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Attorney General Sessions Reinstates Legal Information Programs for Immigrants

Reversal Comes Two Weeks After Announcement that Programs Would be Terminated

Statement of Mary Meg McCarthy, executive director, National Immigrant Justice Center

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Congress that the Department of Justice will continue the Legal Orientation Program (LOP) and Immigration Court Helpdesk program, which provide basic legal information for immigrants facing deportation without lawyers. The announcement, during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee meeting today, is an about-face from the Department of Justice (DOJ) statement two weeks ago announcing the programs would end.

Today’s reversal is a victory for due process, fiscal responsibility, and immigrant rights. Yet, it is a victory that came at a cost, as our nation was forced to confront the lengths to which this administration will go to expedite deportations at all costs.

As a provider of LOP and help desk services, NIJC remains baffled as to why our nation’s chief legal officer ever would have considered ending these programs. A 2012 DOJ study found the LOP program generated savings in efficiency as well as cost savings of nearly $18 million annually. A 2017 study commissioned by the DOJ similarly recommended the program's expansion as a means of improving efficiency in the immigration courts. But the most important reason we are grateful for these programs’ continuation is they represent the very least that our nation must do to protect the due process rights of immigrants who are locked up in remote jails and who are facing deportation to countries where they may face death, harm, or permanent separation from their loved ones.

We will continue to fight for the Legal Orientation Program, the Immigration Court Helpdesk program, and access to counsel and due process rights for all immigrants facing deportation.

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Federal Court Ruling Affirms Chicago's Welcoming City Policies, Strikes Another Blow to Administration's Anti-Immigrant Agenda

CHICAGO – Yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that the Department of Justice cannot legally withhold law enforcement funding from cities that have refused to enlist their local police in federal immigration enforcement. The court upheld a federal district court’s nationwide injunction in the case.

“We are glad to see the appellate court reaffirm that local communities get to decide the best strategies for promoting public safety without being coerced into fulfilling this administration’s immoral immigration agenda,” said NIJC Associate Director of Litigation Mark Fleming, who along with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case. “Our communities are safer when everyone feels they can go to the police for help, rather than fear that any interaction with the police will result in deportation and family separation.”

The City of Chicago sued the U.S. Department of Justice in August 2017 after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he would cut federal Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program funding to “sanctuary” cities that refuse to honor immigration detainers, warrantless requests made by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to local law enforcement agencies to hold individuals for 48 hours beyond when they normally would be released from local custody. At issue was Chicago’s Welcoming City Ordinance, which limits the city’s police from detaining and transferring individuals over to ICE for civil immigration violations.

The unanimous decision, by a three-judge panel comprised of all Republican appointees, emphasizes that the core issue at hand, and one of utmost importance, is separation of powers. The court states, “If the Executive Branch can determine policy, and then use the power of the purse to mandate compliance with that policy by the state and local governments, all without the authorization or even acquiescence of elected legislators, that check against tyranny is forsaken.”

This decision follows similar victories in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and San Francisco.

Federal Court Says ICE Must Stop Jailing Unaccompanied Immigrant Youth without First Considering Alternatives to Detention

Orders Government to Assess Placement in Least Restrictive Setting and Alternative Forms of Custody

Washington, D.C. - The U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia has ordered U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to reassess its custody decisions for two unaccompanied immigrant youth whom it moved from federal children’s shelters into adult jails when they turned 18. The court’s preliminary injunction requires ICE to reassess these two young immigrants for placement in the “least restrictive setting” and alternative forms of custody, as required under U.S. law.

The National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), along with its pro bono partner, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, filed a class action lawsuit in March on behalf of immigrant teenagers who came to the United States alone and later were transferred from government shelters to ICE detention centers when they turned 18. Many, including the lead plaintiffs, came to the U.S. seeking safety from dangerous situations at home and were awaiting reunification with family or sponsors.

“This ruling shows a deep concern that ICE is summarily locking up teens in adult jails rather than finding suitable non-detention placements,” said Kate Melloy Goettel, NIJC Senior Litigation Attorney. “We hope this ruling will compel ICE to carry out its statutory duty to consider alternatives to detention for all unaccompanied youth transferred to ICE detention.”  

The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2013 (TVPRA) states that when unaccompanied immigrant children in Office of Refugee Resettlement custody turn 18, ICE “shall consider placement in the least restrictive setting available after taking into account the [individual’s] danger to self, danger to the community, and risk of flight” and shall consider alternatives such as placement with sponsors or supervised group homes.

