Justice Dept to suspend program offering legal advice to detained immigrants

Justice Dept to suspend program offering legal advice to detained immigrants
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The Justice Department is temporarily halting a program that offered free legal advice to detained immigrants, NPR reported.

The department told the Vera Institute of Justice, the organization behind the Legal Orientation Program and the Immigration Court Helpdesk, that funding for the program will be suspended as the officials review its effectiveness.

A phone hotline for the program will also end at the end of the month.

The contract for the program expires on April 30. It was created in 2003 during the George W. Bush administration.

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The Vera Institute of Justice decried the decision in a statement this week, saying that the program is a “lifeline for many immigrants” and “saves lives.”

“Every day this program is not in operation puts family unity at risk, harms our communities, and infringes on the right of all people to make informed decisions about their legal claims,” the statement reads.

More than 50,000 people use the program in dozens of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers across the country, according to the institute.

The department last reviewed the program in 2012, finding that 94 percent of those detained who used the services on or before their first hearing spent 11 fewer days in detention and completed the proceeding 16 days faster than those who did not use the program, according to NPR.

The program costs about $6 million annually, but the 2012 review found that it creates a net savings of about $18 million for the federal government.

The move comes amid a crackdown on immigration by the Trump administration. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that the Justice Department would set quotas for immigration judges and begin evaluating them on how quickly they close immigration cases.