Justice Dept. to Halt Legal-Advice Program for Immigrants in Detention

Mria Sachetti, Washington Post, April 10, 2018

The U.S. immigration courts will temporarily halt a program that offers legal assistance to detained foreign nationals facing deportation while it audits the program’s cost-effectiveness, a federal official said Tuesday.

Officials informed the Vera Institute of Justice that starting this month it will pause the nonprofit’s Legal Orientation Program, which last year held information sessions for 53,000 immigrants in more than a dozen states, including California and Texas.

The federal government will also evaluate Vera’s “help desk,” which offers tips to non-detained immigrants facing deportation proceedings in the Chicago, Miami, New York, Los Angeles and San Antonio courts.

The Executive Office for Immigration Review, which runs the Justice Department’s immigration courts, said the government wants to “conduct efficiency reviews which have not taken place in six years.” {snip}

But advocates said the programs administered by Vera and a network of 18 other nonprofits are a legal lifeline for undocumented immigrants.

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In a statement, the Vera Institute said a 2012 study by the Justice Department concluded that the program was “a cost-effective and efficient way to promote due process” that saved the government nearly $18 million over one year.

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The Justice Department is ramping up efforts to cut an immigration court backlog of 650,000 cases in half by 2020. Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week imposed production quotas on immigration judges to spur them to clear cases more quickly.

Immigration courts are separate from U.S. criminal courts, where defendants are entitled to a government-appointed lawyer if they cannot pay for their own legal counsel.

The Vera Institute said approximately 8 in 10 detainees in immigration court face a government prosecutor without a lawyer.

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