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May 29, 2024

ABA Commission on Immigration

2024 Lobby Day

ABA Staff Meredith Linsky and Adonia Simpson with Commission on Immigration Chair Michelle Jacobson.

ABA Staff Meredith Linsky and Adonia Simpson with Commission on Immigration Chair Michelle Jacobson.

On May 2, 2024, members of the ABA’s Commission on Immigration (COI) and ABA immigration project staff from the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR), Immigration Justice Project (IJP), and Children’s Immigration Law Academy (CILA) traveled to Washington, D.C. to advocate for ABA-supported legislation to improve access to counsel and legal information for individuals in immigration proceedings, and for legal and other protections for unaccompanied immigrant children and youth.

Twelve advocates, representing five states (Texas, California, Illinois, Maryland, and Michigan), met with seven Senate offices and seven House offices, including the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Integrity, Security, and Enforcement. In addition to advocating for these issues, the participants offered COI’s expertise for technical assistance.

These constituent advocates, drawing from their firsthand experiences as direct service providers, highlighted the challenges immigrants and asylum-seekers encounter in navigating the complex U.S. immigration system, including limited access to legal representation. They underscored ­­the importance of federally funded programs like the Legal Orientation Program (LOP) and the Immigration Court Helpdesk (ICH), both of which are underfunded and inaccessible to many of those in need.

Our advocates urged Congress to increase LOP funding in the FY25 budget and enact legislation expanding the program to all detained and non-detained persons in removal proceedings. They also encouraged their members of Congress to provide legal representation for unaccompanied children, people living with disabilities and mental illness, and certain indigent individuals, including by passing the bipartisan Immigration Court Efficiency and Children’s Court Act.

Additionally, advocates educated congressional offices on the hardships faced by unaccompanied immigrant children fleeing violence and poverty, including navigating the confusing U.S. legal system without representation. They explained that many of these children have legitimate claims for legal status or humanitarian protections, such as being granted Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), but face bureaucratic obstacles such as visa backlogs. They urged Congress to improve access to counsel for unaccompanied children, require training for attorneys and adjudicators on laws affecting immigrant children, remove visa limitations for SIJS youth and provide them with access to work authorization and public benefits, and amend the SIJS statute to remove barriers to status adjustment.

Though the in-person component of the 2024 COI Lobby Day has concluded, ABA members can still get involved through the ABA’s digital toolkit campaign, which provides templates for constituents to engage online with their members of Congress and urge them to take action to increase LOP funding, enhance access to counsel, and protect the rights of immigrant children.

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