Sanctuary cities have a new, cheaper way to help undocumented
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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel established in December a million dollar Legal Protection Fund for undocumented immigrants living in Chicago. It will help them get the legal assistance they are going to need when President-Elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpA better VA, with mental health services, is essential for America's veterans Pelosi, Nadler tangle on impeachment, contempt vote Trump arrives in Japan to kick off 4-day state visit MORE begins his enforcement program. The money will make it possible for the Chicago-based office of the National Immigration Justice Center to represent 3,000 more undocumented immigrants in removal proceedings.

This appears to be a growing trend.


A few days after the Chicago City Council approved Mayor Emanuel’s Legal Protection Fund, Los Angeles officials announced that they had created a legal defense fund too. With help from philanthropists, Los Angeles established a $10 million fund to provide legal assistance for the city’s undocumented immigrants who are placed in removal proceedings.


These funds are an extension of their sanctuary city status to protect undocumented immigrants.

Chicago passed such an ordinance four years ago which provides that police can only give federal immigration officers information on undocumented immigrants that have arrest warrants out on them or are convicted criminals. This only applied to Chicago.

California, Connecticut, New Mexico, and Colorado have made their entire states immigrant sanctuaries.

Point No. 4 in President-Elect Trump’s 10-Point Plan to Put America First calls for an end to sanctuary cities, which presumably will be done by threatening to withhold federal funds from cities that refuse to cooperate with his administration’s enforcement program.

Mayor Emanuel’s Legal Protect Fund may be a more effective way to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation and it should avoid that threat.  

The benefit of legal representation is illustrated by TRAC statistics which show that the likelihood of success with an asylum application is much higher with representation:

Immigration law provides that aliens in removal proceedings have the privilege of being represented by counsel at no expense to the government. The legal defense funds will help some of the aliens in removal proceedings to afford representation, but that money would go much further if some of it were to be spent on Accredited Representatives instead of just on attorneys.

Federal regulations permit certain organizations that have been recognized by the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) and their Accredited Representatives to represent aliens in immigration proceedings. The Accredited Representatives have legal training, but they are not lawyers.

These regulations have just been revised and the effective date of the new regulations is Jan. 18, 2017.

The most significant change is transferring the administration of the Recognition and Accreditation Program within EOIR from the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) to the Office of Legal Access Programs (OLAP).

To be eligible for recognition, an organization must establish that:

  1. It is a non-profit religious, charitable, social service, or similar organization that provides immigration legal services primarily to low-income and indigent clients, and, if it charges fees, has a written policy for accommodating clients who are unable to pay;
  2. It is a federal tax-exempt organization;
  3. It is simultaneously applying to have at least one employee or volunteer of the organization approved as an Accredited Representative;
  4. It has access to adequate knowledge, information, and experience in all aspects of immigration law and procedure; and
  5. It has designated an authorized officer to act on behalf of the organization.

The revised regulations also remove the “nominal fee” requirement that had been used previously to limit charges for legal services.

The revised regulations do not replace it with a new standard, but they do limit recognition to non-profit organizations that provide legal services primarily to low-income and indigent clients and require accommodations for clients unable to pay the fees. It is apparent that charges are expected to be substantially less than the cost of hiring an immigration lawyer.

The regulations provide for two kinds of accreditation, “partial” and “full.” A partially accredited representative is limited to representing aliens before Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

A fully accredited representative may represent aliens before both DHS and EOIR, which includes the immigration courts and the BIA. Individuals cannot apply to be Accredited Representatives themselves.

Only Recognized Organizations, or organizations simultaneously applying for recognition, may request the accreditation of individuals. The organization must demonstrate that the individual for whom the organization seeks accreditation:

  1. Has the character and fitness to represent clients before the Immigration Courts, the BIA, and DHS. This includes an examination of factors such as criminal background; prior acts involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation; past history of neglecting professional, financial, or legal obligations; and current immigration status;
  2. Is employed by or is a volunteer of the organization filing the application;
  3. Is not an attorney;
  4. Is not subject to any order restricting the individual in the practice of law or representation before a court or an administrative agency;
  5. Has not been convicted of a serious criminal offense; and
  6. Possesses broad knowledge and adequate experience in immigration law and procedure. If full accreditation is being sought, the organization must establish that the individual also possesses effective litigation skills.

Recognized Organizations and Accredited Representatives are listed on the EOIR website alphabetically and by state. These rosters are updated weekly.

As of Jan. 2, 2017, there were only 1,086 Recognized Organizations and 2,255 Accredited Representatives.

If some of the money being set aside for legal protection funds is used to increase these numbers, many more undocumented immigrants will have legal assistance available to them than if that money is used just to pay for attorneys.

Nolan Rappaport’s immigration experience includes seven years as an immigration counsel on the House Judiciary Committee and twenty years writing decisions for the Board of Immigration Appeals.

The views of Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.