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Justice Department halting legal advice program for immigrants

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a temporary halt for a program that offers legal assistance to detained foreign nationals facing deportation. The Justice Department halted the program until an audit for cost effectiveness is complete.

Providing legal services

The program, known as the Legal Orientation Program and run by the nonprofit Vera Institute of Justice, provides information sessions for detained immigrants and a help desk for non-detained immigrants. Created to address challenges of immigration, the program provides hour long informational sessions for detainees held by lawyers and other legal services subcontractors. During the sessions, detainees learn about the immigration court process, their legal rights and possible deportation defenses. Workers at the help desk answer questions for immigrants who are not detained but facing deportation. The program also refers detainees to low-cost or free lawyers.

Lack of due process

Unlike traditional U.S. courts, detainees in immigration courts are not entitled to a government appointed lawyer if they cannot afford their own legal counsel. Vera estimates eight out of ten detainees face an immigration prosecutor with a lawyer. In 2017, the program held information sessions for more than 53,000 immigrants in over a dozen states, including California. Advocates of the program argue the temporary halt deprives detainees of their due-process rights.

Saving time and money

Created in 2003 to speed up immigration court proceedings, the program works to orient detainees and improve judicial system efficiency. Although currently under audit for cost effectiveness, the Department of Justice defends the program’s effectiveness. Their website states, “Experience has shown that the LOP has had positive effects on the immigration court process … cases are more likely to be completed faster, resulting in fewer court hearings and less time spent in detention”. Further justifying the program is a study by the Justice Department concluding the program’s ability to save the government significant money, over $18 million in one year.

The move to halt the program directly relates to efforts to reduce the backlog of immigration cases. However, efforts to speed up immigration cases should not undermine the legal rights of detained foreign nationals. Those facing deportation have a right to legal representation.

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  • American Immigration Lawyers Association
  • State Bar of California | California Board of Legal Specialization
  • Avvo
  • Orange County Bar Association
  • Irvine Chamber