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 supports the 2023 Fairness to Freedom Act championed by Senators Gillibrand and Booker and Representatives Norma Torres, Meng, and Jayapal. The bill creates a national system of legal representation for people earning less than 200% of the poverty level.
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
- AILA Issues Recommendations for FY2024 Federal Budget – March 2023
- AILA Policy Brief: Recommendations on the Expansion and Implementation of Immigration Legal Representation Programs – March 2022
- Senators Request Funding for Legal Services for People in Immigration Court Proceedings – May 6, 2022
- House Members Urge Funding for Legal Representation to Indigent Adults in Removal Proceedings – April 29, 2022
- The Hill: House Democrats Call for Paid Legal Representation in Immigration Court – May 3, 2021
- AILA, the American Immigration Council, and 147 Partners Send Letter to Biden on Funding for Legal Representation Programs - February 1, 2022
- President Biden Fiscal Year 2024 Budget for legal representation includes $150 million for legal representation programs provided to EOIR.
- Attorney General Issues Memo on Access to Justice - May 18, 2021
- Presidential Memorandum on Restoring DOJ’s Access-to-Justice Function and Reinvigorating the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable - May 18, 2021
- White House Fact Sheet: President Biden to Sign Presidential Memorandum to Expand Access to Legal Representation and the Courts – May 18, 2021
- Polling conducted by Hart Research in October 2021 finds overwhelming public support for legal representation of unaccompanied children
- Policy Brief: The Biden Administration and Congress Must Guarantee Legal Representation for People Facing Removal – January 15, 2021
- American Immigration Council: Access to Counsel in Immigration Court – September 2016
- National Association of Immigration Judges: NAIJ Position on Legal Representation in Immigration Court – May 5, 2021