The court found that the evidence showed 18-year-old plaintiffs Wilmer Garcia Ramirez and Sulma Hernandez Alfaro were likely to prevail on their claim that ICE failed to consider the least restrictive setting for them and failed to properly assess whether they could be placed in non-detention settings. The court ordered ICE to comply with the statute as to plaintiffs Garcia and Hernandez by May 2nd.

The plaintiffs anticipate that the court will certify a nationwide class to protect unaccompanied youth transferred to ICE custody.

U.S. Supreme Court Strikes Down Part Of Immigration Statute As Impermissibly Vague

CHICAGO – The U.S. Supreme Court, by a vote of 5-4, has struck down part of the “aggravated felony” definition, one of the most punishing provisions in U.S. immigration law. The Court found a provision, which triggers automatic removal for offenses that by their nature tend to be “crimes of violence,” to be impermissibly vague. 

In her majority opinion, Justice Elena Kagan reiterated earlier Court rulings that despite the civil nature of immigration law, deportation is a severe punishment and therefore “the most exacting vagueness standard must apply.” Justice Neil Gorsuch joined most of the opinion as the fifth vote, but wrote separately to emphasize his view that the fairness principle offended by vague laws was applicable to civil statutes generally, which also mete out grave penalties, not just to immigration matters.

“We were pleased to see Justice Gorsuch recognize that civil penalties like deportation can be as harsh or harsher than criminal penalties,” said Chuck Roth, National Immigrant Justice Center’s (NIJC) director of litigation. “Separating families and exiling members of our communities is a cruel and awful punishment, yet has become a regular practice. Worse, immigration judges frequently lack any choice in the matter; an aggravated felony would basically require deportation, regardless of the facts of the case or the effects on Mr. Dimaya’s family.”  

NIJC was proud to collaborate with the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, the Immigrant Defense Project, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, in the filing of an amicus brief. Sejal Zota was lead counsel on the brief; Eamon Joyce of Sidley Austin represented the amici pro bono. The Court’s decision cited the brief, explaining how conflicting decisions have arisen in applying the vague provision in question.  

The effects of the Supreme Court’s decision are not sweeping. The aggravated felony definition itself includes approximately 80 other grounds, and another prong of the crime of violence ground continues in effect. Dozens of other removability provisions may also subject noncitizens to removal. But the Supreme Court’s decision may well impact other legal provisions, such as the removal ground for “crimes involving moral turpitude,” a ground that can trigger deportation for relatively minor crimes such as shoplifting. Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals made this point in 2016 in a concurrence in Arias v. Holder, an NIJC case.  

U.S. immigration laws are disproportionately harsh and unfair in myriad ways. The decision in Sessions v. Dimaya is a step, one small step, toward fair process for all. 

Important News for Asylum Seekers With One-Year Deadline Issues

On March 29, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington issued a decision regarding the one-year filing deadline for asylum that has nationwide implications.  In the decision, Mendez Rojas v. Johnson, 2018 WL 1532715 (W.D. Wash. Mar.

DACA Renewal Clinic 05/23/2018

During this free legal clinic, private attorneys from Chicago's top law firms will join with the National Immigrant Justice Center to complete and file applications for qualified individuals to RENEW their Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Registration must be completed as soon as possible.

Register for this clinic.


Media Coverage of the Cancellation of the Immigration Court Help Desk and the Legal Orientation Programs

On April 10 the Department of Justice announced it will stop funding the Immigration Court Help Desk and Legal Orientation Programs (LOP) and will temporarily halt these programs in order to audit their cost-effectiveness. These crucial programs are a lifeline for many immigrants in detention who would otherwise not have access to an attorney. Major news outlets from all of the country sought comment from NIJC in response to this announcement. Read the full statement by NIJC Executive Director Mary Meg McCarthy.


