Paying the Price for not Having the Money

Today, the LA Times has an article highlighting how difficult it is to obtain adequate legal representation in our country’s Immigration Courts.

Unlike defendants in criminal courts, individuals in immigration court do not have the right to free representation. Though there are no local statistics on the number of people who appeared in immigration court without lawyers, 58% of respondents nationwide were unrepresented, according to the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees the courts.

“Immigration laws are extremely complex,” said Immigration Judge Dana Leigh Marks, president of the National Assn. of Immigration Judges. “It’s a tremendous aid to us when someone is competently represented.”

But finding an inexpensive or free attorney can be extremely difficult, advocates and lawyers said. And the stakes are high: Foreigners can face deportation, family separation and even political persecution.

And with the increase in raids and “enforcement only” tactics, the number of immigrants being pushed through the judicial system on Immigration charges is steadily increasing. Without the expertise of an Immigration Attorney, the majority of people have absolutely no shot at a favorable outcome – even if the law is on their side.

Advocates said the situation is worse for detained immigrants, who may have an even harder time finding attorneys. To address this, the federal government contracts with organizations to provide legal orientation in immigration detention centers nationwide.

Locally, attorneys from Catholic Charities of Los Angeles visit the Mira Loma Immigration Detention Center in Lancaster three times a week to inform detainees of their rights and to try to match some with attorneys willing to work at no cost.

During a presentation this spring, Julianne Donnelly, director of Catholic Charities’ immigrant rights project, told detainees that she was there to answer their questions about the law, and explain possible defenses against deportation and how they can obtain a bond.

But Donnelly said the orientation is a “short-term fix for the larger problem.”

“It’s immigration law 101 in two hours,” she said. “How much can you really take away from that?”


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