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DOC Settles Immigration Suit

By Paul Wright

The INS (Immigration and naturalization Service) in collusion with the DOC holds deportation hearings at the Wash. Corr. Center in Shelton for so-called "criminal deportee's", these are convicted felons who have had their immigration status revoked because of felony convictions. At these "hearings" the accused is allowed counsel at his expense, which few can afford. The Seattle chapter for the national Lawyers Guild, under the direction of immigration chair Bernice Funk, has attempted to alleviate the worst aspects of this situation by providing deportees with the assistance of law students and paralegals on a volunteer basis. This is allowed under immigration law but requires the consent of the IJ (Immigration Judge). To date, IJ nail has largely rejected all such volunteer counsel for the deportee's on one ground or another, leaving them without representation.

Most of the deportee's do not speak English and are from a Hispanic, Vietnamese, Tagalog, etc., background with little knowledge of English. Several months ago the WCC Chaplain, Vern Flesnor, was fired by the DOC for attempting to inform Hispanic prisoners of their limited rights at these railroad "hearings." After being fired for his efforts Mr. Flesnor filed suit against the DCO. The DOC settled the suit out of court. In its settlement the DOC acknowledged the problems with the current system and part of its obligation under the settlement order consists of: The State endeavoring to provide actual translation of the order to show cause and notice of hearing in the prisoners primary language in a reasonable amount of time of receipt of the order and notice. The State also agreed to make an effort to inform prisoners, in their native language, of their rights and responsibilities under the Immigration Reform and Control Act, 8 CFR 242.1 (c) and 242.13. Section 242.1 (c) provides that the INS advise a deportee of the charges in the order to show cause, that any statements may be used against the deportee and that the deportee may be represented by counsel of his choice at his expense.

The whole proceeding is set up so that the government can deport the largest amount of prisoners in the shortest amount of time. With up to 10 to 20 prisoners being "processed" (e.g. deported) a day. On the outside, immigration hearings normally take several days while witnesses are heard, the deportee speaks, etc. All of this is effectively denied in the railroad hearings at Shelton.

In view of the large problems in getting counsel for these prisoners and the IJ's resistance to volunteer counsel by law students and paralegals I believe that attorneys, legal groups and concerned citizens should make an effort so that the DOC will purchase tests concerning immigration law, immigration statutes and other information that deportee's in immigration hearings need to be aware of. As it stands now, no prison law library in the state of Washington has any immigration law materials except for those that have been sent in photocopy form by attorneys. The law library at the Penitentiary refuses to make even these materials available to prisoners with detainers.

Immigration law and materials do not appear on the minimum mandatory lists for prison law libraries, which as recent lawsuits in Purdy, WSR and Shelton have shown, are not inclined to meet the bare minimum standards. As it is highly unlikely that any deportee's will be represented by counsel at the deportation hearing, their best chance is to at least have access to immigration law materials in order to read them themselves or so that other prisoners can explain it to them. The WSP law library has two books which translate common legal terminology into Spanish. Bi-lingual and Multi-lingual materials should be available in all prison law libraries. To this end, it will be necessary for organizations such as the Bar Association, Immigration projects, etc. amend their minimum required law book list for prison law libraries to include immigration law.

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