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National Immigrant Justice Center Pr Petition Appointed Counsel 2009

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National Immigrant Justice Center


Contact: Naomi Gitlin
(773) 929-1000


CHICAGO (June 30, 2009) - Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) today joined
with other immigrant and human rights groups in petitioning the U.S. Department of Justice to issue
regulations allowing immigration judges to appoint lawyers for men, women, and children in immigration
Under current U.S. law, non-citizens in immigration proceedings have a right to a lawyer, but must locate
and hire one on their own. For some individuals, including detained children and asylum seekers, hiring a
lawyer may be an impossible task.
“The Department of Justice should allow immigration judges to appoint lawyers when necessary to
ensure that individuals have a meaningful day in court, including a chance to present evidence and make
complicated legal arguments regarding their eligibility to remain in the U.S.,” said Mary Meg McCarthy,
executive director, Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC). “Failure to provide
appointed counsel for the most vulnerable immigrants facing deportation violates standards of
fundamental fairness embodied in the American concept of due process.”
According to statistics from the Executive Office for Immigration Review, individuals were represented
by counsel in only 48 percent of immigration court proceedings during fiscal year 2006. This lack of
representation has a significant effect on the outcome of immigration cases. One study found that for
detained individuals applying to become lawful permanent residents, 41 percent of those with legal
representation won their cases, compared to 21 percent of those without representation. In asylum cases,
18 percent of represented, detained persons were granted asylum, compared to only 3 percent of
unrepresented, detained persons.  
The petition also suggests that immigration judges appoint counsel in cases where it appears that the
individual facing removal might be a U.S. citizen. News media have reported numerous cases in which
Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement has detained or deported
U.S. citizens who did not have lawyers and struggled to present their case in court.
“A massive increase in the number of people facing deportation, and the growing complexity of U.S.
immigration law have made it extremely difficult for most immigrants to navigate the immigration system
without the help of a lawyer,” McCarthy said. “Giving immigration judges the power to appoint counsel
for indigent individuals is the first step toward solving this problem.”


Groups joining with NIJC in this petition include the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., National
Immigration Forum, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Post-Deportation Human Rights Project,
Center for Human Rights and International Justice at Boston College. Pro bono attorneys at Jones Day
helped draft the petition for rulemaking.
Donald Kerwin, “Revisiting the Need for Appointed Counsel, Insight (Migration Policy Institute, No. 4,
April 2005) at 6.
United States Department of Justice, Executive Office of Immigration Review, FY 2006 Statistical Year
Book G1 (2007).

About Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center:
Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center provides direct legal services to and advocates for
immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers through policy reform, impact litigation, and public education.