Pro Bono Attorneys Urge Vice President to Facilitate Counsel for Immigrants

Last month, Vice President Joe Biden called on the private legal community to do more to help recent immigrants—both families and unaccompanied children—who recently crossed the Southern border. The Vice President is correct that law firms and bar associations—along with their nonprofit partners—can play an essential role in addressing this crisis, and many are eager to help. But government policies are restricting their ability to do so.

Last week, Steven Schulman, the president of the Association of Pro Bono Counsel (APBCo), wrote a letter to the Vice President on behalf of his organization and several leading legal service organizations. They urged him to address the barriers to counsel that prevent them from fully taking up his call to action.

The recommendations included:

  • Prioritizing funding for counsel and Legal Orientation Presentations for recent immigrants
  • Allowing attorneys enough time to gather necessary evidence for their cases and eliminating “rocket dockets”
  • Supporting access to counsel in credible fear screenings
  • Revising detention policies that impede access to counsel, such as detaining families in remote facilities and denying bond
  • Championing full funding for the immigration courts and the asylum office to combat existing backlogs

The administration needs to do more than ask the legal community for help— it should make sure administration policies and practices aren’t standing in the way. Human Rights First, who also signed APBCo’s letter, urges the Vice President to back his statements with concrete actions that address the impediments to due process and access to counsel.

Other signatories included APBCo’s Board of Directors from top law firms, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC), Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), and the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC).

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Published on September 30, 2014

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