates that immigrants are removed at their own fault. Implications of laziness, ignorant of process, rules, systems are common in language meant to discriminate and degrade black and brown populations. As it stands, the EOIR data shows that in individual asylum cases 94% (2013) and 89% (2017) are present (not in in absentia), shattering the perception that asylees are careless or at fault for their case being dismissed.

Charged with a civil crime, but no representation signifies a justice system with a fairness imbalance.

Further data from TRAC7 relatesthat in the top five countries (China, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico) where people are originating to seek asylum, courts are on average 24% more likely to grant asylum if an individual has a lawyer. Another study finds that figures are much higher: detained immigrants with representation are 10.5 times more likely to succeed than those without representation8.

The following are Centro Legal de la Raza’s believes in Advancing Universal Representation:

  1. Every person facing imminent threat of deportation is represented by an attorney.
  2. Where resources are limited, representation for those in detention is prioritized.
  3. There are no eligibility criteria other than a lack of income or a lack of private counsel. Akin to public defense in criminal cases, no one is excluded on the basis of a prior criminal conviction, residency outside of the funded jurisdiction, or any other reason.
  4. Representation is merits-blind. Clients are represented without considering the likelihood that the case will have a “successful” outcome in immigration court.
  5. Representation is continuous and begins at the onset of the case. Attorneys represent clients until there is a final decision on the case: from bond hearing to hearings challenging underlying criminal convictions or other collateral proceedings, through to appeal. This continuity of representation exists even if the person is transferred to a different jurisdiction or voluntarily moves upon release from custody.
  6. Public taxpayer dollars fund representation. Protecting the basic right of due process is a public duty. Investing public money is also critical to sustaining and institutionalizing universal representation locally while building toward a national system of deportation defense.

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Executive Office for Immigration Review. Myths and Facts about Immigration Proceedings. (May 2019). Retrieved May 11, 2019 from https://www.justice.gov/eoir/page/file/1161001/download

National Immigration Law Center. Advancing Universal Representation. December 2018. Retrieved May 11, 2019 from https://www.nilc.org/issues/immigration-enforcement/advancing-universal-representation-toolkit/

TRAC Immigration. Asylum Outcome Continues to Depend on the Judge Assigned. (November 2017). Retrieved May 11, 2019 from https://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/490/

The Center for Popular Democracy. New York Immigrant Family Unity Project – The Report. (October 2013). Retrieved May 11, 2019 from https://populardemocracy.org/sites/default/files/immgrant_family_unity_project_print_layout.pdf

The Washington Post. Fact-checking the Trump Administration’s immigration fact-sheet. (May 2019). Retrieved May 11, 2019 from https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/05/10/fact-checking-trump-administrations-immigration-fact-sheet/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.f0eac287e532

Vera Institute. The Case for Universal Representation. (December 2018). Retrieved May 11, 2019 from https://www.vera.org/advancing-universal-representation-toolkit/the-case-for-universal-representation-1

True universal representation should not account for income.

Author: Aidin Castillo, Immigration Supervision attorney at Centro Legal de la Raza