McEachin, Lofgren & Gillibrand Introduce Legislation to Guarantee Legal Counsel for Vulnerable Populations During Immigration Court Proceedings

August 1, 2019
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Today, Congressman A. Donald McEachin (VA-04) introduced the Funding Attorneys for Indigent Removal (FAIR) Proceedings Act with Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (CA-19) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) to guarantee legal counsel for eligible individuals navigating the nation’s complex immigration court system. With many of the individuals currently held in the nation’s immigration detention system claiming asylum and other legal protections, the Funding Attorneys for Indigent Removal (FAIR) Proceedings Act would ensure that children, individuals with disabilities, victims of abuse, torture, and violence, and individuals at or below 200% of the federal poverty level can have an attorney during court proceedings.

“Access to an attorney during such a critical hearing should not be a privilege, certainly not for children, victims of abuse or violence, those unable to afford a lawyer, and other vulnerable populations,” said Congressman A. Donald McEachin. “As our country experiences a humanitarian crisis at our border, I am reintroducing this legislation with Chairwoman Lofgren and Senator Gillibrand to protect the due process rights of those in need and help reduce case backlog. We must do more to strengthen our immigration laws and judicial system.”

“Immigration judge Dana Leigh Marks once said that immigration proceedings are like ‘death penalty cases heard in traffic court settings.’ This is particularly true for asylum seekers, children and other vulnerable populations.  Ensuring counsel for immigrant children and particularly vulnerable individuals, as this bill provides, would help reduce the immigration court backlog, save the government money and guarantee that the due process rights of children are protected,” said Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren.

“The Trump administration has shown that it is far too willing to fast-track deportation cases even when people have credible claims to asylum. Many of these individuals – some of them unaccompanied minors – have fled life-threatening conditions in their home countries and made the dangerous journey to seek refuge in the United States, only to get trapped in a complex legal system without access to a lawyer. With hundreds of thousands of cases backlogged in our immigration courts and tens of thousands locked up in immigrant detention, it’s clear that the current process is not working,” said Senator Gillibrand. “My FAIR Proceedings Act would ensure that some of the most vulnerable individuals in this process can be represented by an attorney. This would not only guarantee a more humane way to process asylum claims and other legal protections, but it would improve the efficiency of our immigration courts and help our country do a much better job of managing our immigration system.”

The FAIR Act would:

  • Require government-guaranteed legal counsel during removal proceedings for children, individuals with disabilities, victims of abuse, torture, and violence, and those at or below 200% of the federal poverty level;
  • Require legal orientation programs for all detained individuals at immigration facilities; and
  • Authorize necessary funding for implementing these policies.

 

The bill has also been endorsed by the American Association for Justice (AAJ), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), National Immigration Justice Center (NIJC), and National Immigration Law Center (NILC).  

Full bill text can be found here.

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ContactAriana Valderrama

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