Open Forum: Immigrants need lawyers to avoid lengthy detention

The most significant challenge for immigrants in removal proceedings is the fact that they are not guaranteed an attorney, even though the stakes in immigration court can be just as high as any criminal proceeding.

Op-Ed (California)

Melissa Hurtado
San Francisco Chronicle
May 28, 2019

Tags: Immigration


In 2014, a Stanford Immigrant Rights Clinic report focusing specifically on legal representation in the Bay Area highlighted the critical effect access to counsel can have on immigration proceedings. Individuals who were detained during their removal proceedings were three times more likely to obtain relief when afforded access to counsel. Despite this glaring need, the report also noted that two-thirds of detained individuals had no legal assistance during their proceedings.

In recognition of this need, California lawmakers have approved nearly $50 million in funding for legal services in our state, an important first step in addressing this issue. To date, the largest challenge has been developing organizational and training capacity to take advantage of these funds for deportation defense. We simply do not have enough organizations that qualify to receive this funding, particularly in regions like the Central Valley and the Central Coast where the need is high, but resources are low. These areas are home to the highest concentration of vulnerable immigrants and some of the most aggressive enforcement actions by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.