Ensure legal fairness: Detained immigrants deserve representation

U.S. courts are supposed to be guided by fairness with due process for all. But in deportation hearings in Pennsylvania and throughout the country, detained immigrants are currently not guaranteed legal representation, leaving many alone in facing government attorneys.

Editorial (Pennsylvania)

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
October 10, 2019

Tags: Immigration

Organizations mentioned/involved: Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic (CIRC)


A recently published report from the Penn State Law Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic recommended the creation of a free public defender style system that would provide lawyers to detained immigrants facing deportation. While the Sixth Amendment guarantees an individual’s right to counsel in criminal proceedings, immigration cases are heard in civil court, where the Sixth Amendment right does not apply.

Migrants involved in such cases are allowed to find and pay for an attorney on their own. But for those who work low-wage jobs, lack a basic understanding of American legal proceedings or struggle to speak English, this option is no option.

The study’s review of more than 3,600 Pennsylvania cases revealed that 77% of detainees had no lawyer. The problem extends far beyond the commonwealth. There are more than 300,000 pending cases nationwide in which immigrants are unrepresented, according to Syracuse University’s Transaction Records Access Clearing House. This leaves hundreds of thousands of immigrants, even children, to defend their status in the U.S. against trained government attorneys.