Rewire.NewsIs the DOJ Moving to Restrict Immigration Detainees’ Access to Attorneys? (Updated) (4/19/2018)

The Washington PostJustice Dept. To Halt Legal-advice Program For Immigrants In Detention (4/10/2018)

Chicago TribuneJustice Department to halt legal program for detained immigrants (4/10/2018)

AXIOS: DOJ temporarily ends legal service program for immigrants (4/10/2018)

SplinterTrump Administration Not Bothering With Illusion of Due Process for Immigrants Facing Deportation Anymore  (4/10/2018)

Aljazeera: Rights Groups Decry DOJ Plan To 'End' immigrant Help Programmes (4/11/2018)

ABA JournalABA Condemns Suspension Of Justice Department's Legal Orientation Program For Immigrants ( 4/11/2018)

Voice of AmericaLegal Advice Ending for Immigrants in Detention in US (4/11/2018)

ThinkProgressJustice Department halts legal aid for detained immigrants facing deportation (4/11/2018)

Daily KosSessions's Move Halting Legal Assistance Program Is Clear: No Due Process For Immigrants (4/11/2018)

telesurUS to Temporarily Close Know-Your-Rights Program for Deportation-Bound Immigrants (4/12/2018)







Policy Brief | The Weaponization of the Immigration Court System

Nearly a century ago, the U.S. Supreme Court described deportation as a deprivation of liberty that “may result … in loss of both property and life, or of all that makes life worth living.” Today, the gravity of an immigration judge’s decision to order deportation is no less weighty, determining whether an asylum seeker will be returned to the hands of her persecutor or whether a decades-long American resident will be torn from his family. Yet these cases are heard in a broken court system frequently described by the immigration judges’ union representative as “death penalty cases in a traffic court setting.”  

The immigration court system’s dysfunction is largely due to its position within the Department of Justice (DOJ), where it is vulnerable to the political whims of the executive. Over the past year, the Trump administration has explicitly attempted to subvert the mission of the immigration court system, trading the safeguarding of due process for the politics-driven pursuit of increasing deportations. At the National Immigrant Justice Center, we witness the severe harms that follow, including sham hearings and erroneous deportations.

In written testimony submitted in April 2018 for a Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing regarding judicial independence of the immigration courts, NIJC encouraged Congress to consider the merits of creating an Article I immigration court system, and to engage in robust oversight of DOJ to reverse its unacceptable incursions on the court system’s integrity.

This policy brief: 1) provides a brief overview of the vulnerability of the Executive Office for Immigration Review to political sway; 2) outlines the current administration’s attacks on the fairness and independence of the immigration court system; and 3) provides a brief set of principles that must be fulfilled to ensure fairness in the system.

Trump Administration Ends Programs that Educate Immigrants in Detention about their Rights

Department of Justice Program Defunds Legal Orientation and Help Desk Programs for 53,000 Immigrants Per Year, Violating Congressional Requirements and Undermining Efforts to Reduce Immigration Court Backlogs

Statement of Mary Meg McCarthy, Executive Director, National Immigrant Justice Center

Today the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) and immigration legal service providers across the country received the alarming news that the Department of Justice (DOJ) plans to  terminate the Legal Orientation Program (LOP) and the Immigration Court Helpdesk program. LOP is a life line for the more than 40,000 immigrants who face complex deportation proceedings from remote detention facilities every day. Through LOP, legal service organizations provide basic information to men and women in immigration jails about the detention and deportation process. The goals of the bipartisan program  are to improve judicial efficiency and help immigrants in detention without attorneys navigate the immigration court process. Today, LOP services reach 40 detention facilities and over 50,000 detained people in desperate need of legal services.

Terminating the LOP and help desk programs is an affront to Congress. The report language accompanying the 2018 omnibus spending bill explicitly required the Executive Office for Immigration Review to “continue ongoing programs,” adopted language in the House Report providing that funding “sustains the current legal orientation program and related assistance, such as the information desk pilot,” and adopted language in the Senate Report noting the need for expanded LOP services in remote immigration facilities.

Terminating the LOP and help desk program is a deliberate attempt to eliminate due process from the deportation process. News of the legal orientation program termination comes when the administration is forcing unreasonable quotas on immigration judges to accelerate adjudications in the massively backlogged court system, and also pursuing a policy of mass prolonged detention at the border. This is a blatant attempt by the administration to strip detained immigrants of even the pretense of due process rights. Because more than four out of every five detained immigrants are unable to access legal representation, LOP staff are quite literally the last and only line of defense for detained individuals trying to understand how to represent themselves in their claims to asylum and other forms of protection in immigration court.

Terminating the LOP program is an act of flagrant fiscal irresponsibility. A 2012 DOJ study found that detained immigrants who received legal orientation completed their court proceedings more quickly and remained detained for an average of six fewer days, yielding the government a net savings of more than $17.8 million per year.

NIJC calls on Congress to oppose the administration’s affront to due process  by taking any and all steps possible to ensure that DOJ complies with its congressional directives and maintains the LOP and help desk programs as they currently exist.



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