Justice Department Expands Legal Orientation and Pro Bono Programs

The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) is an agency of the Justice Department that determines, through administrative hearings, whether people arrested for immigration violations should be removed from this country, or permitted to stay. To help individuals facing possible deportation (now referred to as “removal”), EOIR runs several programs to provide legal information and self-help resources so they can understand how the legal process functions, and make better-informed decisions about their cases. Three of these programs will be expanded, according to a recent announcement by the EOIR. (See Recent Initiatives for EOIR’s Legal Orientation and Pro Bono Program, Justice Department/EOIR Press Release, 04.Oct.2010.)

The Legal Orientation Program, or LOP, is a public-private partnership that gives detained aliens basic information on immigration law and court procedures, through group presentations and one-on-one counseling by non-governmental organizations. Follow-up assistance may include additional self-help workshops or referrals to pro bono legal representation. (See Factsheet: EOIR’s Legal Orientation and Pro Bono Program, Justice Department/EOIR (PDF 37.9KB), 10.Jan.2010.) In April, 2010, EOIR extended this program to help immigration detainees housed at four county jails in the New York City area. More recently, in July 2010, EOIR started an LOP pilot program at Miami Immigration Court to help respondents who have not been detained, but who lack legal counsel and appear not to understand the nature of the proceedings – including people who may be mentally incompetent.

A new initiative launched this month by EOIR will provide LOP briefings for custodians of unaccompanied minor children (UAC), “to inform UAC custodians of their responsibilities in ensuring the child’s appearance at all immigration proceedings, as well as protecting the child from mistreatment, exploitation, and trafficking, as provided under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2009. The program is being rolled out initially in four of the largest programs sites: Los Angeles, New York City, Houston, and the South Texas Rio Grande Valley, and will be expanded before year’s end to serve 13 sites nationwide – about 75 percent of all UAC custodians.

This is an important step forward. Demand for low-cost and pro bono legal representation for immigration detainees far outstrips the available supply, and at least as a stopgap measure, the LOP can give them some understanding of the system that will decide whether they are to stay or be deported. Moreover, LOP may be the only legal assistance some detainees ever get. As EOIR points out in the factsheet, “Aliens in immigration court proceedings are not entitled to publicly-funded legal representation. Consequently, many appear in the immigration courts and before the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) without legal counsel.” The LOP may fall far short of providing the one-on-one legal representation that detainees need, but it does provide at least a basic level of legal counseling for people who otherwise would go without.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.