Featured Issue: Ensuring Legal Representation for People Facing Removal

Despite the critical role legal representation plays in ensuring fairness in removal proceedings, the law still does not guarantee the government will pay for counsel if the person is unable to afford one. According to a 2016 study by the American Immigration Council, people were five times more likely to obtain legal relief if they were represented by counsel and people who were detained were ten-and-a-half times more likely to succeed. In the absence of a universal right to counsel, a significant portion of people in removal proceedings—at least 40 percent—are unrepresented by counsel.

AILA and the American Immigration Council and a broad coalition of immigration experts and advocates, as well as Members of Congress and other elected officials, are calling upon President Biden and Congress to provide additional funding to expand legal representation for people in removal proceedings.

Government Announcements

Advocacy Resources

  • Representatives Urge Attorney General to Reverse Trump’s Attacks on Immigrants
    • On 6/10/21, Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) led 60 lawmakers in calling on DOJ to immediately implement a set of reforms on immigration court backlogs, regulatory and policy review, EOIR personnel, legal representation, criminal prosecutions, and the ongoing pandemic.
  • Policy Brief: The Biden Administration and Congress Must Guarantee Legal Representation for People Facing Removal – January 15, 2021
    • AILA and the American Immigration Council issued a policy brief calling upon the Biden administration to expand federally-funded legal representation programs for people facing removal, arguing that legal representation ensures due process and efficiency, reduces the detention of immigrants, and reduces court backlog.
  • American Immigration Council: Access to Counsel in Immigration Court – September 2016
    • This report presents the results of the first national study of access to counsel in U.S. immigration courts. Drawing on data from over 1.2 million deportation cases decided between 2007 and 2012, the report provides information about the scope and impact of attorney representation in U.S. immigration courts.
  • Senate Bill: Funding Attorneys for Indigent Removal (FAIR) Proceedings Act – March 23, 2021
    • AILA urges Congress to pass the FAIR Act sponsored by Sen Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). The act would guarantee access to legal counsel during removal proceedings for children, individuals with disabilities, victims of abuse, torture, and violence, and those living at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line.
  • National Association of Immigration Judges: NAIJ Position on Legal Representation in Immigration Court – May 5, 2021
    • The NAIJ endorses efforts to provide greater access to representation and for free legal services to those appearing before the immigration court, especially for vulnerable populations such as the mentally impaired or juveniles, as well as for detainees.

Funding for Legal Representation

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 21050438.