April 24, 2018

ABA and others sue Justice Department over immigration program suspension

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 24, 2018 — The American Bar Association joined with eight other organizations today to file suit against the U.S. Justice Department and its Executive Office for Immigration Review to halt the announced suspension of a program that provides critical legal information and assistance to adults in immigration detention centers.

For 15 years, the Legal Orientation Program, or LOP, has provided detainees an overview of the immigration justice system. Most recently it has served 53,000 detainees a year in 16 states to ensure the immigrants who are held by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) receive basic instructions on how the immigration system works and how to exercise their rights and responsibilities under U.S. immigration laws.

“The American Bar Association is deeply disturbed that the Justice Department has arbitrarily decided to suspend funding for this program, just 18 days after Congress renewed that funding,” ABA President Hilarie Bass said. “Dismantling this valuable program, even on a temporary basis, eviscerates due process and harms public trust in the fairness of our immigration system.”

The Legal Orientation Program began in 2003 under President George W. Bush. On April 10, the Justice Department announced it would suspend the program, effective April 30, while it studies the program’s cost effectiveness. The department did not explain why the program cannot continue while the study is being conducted, although several previous studies have been conducted without disrupting the program. Each previous study concluded that the program saves millions of dollars in taxpayer money each year and several days of court time in each case.

A 2012 analysis by the Executive Office for Immigration Review found that LOP saved $17.8 million a year by shortening times for court processing and detention. Just five months ago, on Nov. 30, ICE praised LOP, saying in a memo that immigrants who go through the program “are positioned to make better informed decisions, are more likely to obtain legal representation, and complete their cases faster than detainees who have not” gone through the program.

Under the Legal Orientation Program, lawyers and paralegals meet with detainees who are scheduled to appear in immigration court to educate them on the law and explain the removal process. This is done in group orientations and individual sessions. The program also provides referrals to free volunteer attorneys. It does not provide direct legal representation.

The ABA operates two LOP programs – one in San Diego, another near Brownsville, Texas. Each fills a critical gap in the immigration justice system by providing limited but essential education to detained men and women.

The ABA and eight other nonprofits that operate LOP programs filed suit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., against six defendants: the Justice Department, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Department of Homeland Security and its secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, the Executive Office for Immigration Review and its director, James McHenry. The plaintiffs are represented by pro bono attorneys from the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

The lawsuit alleges that the Justice Department’s action was arbitrary and capricious, and violated Congress’ express wishes under the 2018 Appropriations Act, adopted last month, which allocated funding to continue and expand the Legal Orientation Program.

“It is vital that every person in the justice system be given the information that he or she needs to make informed decisions, especially if they are at risk of losing their liberty or being deported,” Bass said. “Most detained immigrants appear in court without a lawyer, so the bare minimum of due process requires them to be informed of what they are walking into. The Legal Orientation Program expedites the immigration process and saves taxpayers more than it costs.”

A copy of the lawsuit is available here.

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