U.S. Administration Halts Legal Advice Program for Illegal Immigrants
The Legal Orientation Program (LOP), run by non-profits aligned with the Justice Department in the United States, has been temporarily stopped.
The United States Justice Department is temporarily halting a program that offered legal assistance to detained foreign nationals facing deportation, pending an audit to check its cost-effectiveness, the Washington Post reported. The legal program will be stopped from April 30, the publication reported, citing a federal official.
The Legal Orientation Program is offered by the Justice Department in association with Vera Institute of Justice and the National Immigrant Justice Center.
The Vera Institute of Justice is a non-profit organization providing the Legal Orientation Program (LOP) to immigrants who are detained, and has a help desk that provides information to those who are not detained but face deportation. The institute advised 53,000 immigrants in more than a dozen states in the United States in 2017 alone.
The Executive Office for Immigration Review said that the government wants to “conduct efficiency reviews which have not taken place in six years.” The review will examine the cost-effectiveness of the federally funded programs and whether they duplicate efforts within the court system, the Washington Post quoted an immigration official as saying. Immigration judges already inform immigrants their rights before a hearing, according to the official.
The Vera Institute of Justice said in a statement that the program was created in 2003 under President George W. Bush and “is a lifeline for many immigrants, refugees, asylum-seekers, and green-card holders — some who are fighting for their lives — who would otherwise not know the rights they have or the odds they face.”
The Department of Justice concluded in a 2012 study that the program created a net savings of nearly $18 million for the government, which meant that every $1 the government spent on LOP saved $4. This is why LOP has had strong support in Congress, which maintained its full funding in FY 2018.
The decision to halt the program has received backlash from the National Immigrant Justice Center.
“This is a blatant attempt by the administration to strip detained immigrants of even the pretense of due-process rights,” Mary Meg McCarthy, executive director of the National Immigrant Justice Center, said, according to the report.
More than 20,000 Indians are estimated to be living in the United States illegally, many of whom have been enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program or are eligible for it. While immigration officers used to have discretion over whose cases to expedite, they are currently said to be processing removal orders for all illegal immigrants even if they have no criminal record.
For instance, an Indian deli owner in New York was reportedly taken into custody and faces deportation despite being married to a U.S. national. Bhavesh ‘Bobby’ Bhatt had no criminal records and had gone for an annual meeting with an immigration official when he was held, according to reports.