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Legal Orientation Program in Limbo, Putting Thousands of Immigrants at Risk for Deportation

statue-of-liberty-164294_1280In a serious blow to immigrants facing deportation without legal representation, the U.S. Justice Department has issued an indefinite suspension on the Legal Orientation Program (LOP), effective April 30, in an effort to assess the program’s effectiveness. The LOP provides immigrants facing deportation with basic legal education, helping them make informed decisions throughout the deportation proceedings, the better to ensure that due process is observed. Judges, immigration attorneys, and even Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have praised the program, claiming that it has saved taxpayer money by expediting the court process.

While immigrants are entitled to an attorney to represent them as they go through the immigration court proceedings, the government is not required to provide lawyers to those who cannot afford them. In fact, according to a recent report by Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), an independent and nonpartisan research organization at Syracuse University, the vast majority of Texas immigrants went through their deportation proceedings without legal representation.

In the absence of an attorney, the next best thing immigrants have is the LOP.

According to a study by the Justice Department, on average, immigrants who avail of the LOP complete their court process 12 days earlier than those who do not. While the program costs $8 million a year to run, it could also save over $17 million in detention costs, hence its support from ICE officials.

In fact, according Melissa Lopez, executive director of El Paso’s Diocesan and Migrant Refugee Services, an organization that provides LOP services at detention facilities in West Texas and New Mexico, in the 10 years that she has been involved with the LOP, she has identified several U.S. citizens who had no idea they were citizens at all. Had it not been for the LOP, they would have been deported from the country.

The LOP’s impending cancellation comes at a time of increased anti-immigration rhetoric. The Trump administration has, in recent months, introduced several other changes to U.S. immigration policy. Most notably, President Trump rescinded the Obama executive order creating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an immigration program that grants temporary relief from deportation to undocumented immigrants who entered the country as children.

Several changes were also made to practices surrounding immigration proceedings.

  • Now, immigrant parents and children are placed in separate detention centers, which are often located in different states.
  • Those who come to the border seeking asylum are no longer guaranteed regular hearings while they wait in custody for months.
  • Addressing a backlog of over 700,000 pending cases in federal immigration courts, the Justice Department set an annual quota for immigration judges, requiring each one to handle at least 700 cases a year. The move has come under intense criticism, with legal professionals calling the quota an attempt to turn the courts into one big deportation machine.

If you, or a loved one, need any kind of assistance on your immigration case, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the legal team of the Lyttle Law Firm. Call our offices today to schedule a consultation with immigration attorney DaniellaLyttle.