The U.S. immigration courts are set to temporarily discontinue a program that provided legal assistance to detained immigrants in order to check whether it is cost-effective.
The Vera Institute of Justice's Legal Orientation Program will be shut down in April, officials informed the nonprofit. In 2017, the program held 53,000 informative sessions for immigrants facing deportations in more than 12 states.
The evaluation of the program will also include Vera’s help desk, which offers tips to immigrants facing deportation proceedings in Chicago, Miami, New York, Los Angeles and San Antonio courts.
The reason for this evaluation by the government is to “conduct efficiency reviews which have not taken place in six years,” The Washington Post reported. The review will examine cost effectiveness and the program’s necessity for the court since judges are already tasked with informing detained immigrants of their rights and allowing them to hire an attorney at personal expense.
The move has been vehemently opposed by advocates that offer legal services through Vera.
“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.
The Vera Institute released a statement claiming the 2012 review already proved the program’s cost effectiveness and it saved the government almost $18 million dollars over the course of a year.
The move is likely the result of the government looking to speed up the process of deportation proceedings. Recently, quotas were imposed on immigration judges, who will have to clear at least 700 cases annually to get a satisfactory rating.
Unlike U.S. criminal courts, immigration courts do not provide underprivileged defendants government-appointed lawyers. The Vera Institute argued the practice results in 80 percent of detained immigrants going to court, proceeding without a lawyer.
According to the Executive Office for Immigration Review’s website, the program was launched in 2003 to support immigrants and move cases faster through courts.
The Vera Institute’s site states the legal aid program helps detained immigrant make better decisions during court proceedings.
“The Legal Orientation Program (LOP) educates detained immigrants about their rights and the immigration court process so that they can make informed decisions about their legal cases. Vera works with 18 nonprofit legal service providers to offer orientations about defenses against removal (deportation) and the court process, as well as to assist in the process of seeking pro bono representation,” reads the statement.
Thumbnail/Banner Credits: REUTERS/Loren Elliott