More States, Cities Offer Legal Aid in Immigration Courts

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Because immigration proceedings are civil rather than criminal, participants don’t have a right to a lawyer. Having one is a huge advantage for immigrants seeking to stay here, so as the Trump’s administration tightens enforcement of immigration laws, some cities and states are providing free legal assistance to immigrants facing deportation, reports Stateline. Many immigrants in immigration court are seeking asylum, fearing that if they are returned home, their lives will be imperiled. Increasingly, immigrants seeking asylum are trying to navigate the complexities of the immigration court system without representation, from 13 percent of asylum seekers in 2007 to 20 percent in 2016, according to the TRAC Immigration Project at Syracuse University. Just 37 percent of immigrants facing deportation have legal representation, according to a 2015 study in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review.

Detained immigrants with legal representation were 10.5 times more likely to succeed in immigration court if they had a lawyer representing their case. And 91 percent of immigrants seeking asylum without a lawyer end up having their cases denied. With representation, asylum seekers have a five times greater chance of winning their case. In April, New York became the first state to guarantee legal representation to every noncitizen detained by immigration officials, allocating $10 million for an immigrant defense fund. In June, California Gov. Jerry Brown earmarked $15 million to provide assistance to noncitizens seeking legal immigration status. In the past year, Austin, Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C., are among the cities offering free legal aid to immigrants in danger of being deported.

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