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House Democrats call for paid legal representation in immigration court

House Democrats call for paid legal representation in immigration court
© Greg Nash

A group of 48 House Democrats called on leaders in the Appropriations Committee to assign $75 million in funding to pay for legal representation for immigrants facing potential removal proceedings in immigration court.

In a letter led by Rep. Norma TorresNorma Judith TorresHouse Democrat says she sleeps with gun nearby after clashing with El Salvador's president Harris, Hispanic Caucus meet on Central America House Democrats call for paid legal representation in immigration court MORE (D-Calif.), the lawmakers called on Rep. Matt CartwrightMatthew (Matt) Alton CartwrightHouse Democrats unveil .9 billion bill to boost security after insurrection Garland emphasizes national security, civil rights in budget hearing House Democrats call for paid legal representation in immigration court MORE (D-Pa.), chair of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, and Rep. Robert AderholtRobert Brown AderholtHouse Democrats call for paid legal representation in immigration court Mo Brooks expresses interest in running for Shelby's Senate seat Shelby won't run for reelection MORE (Ala.), the top Republican on the panel, to fund expansion of a pilot program that provides legal representation to some unaccompanied minors and individuals with mental disabilities.

For the most part, immigrants facing any kind of action in immigration court do not get any kind of government-funded legal representation, as immigration proceedings are not criminal proceedings.

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But the consequences of judgements in immigration court can be devastating, separating families, as well as individuals from their work, businesses and possessions in the United States.

According to the American Immigration Council, detained immigrants with counsel are four times more likely to be released from detention, and only 37 percent of immigrants secure counsel.

"Legal representation is the most determinative factor in ensuring people facing removal have a fair day in immigration court. If represented by counsel, people are five times more likely to obtain legal relief compared to those who are unrepresented," wrote Torres.

Torres added that representation has been shown to make cases flow more smoothly, which could help reduce the backlog in immigration courts — among other reasons because immigrants who secure representation are more likely to appear for their court dates.

"Studies of immigration court data over the past decade have found that people represented by counsel appear in court over 96 percent of the time," wrote Torres.

Immigration courts are not part of the judiciary; rather, they are run by the Department of Justice's Executive Office for Immigration Review, through which the added funding would be funneled under Torres's plan.

"We support additional funding for the Executive Office for Immigration Review to expand legal representation programs to other vulnerable populations including, but not limited to, asylum seekers, families, people who speak rare languages, and those deprived of their liberty while awaiting their court hearings," wrote Torres.