Immigrant Legal Aid Program Suspended During Review

The Justice Department plans to suspend a legal aid program designed to educate detained immigrants on their rights in order to review the program. While some federal officials previously praised the Legal Orientation Program (LOP), which came into existence in 2003, others doubt the program’s effectiveness.

According to The Washington Post, LOP “was created to ensure that immigrants know their rights and legal options in court.” The program, which serves 50,000 immigrants each year, shows “attendees are positioned to make better informed decisions, are more likely to obtain legal representation, and complete their cases faster” than those detainees who don’t participate in the program.

Advocates in favor of keeping the program describe LOP as an important tool for those facing deportation because, unlike defendants in the criminal courts, immigrant detainees aren’t entitled to government-appointed lawyers. Furthermore, the advocates say, an estimated 8 out of 10 immigrant detainees face court proceedings without representation. For many of these detainees, the “$8 million-a-year program is often the only assistance they receive outside of court.” What’s more, the program operates as a cost effective tool in that it “saves the government millions of dollars in detention costs a year by explaining options to immigrants in English and Spanish and helping them avoid unnecessary delays in processing their cases. Some are released on bond, while others opt to return home.”

Andrew Arthur, a former immigration judge who now sits as a fellow at the conservative-leaning Center for Immigration Studies, views the pause in the legal assistance program as a good move. “I think it’s definitely something that should be audited by the Department of Justice to determine whether it’s cost-effective or whether the money would be better spent on something else.”

However, San Francisco-based immigration judge Dana Leigh Marks holds the opposite point of view. Marks, who also acts as spokeswoman for the National Association of Immigration Judges calls LOP “highly valuable” and favors keeping the program operational during the audit.