April 25, 2018

Statement of ABA President Hilarie Bass Re: Justice Department’s action on Legal Orientation Program for immigrants

WASHINGTON, April 25, 2018 — The American Bar Association applauds the Justice Department’s decision today to continue funding the Legal Orientation Program for detained immigrants while it evaluates the program’s cost effectiveness. Earlier this month, the department announced it would suspend the program effective April 30 while the study was being conducted. We are pleased that today’s action reverses that decision.

The Legal Orientation Program provides basic legal information to 53,000 men and women a year in federal detention centers in 16 states. The program is a critical step toward ensuring the fairness of immigration court hearings. Nearly 90 percent of all noncitizen detainees go through deportation proceedings without legal counsel. For them, these brief orientations are the only knowledge they get before being thrust into adversarial court hearings. The ABA operates two such programs under the Legal Orientation Program – one in San Diego and one near Brownsville, Texas.

Previous studies have found the program is highly effective, saving court time and taxpayer money. A 2012 analysis by the Executive Office for Immigration Review found that detainees who received legal orientations completed their court proceeding 12 days faster and spent six fewer days in detention than detainees who did not participate in the program, saving taxpayers $17.8 million a year. Just five months ago, on Nov. 30, ICE praised the Legal Orientation Program, 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.

We thank our colleagues across the country who provide crucial legal services to detainees and who worked tirelessly in recent days to ensure that this program would continue without interruption. We also appreciate that the Senate Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration allowed the ABA to voice its concerns during testimony I gave on April 18.

We look forward to a fair and thorough review of the Legal Orientation Program. We are confident it will conclude that this 15-year-old program, created under President George W. Bush and supported by both Republicans and Democrats, is a cost-effective and essential piece of our nation’s immigration system and our desire to provide due process for all.

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