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New Immigration Representation Challenges Under Trump

Recently The Guardian went inside the LaSalle detention facility in Jena, Louisiana to see what immigration justice looks like after President Trump’s executive order increased enforcement against undocumented immigrants. The story Oliver Laughland tells is one where detainees picked up for minor violations appear in makeshift courtrooms before visiting judges from other jurisdictions who cycle in and out, which means there is little to no continuity from hearing to hearing as detainees may appear before a number of different judges while at LaSalle. Laughland reports that detainees at LaSalle are often hustled into court within days, which decreases the likelihood that they will have representation.

The picture he paints is one of a facility dedicated to the speedy processing of undocumented immigrants without little concern for what it says about justice in America. While the San Francisco court has an average wait time of 1,113 days before detainees will get a hearing, LaSalle’s average wait time is 46 days. “Substantially less than last year,” Laughland writes.

That speed comes at a cost, though: 

The new court … is fraught with technical flaws that make it tougher to act on behalf of clients and to ensure smooth running of the judicial process: broken fax lines make it hard to send and receive documents, teleconferencing systems often fail when a lawyer is patched in remotely, and there are chronic difficulties contacting prosecutors who have no direct phones lines at the new venue.

In two cases observed by the Guardian on Wednesday, individuals claimed to have paid their bonds days ago—meaning they should already have been released from detention—but had not had their money accepted into the system. 

If there is any consolation in all this, it’s that the increased activity hasn’t necessarily led to an increased number of removals. The number of arrests are up, but as of late April, the number of removals nationwide are on par with the last two years or even a little down.

Washington State has seen the Trump Administration get involved in the process when it challenged the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project’s ability to assist immigrants facing legal proceedings. The non-profit has worked for more than 30 years to help immigrants as necessary, whether with advice or assistance filling out documents and filing motions. On April 12, the Justice Department sent NWIRP a cease and desist letter, invoking C.F.R. 1003.17(a), arguing that NWIRP had to file a notice of appearance for each case that the organization touched, which would effectively make the the lawyer of record throughout each client’s case, swamp the organization, and exhaust its resources. The regulation was designed in 2008 to prevent predatory “notarios” from taking advantage of immigrants in need of legal help, but it had not been invoked against non-profit legal clinics like NWIRP before now. 

In an interview with justice correspondent Dahlia Lithwick, executive director Jorge Barón said that he believed the letter was politically motivated since the NWIRP was one of the organizations that filed suit to halt President Trump’s travel ban. 

“Its staff and volunteer lawyers were at SeaTac airport immediately after the White House launched the first Muslim ban, and in March it sued to block the second Muslim ban,” Rachel B. Tiven writes in The Nation.

The NWIRP filed suit against the Justice Department challenging the order, and a federal court judge ruled in the organization’s favor. That temporarily stopped the government from harassing NWIRP and other non-profits around the country that provide similar assistance to immigrants in need, but these developments serve as a reminder of the challenges immigrants and their representatives may face in the upcoming years

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