The National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) filed an amicus brief in this case, which argues that in some instances, the statute and Constitution require court-appointed counsel for detained immigrants.
Under current U.S. law, non-citizens have no right to court-appointed counsel during immigration proceedings, yet the consequences of immigration proceedings can be severe, especially for those fleeing persecution.
Mr. Valdez Bernal may have acquired citizenship through his deceased U.S. citizen father, depending upon his father's residence in the 1940s and 1950s. NIJC aided pro bono counsel in raising these arguments and argued as amicus that, given the magnitude of the rights involved and the difficulties of proving residence from 50 years earlier, this detainee should have received government-appointed counsel. NIJC argued, further, that the agency has the ability to appoint counsel, based on the statutory requirement of a fair hearing.
The appeal was granted and the case remanded in an unpublished decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, with attorneys from the law firm Baker & McKenzie representing the client on a pro bono basis.