148 Groups Ask Biden To Fund $50M For Migrant Atty Access

By Craig Clough | February 3, 2022, 6:21 PM EST ·

A group of 148 organizations supporting immigrant and civil rights sent a letter to President Joe Biden and congressional leaders urging them to allocate at least $50 million to provide "immediate and dramatic" expansion of legal representation for people facing immigration proceedings.

The Tuesday letter came just before Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday introduced a bill that would detach immigration courts from the U.S. Department of Justice. The bill provides the right to counsel, but bars the government from paying the cost.

The organizations, which include the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Immigration Council, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights and Public Counsel, sent the letter to Biden, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and several other congressional leaders.

The groups said they are calling upon the leaders "to prioritize the immediate and dramatic expansion of legal representation programs for people appearing in proceedings before the immigration courts. Funding for appointed counsel is critical to increasing fairness and government efficiency."

The organizations said they encourage at least $50 million to be dedicated to providing representation for those facing immigration proceedings in fiscal year 2022. The groups added that $200 million is what is actually required, but $50 million will provide "meaningful investment in such programs."

The letter, which comes after a Jan. 20 hearing on the topic of independent immigration courts, noted that $50 million for immigration legal representations is already proposed in the Fiscal Year 2022 House Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill (H.R.4505).

The organizations noted that federal law provides the right to legal counsel in removal proceedings, but there is no legal representation given to those who cannot afford one, and as a result 46% of all cases pending before the immigration courts have non-citizens in the proceedings without legal representation. 

"The low levels of representation are a crisis given the exceptionally complex nature of immigration law, the fact that it is nearly impossible for immigrants to navigate our complex immigration system without the assistance of an attorney, and the severe consequences associated with deportation," the groups said. "Due process should not turn on whether or not an individual can afford to pay for a private attorney."

Greg Chen, the American Immigration Lawyers Association's director of government relations, told Law360 that providing legal representation in immigration hearings "is something that AILA thinks would be important to include if we're looking at reforming the court system to be more fair." 

The DOJ didn't respond on Thursday to a request for comment.

--Additional reporting by Mike LaSusa. Editing by Michael Watanabe.

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