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April 25, 2018

Rep. Barragán Demands DOJ Reverse Suspension of Immigration Legal Services

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 24, 2018

 

Media Contact:

Katharine Burnham

Katharine.burnham@mail.house.gov

(202) 594-7768

 

Rep. Barragán Demands DOJ Reverse Suspension of Immigration Legal Services

DOJ’s Actions Undermine Due Process for Immigrants

 

Washington D.C.— Rep. Barragán (CA-44) led a letter signed by members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), addressed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions seeking an immediate reversal of his decision to suspend the Legal Orientation Program (LOP) and the Immigration Court Helpdesk (ICH).  Both programs have been shown to save taxpayer dollars and improve efficiencies in the court system.

 

“Legal assistance programs provide critical assistance to immigrants facing a complex and daunting legal system,” said Rep. Barragán. “Cancelling these programs is an effort to hurt immigrant communities and to undermine the legal protections of vulnerable people. Congress recently voted to fund these programs. I want to know why Attorney General Sessions is ignoring the intent of Congress.”

 

The Members state: “While you have made statements, and issued memorandums calling on immigration courts to run more effectively and alleviate immigration court backlogs, suspending the LOP program is in diametric opposition to this desired outcome,” the Members wrote. The letter highlights a 2012 study by the Justice Department, which found that in one year the LOP saved the government nearly $18 million and reduced the amount of time needed to complete immigration proceedings by nearly two weeks.

 

The Members continued: “The LOP has widespread support in Congress. In fact, Congress included a specific directive accompanying the Fiscal Year 2018 government spending bill to sustain the program at existing levels. DOJ’s decision to outright ignore this directive and suspend the LOP is alarming and raises many more questions about the motivation behind this decision.”

 

The Members agreed that the immigration court system is in need of reform but contended that suspending a cost-efficient and effective program would only worsen these issues. They closed the letter by asking for the Attorney General to respond to a series of questions about his decision to suspend the program.

 

In addition to Rep. Barragán, the following members signed the letter calling on the DOJ to reverse their short-sighted decision immediately: CHC Chair Michelle Lujan Grisham, CAPAC Chair Judy Chu, CBC Chair Cedric Richmond, Rep. Salud Carbajal, Rep. Tony Cárdenas, Rep. Joaquin Castro, Rep. J. Luis Correa, Rep. Adriano Espaillat, Rep. Ruben Gallego, Rep. Jimmy Gomez, Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, Rep., Luis V. Gutiérrez, Rep. Ben Ray Luján, Rep. Jerry McNerney, Rep. Gwen Moore, Rep. Grace F. Napolitano, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, Rep. Linda T. Sánchez, Rep. Darren Soto, Rep. Norma J. Torres, Rep. Juan Vargas, and Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez.

 

The official letter can be found here.

 

TEXT OF LETTER

 

April 24, 2018

 

The Honorable Jeff Sessions

Attorney General

U.S. Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20530-0001

 

Dear Attorney General Sessions,

 

We are deeply troubled and strongly oppose the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) recent decision to suspend and possibly terminate both the Legal Orientation Program (LOP) and the Immigration Court Helpdesk (ICH). The LOP is crucial in offering legal assistance to detained immigrants facing deportation while the ICH provides similar services to non-detained immigrants in California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas. Not only is DOJ’s decision irresponsible, it also runs contrary to Congressional intent in the Fiscal Year ‘18 Omnibus, which instructed DOJ to provide funds to “sustai[n] the current legal orientation program.” Accordingly, it is absolutely critical that DOJ reverse the abrupt decision to suspend the LOP and ICH and continue funding these programs at the levels appropriated by Congress.

 

The LOP has become an indispensable and effective tool at 38 detention facilities across the country, as it is one of the few legal service programs available to immigrants. The LOP was created 15 years ago in 2003 under President George W. Bush and provides vulnerable individuals with information on their legal rights, the U.S. immigration court system, and pro bono referrals. Immigrants are not entitled to court-appointed lawyers, often do not speak English, and are not familiar with the U.S. legal system. The Legal Orientation Program seeks to address some of these gaps by providing materials and presentations in different languages and connecting detained individuals with attorneys.

 

While you have made statements, and issued memorandums calling on immigration courts to run more effectively and alleviate immigration court backlogs, suspending the Legal Orientation Program is in diametric opposition to this desired outcome. A 2012 study by the Justice Department found that the Legal Orientation Program saved the government nearly $18 million in the most recent year reviewed and[1] reduced the amount of time needed to complete immigration proceedings by an average of 12 days.[2] Last year, over 50,000 immigrants in need of legal assistance benefited from this program. Given that the LOP yields a net savings in taxpayer dollars and expedites cases through the immigration court system, this decision appears to be an unfounded attack on an effective program that helps streamline court proceedings and ensures due process.

 

The LOP has widespread bipartisan support in Congress. In fact, Congress included a specific directive accompanying the Fiscal Year 2018 government spending bill to sustain the program at existing levels. DOJ’s decision to outright ignore this directive and suspend the Legal Orientation Program is alarming and raises many questions about the motivation behind this decision.

 

We agree that our immigration court system is in need of reform and that the current backlog should be addressed. However, suspending a cost-efficient and effective program would only worsen these issues.  We, therefore, call on the DOJ to immediately reverse these decisions and continue the critical services provided by the Legal Orientation Program and the Immigration Court Helpdesk.

 

 

In addition, we request your immediate attention and response to the following questions below:

 

  • You have stated the need for immigration judges and the courts to expedite pending immigration cases to decrease the current backlog. Given that the Legal Orientation Program has been shown to help achieve these outcomes, what prompted the Justice Department to call for a review of the program?
  • How long is the audit process expected to take for both the Legal Orientation Program and Immigrant Court Helpdesk? Who will receive the audit reports once it has been completed? Will the report be made public and will this information be presented to Congress?
  • What authority does the DOJ have to suspend the Legal Orientation Program when funds have already been appropriated and there is clear Congressional intent to continue the program?
  • Given that the LOP has existed for fifteen years and has never been suspended, what is the DOJ’s rationale for suspending the Legal Orientation Program while the audit is conducted?
  • In the DOJ’s decision to suspend the program, it is stated that the LOP may duplicate other programs within the court system. What programs has DOJ identified as possibly being duplicative?

 

We reiterate our opposition to DOJ’s decisions to suspend both the LOP and the ICH and call on DOJ to immediately reverse this short-sighted decision, and continue funding it at the level appropriated by Congress.

 

Sincerely,

 

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