Rights groups decry DOJ plan to ‘end’ immigrant help programmes

The DOJ plans to temporarily defund two programmes that help 53,000 immigrants in US courts every year.

Undocumented immigrants recently released from detention through "catch and release" immigration policy wait in line for a pizza dinner at the Catholic Charities relief center in McAllen
Trump initiated a crackdown on undocumented immigrants after assuming office in January 2017 [Loren Elliott/Reuters]

The US Department of Justice announced the temporary end of funding for two programmes designed to assist undocumented immigrants in immigration courts and detention centres.

The decision was confirmed on Tuesday by officials from the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit that advocates for immigrants and implemented the two DOJ-funded programmes: The Legal Orientation Program (LOP) and the Immigration Court Helpdesk.

Vera works with a national network of legal service providers throughout the US to provide undocumented immigrants and their families with access to the help desk and LOP programmes.

The “LOP is a lifeline for the more than 40,000 immigrants who face complex deportation proceedings from remote detention facilities every day”, Mary Meg McCarthy, executive director of the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), which works alongside Vera to administer the programmes, said in a statement.

The statement added that the programmes jointly assist “53,000 immigrants per year”, mostly in immigration courts.


The US has suffered from a backlog in immigration court cases for years. 

The US Government Accountability Office released a report in June 2017 that found a twofold increase in the immigration court case backlog from fiscal years 2006 to 2015.

Cases rose 30,000 during the first two months of the fiscal year 2018, which begins in October, to almost 660,000 according to a count of case records conducted by Syracuse University.

The DOJ announced on April 2 it will begin evaluating immigration court judges based on how many cases they close and how fast they close them, effectively enacting a quota system.

McCarthy called the quota system “unreasonable”.

Due Process

US President Donald Trump initiated a crackdown on undocumented immigrants after assuming office in January 2017.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has conducted deportation raids that have increased “internal removals”. 

“These actions are an affront to basic principles of due process and equal access to justice,” Rebecca Lightsey, executive director of American Gateways (AG), an immigrant advocacy group, said in a statement sent to Al Jazeera.

AG is the LOP provider to three immigrant detention centres in central-south Texas and is the help desk service provider to the San Antonio Immigration Court. 

“The LOP and ICH programs insured that our team of attorneys and legal professionals were on the ground, providing basic services for thousands of the most vulnerable in our community,” including asylum seekers and survivors of human trafficking, Lightsey continued.

The government wants to conduct efficiency reviews, which they claim have not taken place for six years, the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which runs the DOJ’s immigration courts, told the Washington Post.

Still, Lightsey said AG “will not be deterred. In the coming hours, days, and weeks we will be working to respond to this challenge and continue the fight for immigrant justice.”

Source: Al Jazeera