New NILC Report Highlights Advances to Ensure Legal Representation for Detained Immigrants

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 21, 2016

CONTACT
Juan Gastelum, gastelum@nilc.org, 520-313-4921

New NILC Report Highlights Advances to Ensure Legal Representation for Detained Immigrants

LOS ANGELES — Imagine being locked up in jail and having to convince a judge to allow you to stay in the U.S. Losing your case will mean being separated, maybe for the rest of your life, from the people you love most. It may also mean being sent back to a place you fled because you were afraid of being harassed or assaulted or even murdered.

Then imagine that you’ll have to make your case on your own, without any help from someone who knows the law well. You can’t afford a lawyer, and the court can’t appoint one for you—even though the judge knows that having a lawyer while in jail would make it 10 times more likely that you would win your case.

When the stakes are this high, there’s no such thing, without competent legal representation, as a fair day in immigration court. Our latest special report, Blazing a Trail: The Fight for Right to Counsel in Detention and Beyond, makes a case for why a universal right to counsel for all immigrants in detention is a matter of fundamental fairness. Based on interviews with experts from around the country, it highlights the work of existing and emerging campaigns and working groups that have been catalysts for real progress toward securing a genuine right to counsel in immigration court, especially for people in detention. It also provides practical guidance for advocates seeking to build universal legal representation programs in their own communities.

Recently, a senior official within the immigration justice system—a longtime immigration judge who is responsible for training other judges—argued that even three-year-olds are capable of representing themselves competently in immigration court. Anyone who has spent ten minutes in any court knows how absurd such an assertion is. People with college educations who speak English fluently find immigration law baffling and the immigration justice system difficult to navigate without legal help. This difficulty is multiplied many times if you’re in immigration detention.

We trust you’ll find that this new report sheds light on the challenges—and available solutions—in addressing these gaps in accessing justice.

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