Featured Issue: Ensuring Legal Representation for People Facing Removal

AILA is leading the fight for fairness in court. Despite the critical role that legal representation plays in ensuring fairness in removal proceedings, the law still does not guarantee the government will pay for an attorney if the person is unable to afford one.

AILA urges Congress and the Biden Administration to fund and establish a national program that guarantees legal representation that is paid for by the government for people facing removal who are unable to afford an attorney.

In 2021, AILA convened a Legal Representation Task Force comprised of AILA leaders from private practice and other sectors to develop recommendations on how a nationwide system should be established that draws upon the private bar, nonprofits, and other existing systems.


AILA urges Congress to fund a nationwide legal representation program.

In March 2023, AILA sent Congress a letter urging congressional appropriators to fund the Department of Justice in the amount of $400 million to pilot a legal representation program for indigent persons facing removal. While more funding is needed, AILA supports President Biden’s FY2024 budget request for this pilot which includes $150 million dollars designated for the Executive Office for Immigration Review.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Congresswoman Norma Torres (D-CA) are leading letters to urge the Senate and House to fund these programs for FY2024 appropriations bills. In 2022, AILA endorsed a Senate letter led by Senator Gillibrand and a House letter led by Congresswoman Torres calling for funding for legal representation.

AILA urges Congress to pass legislation creating a right to legal representation paid for by the government for those who cannot afford counsel.

AILA supports the 2023 Fairness to Freedom Act championed by Senators Gillibrand and Booker which creates a national system of legal representation for people earning less than 200% of the poverty level (bill links forthcoming). In recent years, AILA has supported the following bills: FAIR Proceedings Act (S. 901, Senator Gillibrand and H.R. 9304, Representative McEachin, Representative Lofgren); Access to Counsel Act (H.R. 1573, Representative Jayapal); Fair Day in Court for Kids Act (S. 3108, Senator Hirono).

Why is legal representation essential for fair immigration proceedings?

Court data consistently show that most people are unrepresented in their removal proceedings. Due to an unprecedented number of cases filed in recent months, the crisis of representation is growing worse: in currently pending cases nearly 60 percent of immigrants are represented. Critically, immigrants with representation are more likely to succeed in defending against their deportation. A 2016 study by the American Immigration Council found that immigrants were five times more likely to obtain legal relief if they were represented by counsel. People who were detained were ten-and-a-half times more likely to succeed.

Funding for Legal Representation

Government Announcements


Cite as AILA Doc. No. 21050438.