Advocating for the Cause of Those Who Cannot Assert Their Own Fundamental Rights

Claiming Immigrants Right for Access to a Counsel in Immigration Court

Noncitizens in immigration court do not have the right to government-appointed counsel. The lack of legal representation has a profound impact on immigrants’ outcomes in removal proceedings.

While immigration laws and regulations provide some avenues to apply for lawful status from within the U.S. or to seek relief from deportation, eligibility requirements for these benefits and relief can be stringent, and the immigration agencies often adopt overly restrictive interpretations of the requirements which always impair the ability of non-represented immigrant cases sold out in negative outcomes.   We've learned a lot from the past litigations and evidence has shown that thousands of individuals and families have been deported because they could not afford the services of a private lawyer to assist them to assert their fundamental rights and benefits. This observation alone constitutes the DNA of the Mission promoted by Orpe Human Rights Advocates. It is in this context, OHRA has taken action by putting in place a removal defense program destined to assist low-income immigrants facing removal proceedings.

In addition, studies show that it has long been the case that immigrants have a right to counsel in immigration court, but that expense has generally been borne by the noncitizen. Because deportation is classified as a civil rather than a criminal sanction, immigrants facing removal are not afforded the constitutional protections under the Sixth Amendment that are provided to criminal defendants. Whereas in the criminal justice system, all defendants facing even one day in jail are provided an attorney if they cannot afford one, immigrants facing deportation generally do not have that opportunity. Detained immigrants, particularly those held in remote locations, face the additional obstacle of accessing counsel from behind bars. Yet, in every immigration case, the government is represented by a trained attorney who can argue for deportation, regardless of whether the immigrant is represented. It's clear that the lack of appointed counsel has a profound impact on immigrants’ ability to receive a fair hearing. Research has shown the importance of counsel for asylum seekers, and regional studies have highlighted the important role attorneys play for immigrants navigating immigration courts. This confirms the reason why Orpe Human Rights Advocates has implemented a platform of pro bono counsel to assist genuine immigrants with genuine cases and facing deportation challenges before the ICE.