In an another attack against legal immigration, on April 18th, 2018 Department of Justice announced the end of the Legal Orientation Program, which is offered through the Vera Institute of Justice. The program gives legal council to detained immigrants, providing guidance during a difficult time.
At a hearing yesterday with Senate appropriators, Attorney General Sessions acknowledged Congressional backlash against announcement of the end of the Legal Orientation Program. The Legal Orientation Program (LOP) program will continue for now.
This falls on the heels of the Justice Department stating they want to cut backlog by placing a quota on judges who hear immigration cases. Judges are now required to hear seven hundred cases per year, which is slightly more than the average. While some judges hear more than a thousand cases per year, many people have complicated cases, hosting a variety of different moving parts, resulting often in longer trial processes.
This quota results in judges having to explain all of the legal options to immigrants, resulting in slower trial processes, which neither helps the backlog of cases, nor allows judges to meet their quotas. Ending the Legal Orientation Program would deepen the backlog further.
This unfortunately will result in confusion on behalf of immigrants who will not receive a fair trial due to a lack of understanding of their options, as well as further delay within the courts.
Judge Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, is quoted saying regarding this issue, “The overwhelming majority of the judges that are presiding over cases in those detention facilities have told us that [Legal Orientation Program] has been a very effective tool in making sure the cases are handled in a fair manner and that there is due process for the immigrant.”
Both Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), as well as the Department of Justice have determined the Legal Orientation Program is a cost effective way to explain immigration precedent and the trial process and options to immigrants, as well as reduced overall time spent in court.
By rushing the process and requiring more cases to be heard, appeals will be increase as well as cases heard by immigrants who can afford legal council, resulting in further back log.
Pratheepan Gulasekaram, who teaches immigration law at Santa Clara University, has a number of suggestions to cut the backlog while also providing further council. “If they want to actually solve the problem, they would be increasing the resources available to non-citizens in removal and detention, not cutting out programs. They could, for example, implement more rational, common sense, and humane enforcement tactics, rather than their current policy of reckless hyper-enforcement that place more people in the backlog with no discernible public safety benefits.”
The solution is to both hire more judges and to keep the Legal Orientation Program in place. This would cut the number of cases in backlog. The drawback is hiring judges who may be anti immigrant, resulting in further appeals by those who believe they have received an unfair trial.
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