Department of Justice Freezes Legal Assistance Program for Detained Immigrants Facing Deportation

By Alfonso Serrano Apr 11, 2018

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Tuesday (April 10) announced that U.S. immigration courts will temporarily freeze a program that offers legal assistance to detained immigrants facing deportation.

The pause, reported by The Washington Post, will start this month and give federal officials time to examine the program’s cost effectiveness. The government wants to "conduct efficiency reviews which have not taken place in six years," according to officials at the Executive Office for Immigration Review in an interview with the Post.

The program, operated by nonprofit research group Vera Institute of Justice, provided legal aid to some 53,000 detained immigrants in over a dozen states in 2017.

In the wake of the Justice Department’s announcement, the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the move as an affront to due process.

"Each week, the Trump administration finds new and cruel ways to hurt immigrants," Lorella Praeli, director of the ACLU’s immigration policy, said in a statement. "The decision to indefinitely suspend the Legal Orientation Program will keep many incarcerated immigrants from understanding the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution and immigration laws."

Other critics of White House immigration policy joined the outcry, including Mary Meg McCarthy, executive director of the National Immigration Justice Center. "This is a blatant attempt by the administration to strip detained immigrants of even the pretense of due-process rights," she said.

An immigration court official who spoke to the Post anonymously said the review of the Legal Orientation Program was ordered to determine whether it mirrors other legal assistance efforts within the court system, noting, for example, that judges are already tasked with informing immigrants of their legal rights.

In an effort to fast-track deportations, the DOJ earlier this month announced production quotas that require immigration judges to clear 700 cases annually or face negative performance reviews. The National Association of Immigration Judges criticized the move as an attack on judicial independence and integrity. 

The DOJ directive comes as the White House weighs other measures to speed up deportations, including limiting protections against the immediate deportation of unaccompanied migrant children, and ending a requirement that federal officials release children from custody as their cases move through court.