Montgomery County Policy Falls Short in Providing Legal Representation to Immigrants

June 1, 2018

Email: [email protected]
Juan Gastelum, 213-375-3149
Hayley Burgess, 202-384-1279

Montgomery County Policy Falls Short in Providing Legal Representation to Immigrants

WASHINGTON — The Montgomery County, MD, Council last week approved a legal defense fund for some immigrants facing deportation. The program is an attempt to ensure due process for people in immigration court, who — unlike those in civil and criminal proceedings — are not afforded access to a lawyer if they cannot afford one.

Numerous politically and geographically diverse localities around the country, including Los Angeles, New York City, Baltimore, Columbus, Denver, San Antonio, Prince George’s County, and Washington, DC, have instituted similar legal aid programs for immigrants based on financial need. Disappointingly, however, Montgomery County’s program excludes many immigrants, even when they may be eligible for immigration relief, based on past criminal convictions. The exclusions are so vast that they would make the program unavailable to as many as 75 percent of the clients served by the Capital Area Immigrant Rights (CAIR) Coalition, which has successfully represented Montgomery County residents in fighting their immigration cases for years.

Avideh Moussavian, a senior policy attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, issued the following statement:

“While we are pleased to see Montgomery County take this important step in protecting its residents from our harsh immigration policies and in ensuring that more people get a fair day in immigration court, we are deeply disappointed by these due process carveouts.

“These programs aim to increase fairness and efficiency by ensuring that no one should have to face the devastating consequences of deportation or navigate our complex immigration courts on their own simply because they cannot afford a capable lawyer. But due process carveouts that leave behind so many immigrants — including those with strong, viable cases for fighting their deportation — make the program fall far short of its intended goals. At a time when the federal government routinely criminalizes immigrants and communities of color, local and state governments need to reject this harmful narrative of dividing immigrant communities along these harmful lines.

“It is a testament to the tireless work of local advocates, such as the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition and CASA, that Montgomery County leaders approved such an investment, and we hope the county fulfills the intended goals of the funding by ensuring due process for all.”

Emily Tucker, a senior staff attorney for Immigrant Rights at the Center for Popular Democracy, said:

“There is still time for the county to realize that these carveouts defeat the entire purpose of the program. We are hopeful that local leaders will look to the example set by several other initiatives of this kind around the country, which protect the due process rights of all people facing deportation and do not discriminate against people with past convictions.”