City Bar Praises Senate Immigration Reform Bill for Right to Counsel, Due Process and Detention Advances and Urges Further Steps

In two letters to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, dated April 24th, the New York City Bar Association, through its Committee on Immigration and Nationality Law, applauds the April 16 introduction of the immigration reform bill, the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” (S.744).  The City Bar also urges the Senate to take further steps to provide the right to counsel to all indigents in removal proceedings and reduce over-detention of immigrants. In one letter, the City Bar applauds S.744 as a “strong and serious step forward” in providing, for the first time, appointed counsel in immigration proceedings—to children, the mentally ill, and the “particularly vulnerable.”  The letter urges the Senate to go further and provide counsel to any indigent non-citizen facing deportation, especially those jailed in detention during proceedings. A recent poll shows that 76 percent of Americans, including 87 percent of Democrats and 67 percent of Republicans, support the provision of legal counsel in deportation proceedings. “Without a lawyer, individuals (who also face language and cultural barriers) are unlikely to even know what facts will help them make their case, let alone argue it,” the letter states.  Moreover, the letter states that appointing counsel reflects American values of fairness and due process when high stakes or jail are on the line, regardless of the defendant’s identity:  “[T]here is no citizenship test for counsel in America.” Additionally, appointed counsel would save—not cost—taxpayer dollars. The letter cites a study, co-authored by Immigration and Nationality Law Committee Chair Lenni Benson, supporting that counsel would prevent unnecessary court proceedings, reduce the time non-citizens spend in detention, and reduce the need for government support to disrupted families. In the other letter, the City Bar also applauds the steps S. 744 takes to reduce costly, cruel, and unnecessary over-detention of non-citizens.  In 2011, a record 429,247 individuals were detained—more than in any federal or state prison system—at a cost to taxpayers of $2 billion. The bill revises mandatory detention into mandatory “custody,” encourages alternatives such as tracking bracelets and community-based supervision, provides important due process protections such as timely bond hearings, and requires more oversight and transparency for detention facilities. The City Bar urges the Senate to take further steps to reduce over-detention. Specifically, the letter calls for Congress to repeal entirely mandatory detention and custody, and provide “individualized judge review of each custody decision, with specific, transparent criteria and no artificial minimum bond amount….There is no reason why immigration judges cannot determine flight or public safety risk as judges do every day in criminal courts.”  The letter also urges Congress to repeal the “bed quota,” requiring detention of 34,000 at any one time regardless of risk, to require lawyer review of complex DHS detention decisions, and to give American Bar Association model Civil Immigration Detention Standards the full force of law. The letters can be read at the following links: