Posted on July 1, 2024

For Migrants in Georgia, Fighting Deportation Will Become Harder. Here’s Why.

Lautaro Grinspan, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 26, 2024

People held in Georgia immigrant detention centers will soon face new challenges in their search for lawyers to represent them in immigration court, a development that will likely doom many people’s chances of fighting deportation.

Earlier this month, the Southern Poverty Law Center, a legal and advocacy group, announced it will be unwinding an initiative that has been providing legal assistance to detained migrants in Georgia since 2017. That run will end by fall. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, SPLC lawyers were the only providers of pro-bono legal representation at the immigration court inside Stewart Detention Center, a privately-run jail in the remote town of Lumpkin, near the Florida border.

Those SPLC staffers, whose team within the broader nonprofit was dubbed the Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative, also worked with detained migrants in Louisiana. Georgia and Louisiana are the two non-border states with the biggest populations of detained migrants nationwide. Most migrants in custody are recent border crossers apprehended by Border Patrol.


Unlike defendants in criminal court, people who come before an immigration judge don’t have a right to a government-provided lawyer if they can’t afford to hire one themselves. Private attorneys are out-of-reach for many migrants, many of whom go into debt to finance their treacherous journeys to the U.S. border. Pro-bono representation is also difficult to come by countrywide – in part because demand vastly exceeds supply following historic border surges – and it’s especially rare in a place like Lumpkin, because of its rural location.