Department of Justice Rescinds Plan to Halt Legal Aid for Immigrants Facing Deportation

By Alfonso Serrano Apr 26, 2018

After receiving bipartisan pushback, Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday (April 25) reversed a decision to freeze a U.S. immigration court program that offers legal assistance to detained immigrants facing deportation.

Earlier this month, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a temporary pause to the Legal Orientation Program (LOP), which last year provided legal aid to roughly 53,000 detained immigrants in more than a dozen states. The DOJ said it needed time to examine the program’s efficiency.

However, after bipartisan objection from the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Sessions announced that the program, which is run by the nonprofit Vera Institute of Justice, will continue to serve immigrants.

"I have previously expressed some concerns about the program," Sessions told The Washington Post. "I recognize that this committee has spoken on this matter, and, out of deference to the committee, I have ordered that there be no pause while the review is being conducted."

Launched in 2003 by the George W. Bush administration, the LOP provides probono legal services to immigrants in 38 detention centers across the country, according to Vera. The organization advises immigrants, 84 percent of whom don’t have legal representation, about their rights and how to navigate the immigration court system. 

"We thank members of Congress and supporters nationwide who spoke up about the importance of this program," Vera officials said in a statement. “LOP provides information about immigration court and procedure that is both fundamental to hundreds of thousands of individuals in immigration detention, and to the effective functioning of the immigration courts."

There are more than 650,000 pending cases in U.S. immigration courts, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

On Wednesday, immigration advocate praised Sessions’ decision to continue the legal assistance program, but warned that LOP could face future trouble.

"While this is wonderful news today, we worry that we will be facing the same situation in the future if the DOJ’s audit does not support the continuation of the program," Kate Vickery, executive director of the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative, said in a statement published by The Texas Tribune. "As a community, we need to recognize the importance of supporting programs that provide due process and information for immigrants facing deportation."