February 20, 2019 Feature

Access to Counsel in Immigration Proceedings

Appointment of counsel for indigent and minor respondents draws support

By Matthew S. Mulqueen

Between July 2017 and June 2018, the U.S. government separated thousands of children from their families as part of a “zero-tolerance policy” of immigration enforcement.

Unlike criminal defendants, respondents in immigration court do not have a right to an attorney

Unlike criminal defendants, respondents in immigration court do not have a right to an attorney

Image Illustration by Elmarie Jara | Getty Images

The practice stirred vigorous public debate over the extent to which arriving parents and children enjoy due process rights. In particular, reports of young children appearing unrepresented in immigration court focused attention on the availability of legal representation for respondents in removal proceedings. Unlike criminal defendants, who have a right to an attorney even when they cannot afford one, respondents in immigration court do not. Indigent respondents must instead rely on scarce pro bono lawyers. Many find themselves without representation. ABA leaders have renewed calls for enhancements to due process in immigration proceedings, including the appointment of federally funded counsel for all indigent persons and unaccompanied minors in removal proceedings.

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