Justice Dept. to halt legal-advice program for immigrants in detention
The U.S. immigration courts will temporarily halt a program that offers legal assistance to detained foreign nationals facing deportation while it audits the program’s cost-effectiveness, a federal official said Tuesday.
Officials informed the Vera Institute of Justice that starting this month it will pause the nonprofit’s Legal Orientation Program, which last year held information sessions for 53,000 immigrants in more than a dozen states, including California and Texas.
The federal government will also evaluate Vera’s “help desk,” which offers tips to non-detained immigrants facing deportation proceedings in the Chicago, Miami, New York, Los Angeles and San Antonio courts.
The Executive Office for Immigration Review, which runs the Justice Department’s immigration courts, said the government wants to “conduct efficiency reviews which have not taken place in six years.” An immigration court official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the audit has not been formally announced, said the review will examine the cost-effectiveness of the federally funded programs and whether they duplicate efforts within the court system. He noted, for example, that immigration judges are already required to inform immigrants of their rights before a hearing, including their right to find a lawyer at their own expense.
But advocates said the programs administered by Vera and a network of 18 other nonprofits are a legal lifeline for undocumented immigrants.
“This is a blatant attempt by the administration to strip detained immigrants of even the pretense of due-process rights,” said Mary Meg McCarthy, executive director of the National Immigrant Justice Center, one of the organizations that offers the legal services with Vera.
In a statement, the Vera Institute said a 2012 study by the Justice Department concluded that the program was “a cost-effective and efficient way to promote due process” that saved the government nearly $18 million over one year.
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