In 2008, the U.S. immigration system was in crisis – and the American Bar Association responded. As federal courts became clogged with immigration appeals, the ABA created the Immigration Justice Project in San Diego. A decade later, the project continues to promote due process and access to justice at every level of the immigration system.
Each year the IJP’s Legal Orientation Program helps approximately 3,500 detained immigrants who are fleeing violence in their home countries to understand their legal rights in court. The project’s National Qualified Representative Program provides appointed legal counsel for detained immigrants who are mentally incompetent to represent themselves. And IJP recruits, trains and mentors volunteer attorneys and law students to represent clients in the San Diego area.
At the project’s recent 10th anniversary celebration, Ahilan Arulanantham, senior counsel at the ACLU of Southern California, encouraged lawyers to fight to ensure that immigrants are not detained and deported without legal representation and due process. He decried the “system of imprisonment without trial, built on the legal fiction that immigration detention is civil, not criminal.”
“Punishment that results in even one day’s incarceration cannot be imposed without counsel,” Arulanantham said. “But the government recognizes almost no right to appointed counsel in deportation cases – even in asylum cases, cases involving long-time lawful residents or cases involving children.”
ABA President Bob Carlson praised the staff and volunteers who have made IJP a success. “The American Bar Association is proud of its immigration work, and the Immigration Justice Project is the crown jewel,” he said.