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Study Illuminates Dearth Of Lawyers In Immigration Courts

Less than half of all immigrants facing deportation proceedings have legal representation, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. A study spearheaded by a New York federal judge found that having legal representation is a major factor affecting whether an immigrant accused of violating federal immigration laws is deported. The other major factor is whether an immigrant is held in detention.

The study looked at removal proceedings in local immigration courts from 2005 through 2010. It found that almost 75 percent of individuals with lawyers and who were not in custody were allowed to stay in the country.

At the other extreme, 97 percent of detained immigrants without lawyers were deported.

The study found that the detention policies employed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security "create significant obstacles for immigrants facing removal to obtain counsel."

Most immigrants are transferred to far-off detention centers, the study found, and these immigrants rarely have lawyers.

The study sheds new light on an issue that many lawyers and immigrant rights leaders have signaled as a problem for years. Because immigration law is an area of civil and not criminal law, courts are not required to provide free legal representation. Many individuals who find themselves in immigration court aren't familiar with the U.S. legal system and often can't afford to hire a lawyer, experts say.

“And, there are fewer and fewer legal services programs that represent indigents than ever before,” said Bill Hing, an immigration law expert at the University of San Francisco. "And, of course, the immigration courts now are busier than ever before."

Last year, more than 300,000 proceedings were initiated in the nation’s immigration courts — a 50 percent increase over the last decade, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Hing said immigrants facing deportation face similar obstacles on the West Coast.

Even when immigrants do have lawyers, they may not have very good ones. New York immigration judges surveyed for the study rated 33 percent of the lawyers in their court as “inadequate,” and 14 percent of them as “grossly inadequate."

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Avatar for user 'HarryStreet'

HarryStreet | December 20, 2011 at 3:06 p.m. ― 5 years, 3 months ago

This indeed is a crying shame. What's even more shameful is how those among us diligently work to fight for illegal immigrants to remain in the U.S. instead of taking the fight to President Calderon and the Mexican people to fix their own house so that people aren't compelled to leave beloved Mexico in search of a better life.

I'm all for making legal immigration easier for people to obtain U.S. citizenship, but we can't take everyone. There has to be limits same as Mexico has for people hoping to migrate to their country.

In this article they mention how illegal immigrants aren't familiar with our courts and don't understand their rights to a lawyer. Could that be because they aren't concerned with that knowledge anyway? I mean, they are coming illegally and the last thing they want is to have anything to do with a lawyer since that would mean getting caught.

Perhaps Sheriff Arpaio's tough stance on illegal immigration isn't such a bad idea after all. If the alternative is to drop our borders and allow everyone to flow into our neighborhoods at will, we should all re-think our position.

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Avatar for user 'HarryStreet'

HarryStreet | December 20, 2011 at 3:36 p.m. ― 5 years, 3 months ago

On 2nd thought....I agree some of Sheriff Arpaio's actions could be reeled in. The negative publicity hurts efforts to improve how we handle illegal immigration.

I do, however, agree that we make it far easier than necessary for immigrants to enter and remain in the U.S.

I do not blame them for wanting a better life. Coming to America offers them hope. However, we do need to control the amount of people entering the U.S. Look at how France and England failed to control their immigration and are now facing racial discrimination on a level not seen since the Civil Rights Movement.

Part of my cynicism comes from watching us peacefully co-exist with the status quo instead of working for change. We (as in the U.S.) can't be expected to drop our borders and allow all to enter here any which way you can.

The fight needs to be taken to the steps of the Mexican Government and the Mexican people themselves to address change they need. All I hear from them is NO HOPE IN MEXICO. So what does that mean? You come to the U.S. and problem solved?

At some point we need to make it difficult for people to sustain themselves here in the U.S. illegally as a means of encouraging them to follow the right path and obey the law. We've been dancing around this issue long enough.

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