Should Immigrants Have Attorneys Appointed for Them by the Government?
With COVID-19 creating opportunities for the United States government to create more hardships for immigrants—both those seeking to enter the country, and those in the country seeking to remain here—the pandemic has brought to the forefront a new issue: Whether or not it’s time to give immigrants the constitutional right to an attorney.
Criminal and Immigration Cases are Similar
The right to an attorney is ingrained in us as Americans when it comes to criminal law. When you are charged with most kinds of crimes, if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you, and you always have the right to an attorney, unless you waive the right.
The rights at stake in immigration cases are often similar to those at stake in a criminal case. The right to be or remain with your family. The right to make a living. The right even to be alive, when it comes to immigrants seeking asylum from countries that would persecute them. Immigrants are detained in detention centers, which, although not technically prisons, the casual observer may have a hard time telling the difference.
Although immigrants are often seen by the public as “breaking the law,” deportation actions are civil in nature, not criminal. This means no automatic right to have an attorney appointed.
Even children, believe it or not, do not have the right to have an attorney appointed for them.
The Difference Between Being Represented and Unrepresented
A recent article at Slate.com highlights this problem, citing the 60,000 immigrants waiting to apply for asylum, and the 30,000 sitting in ICE detention centers. All need attorneys, and the volunteer attorneys helping them are overwhelmed and unable to handle the volume of cases. Many of those helping immigrants today are law school students or legal clinics, many of which are not equipped to help the people in need.
The article notes that immigrants who do get attorneys are three times more likely to win their case than those who don’t have an attorney. This means that there are a large number of unrepresented immigrants who are deported or denied entry, who legally could or should be entitled to enter or remain.
The gap for children is even more dramatic. Only 15% of minors who are unrepresented in immigration cases win their case, compared to 73% of immigrant minors who do have an attorney.
Laws are Confusing
And while self representation is difficult in any legal case, it is more so in immigration cases, where the U.S. Supreme Court once called U.S. immigration laws “Byzantine.”
Compound the complex immigration code with the fact that many applicants do not speak English, or may have suffered mental trauma in their home country, or may suffer from other disabilities, and you start to see why having an attorney appointed for immigrants has become such an important issue.
Contact the Palm Beach County immigration attorneys at Devore Law Group to help you with your immigration questions and problems.