Detained Immigrants and Their Right to Legal Representation

September 17th, 2010
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As the Obama administration seeks to create a more humane system of detention for illegal immigrants, most continue to be held in rural jails without ready access to legal representation.

According to a survey of immigration detention facilities nationwide, more than half did not offer detainees information about their rights. Furthermore, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detains about 400,000 immigrants annually at a cost of $1.7 billion this fiscal year.

Executive director of the National Immigrant Justice Center claimed that while access to legal counsel is a foundation of the U.S. Justice System, their survey found that the government continues to detain thousands of men and women in remote facilities where access to counsel is limited or nonexistent.

Federal officials said they were making progress in helping provide legal help for detained immigrants. Additionally, ICE spokesman stated that they are working with their stakeholders, including the U.S. Department of Justice and nongovernmental organizations, to expand and support legal pro bono representation for those in custody.

The issue of lawyers for immigrant detainees is not new. Last year, the Constitution Project, a bipartisan legal group that promotes the right to legal counsel, argued in a report that the government should consider public funding for legal aid to detained immigrants.

Illegal immigrants ordered held are placed in a patchwork of about 350 mostly private facilities, many of them in less populated parts of the country. Detainees often find themselves transferred to facilities far from their homes, families, friends, and access to legal representation. Some California detainees are transferred to Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, which makes it very difficult for their families to coordinate and organize a meaningful defense to deportation.

A 2005 Migration Policy Institute study found that 41% of detainees applying to become lawful permanent residents who had legal counsel won their cases, compared with 21% of those without representation. In asylum cases, 18% of detainees with lawyers were granted asylum, compared with 3% for those without.

Granting immigrants better access to counsel could even save taxpayer money because detainees often would be released sooner, saving the $122-a-day cost of detention.

If you or a loved one is currently in immigration court or being held in detention, contact The Nunez Firm to schedule a free consultation.

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