In our continued efforts to improve the immigration courts, Chicago Appleseed, engages with and supports legal organizations nationwide concerned with improving outcomes in the immigration courts. As immigration law and immigration policy take on a new urgency, many attorneys find themselves wanting to help.
The Chicago Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the National Immigrant Justice Center are working in conjunction with Chicago Volunteer Legal Services to train attorneys for limited scope representation to handle immigration bond hearings in the Chicago Immigration Courts.
The project connects volunteer attorneys with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees for the limited purpose of representing the immigrant in a bond hearing. The project also connects volunteer attorneys with arriving aliens for the limited purpose of requesting parole. AILA and NIJC screen the cases for issues which disqualify the detainee from bond. The next training for attorneys interested in volunteering with the project will be held at CVLS in Chicago on Thursday, March 9, 2017 from 12:15 to 1:20pm.
Currently over 500,000 cases are pending in our immigration courts nationwide. Immigrants with counsel are at least twice as likely to be successful in in removal proceedings as those without. California and Texas each have more than 90,000 cases, with New York close behind at roughly 72,000. The 23,714 pending cases in Illinois seems modest in comparison but still represents an enormous need. Cases where immigrants have representation are also more efficient and result in shorter detention periods and correct legal outcomes. Nonetheless, less than 40% of all immigrants facing removal have legal representation and a mere 14% of immigrants in detention will get counsel.
Bond hearings present an excellent point of entry for pro bono limited appearance representation. Release on bond leaves an immigrant more able to seek legal counsel or other assistance in preparing for the removal proceedings. Release on bond can provide grounds for moving the hearing to a court closer to the immigrant’s home and family. In some cases, release on bond leaves an immigrant and their family better able to prepare for removal.
The benefits of counsel are well-documented: immigrants with counsel are at least twice as likely to be successful as those without. Only 14% of immigrants held in detention are represented in their removal proceedings, compared to 66% of persons who are not. Likewise, immigrants released from detention prior to removal hearings have better outcomes than those in detention until their removal proceedings.
A focus on reducing pre-removal detention can improve outcomes, while creating efficiency in the courts and reducing costs or harms in detention facilities.
The reality of immigration detention makes preparing for removal proceedings very challenging for both represented and unrepresented immigrants. Immigrants are generally detained in a regional facility far from home or in “rural areas where few immigration attorneys practice.” The distance makes it difficult for families to assist the immigrant with finding an attorney or with preparing the case without an attorney. Non-detained immigrants are almost five times more likely to find an attorney than those in detention.
Additionally, Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities rarely have translation services or adequate private space for attorneys to confer with clients. If an attorney can travel to detention, the attorney may still not be able to properly interview a client. When an immigrant is released on bond prior to removal, many barriers to representation are eased.
Bond is available for a well-identified set of detainees , and the initial amount is set by ICE. However, the amount of bond is ultimately left to the court’s discretion with a minimum $1500 bond and the option of a recognizance bond. An immigrant freed on bond can return home and may then request the case be transferred to the closest immigration court. Bond hearings happen upon request. Bond hearings are not available to immigrants with criminal histories nor to asylum seekers. Bond hearings generally happen very quickly after request. Like many immigration proceedings, the hearings can take place remotely over the telephone or via video teleconferencing. Being released on bond dramatically improves the immigrant’s ability to prepare for deportation proceedings. Unsurprisingly, immigrants in detention have the lowest rates of representation, only about 14% compared to 75% for nondetained immigrants in removal proceedings. Additionally, bond proceedings are not recorded and bond decisions are generally unwritten. In the case of an appeal, a represented detainee has significant advantages over an unrepresented one, in part because the record on appeal is constructed of the judge’s notes.
Providing legal representation at bond hearings has a positive impact on the entire case. Representation both increases the likelihood that a detainee will be granted a bond hearing and that the detainee will be released on bond. In 2016, fully two out of every three (68%) detainees released on bond were found not to be deportable. This is a higher success rate than over all in immigration proceedings, where it is roughly 54% of persons found not deportable. Release on bond prior to removal proceedings is the correct, good outcome.
There are over 500,000 undocumented immigrants in Illinois, with nearly two-thirds of that number in Cook County. As of 2014 there were only approximately 144 legal aid staff, including attorneys, Board of Immigration Appeals representatives, and paralegals statewide. In 2010, for every non-profit providing legal aid to immigrants in Illinois, there were 13,462 immigrants. Despite the high quality work that many legal aid providers in the city offer, there remains a significant shortage of representation, and this shortage is particularly high for detained immigrants.
According to recent data, between February 1, 2010 and January 31, 2015 only approximately 21% of detained immigrants before the immigration court in Chicago had representation. In contrast, 55% of similar immigrants who were never detained had counsel. A mere 7% of immigrants who were detained throughout their proceedings prevailed. The other 93% received deportation or voluntary departure. Detained immigrants with representation were almost eight times more likely to prevail in their cases than detained immigrants without representation.
If you are interested in helping, the Chicago Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the National Immigrant Justice Center run a pro bono program in limited scope representation for immigration bond hearings in the Chicago immigration courts.
The project connects volunteer attorneys with ICE detainees for the limited purpose of representing the immigrant in a bond hearing. AILA and NIJC screen the cases for issues which disqualify the detainee from bond and then list appropriate cases on an email list. Once a case is placed with a volunteer attorney, the volunteer will interview the detainee, request a bond hearing and appear at the bond hearing (either at the court in Chicago or via telephone/videoteleconference).
Interviewing the detainee is also usually accomplished on the phone. Attorneys will also speak with family or friends. Attorneys are expected to do this within 48 hours of taking the case. Preparing for the hearing includes reviewing documents, discussing what the family can afford for bond, and gathering letters of support. The attorney should try to establish that the immigrant is neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community. After the hearing, the attorney will instruct the client and the family about what happens next (i.e., how to pay bond, how to update the immigrant’s address with the court, the necessity of appearing at future hearings and how to find an attorney). Finally, the attorney reports the results to the pro bono coordinators and is released from the case.
The project also connects volunteer attorneys with arriving aliens for the limited purpose of requesting parole.
Chicago Appleseed is a member of the Appleseed Network Immigration Coalition which has been engaged in immigration court reform for more than a decade. The Coalition, assisted by Latham & Watkins and Akin Gump, spearheaded a comprehensive evaluation of the United States’ immigration court system. This effort also produced two in-depth reports, congressional testimony, and the Executive Office for Immigration Review‘s adoption of crucial reforms. The first report, Assembly Line Injustice, is based on interviews with experts who have actual day-to-day experience in immigration courts. The second report, Reimagining the Immigration Court Assembly Line, scores the Court’s response to recommendations in the first report. Most recently, we have created and distributed a manual, Getting Off the Assembly Line: Overcoming Immigration Court Obstacles in Individual Cases, on deportation issues for immigration attorneys.