Report: Immigrants Represented Badly or Not At All in Court

Illegal immigrants who become involved in the U.S. justice system often suffer from a lack of legal representation and bad lawyering, according to a study group convened by Judge Robert A. Katzmann of the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

According to the group’s recently released report, 60 percent of immigrants detained in New York City between 2010 and 2011 did not have legal representation at the conclusion of their court proceedings, and 27 percent of nondetained illegal immigrants did not have a lawyer at the time their cases ended.

These statistics are significant given that 18 percent of detained immigrants who have legal counsel ultimately have a successful resolution to their case, versus only 3 percent of detained immigrants who do not have counsel. The difference is even starker for illegal immigrants who are not detained: 74 percent have successful outcomes if a lawyer is involved, while only 13 percent of those without representation in court receive a favorable ruling.

According to the report, the problem of illegal immigrants lacking representation has been compounded by the practice of transferring detainees to locations where it is difficult to engage the services of a qualified attorney. Even immigrants transported to detention centers in nearby Newark, New Jersey, had a notably lower level of representation (22 percent) than immigrants held in New York City (40 percent).

The study group also polled New York immigration judges, who criticized the quality of representation in immigration cases. A third of legal representatives in immigration cases perform inadequately, the judges said, and they said an additional 14 percent of lawyers in these cases are “grossly inadequate.”

Reporting on the study group’s findings, The New York Times pointed out that the Obama administration pledged in 2009 to pursue immigration reform policies that would allow more immigrants to be detained within close proximity to legal counsel. Despite this, a detention center in Lower Manhattan was recently closed, while capacity is being doubled at a facility in Newark.