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Foster, Deutch Introduce Legislation To Protect Legal Rights For Immigrant Detainees

Jan 16, 2014
Press Release
Foster, Deutch Immigrant Detainee Legal Rights Act Would Protect Legal Rights For Immigrants, Streamline Court Process, Save Federal Dollars

Washington, DC -- Today, Congressmen Bill Foster (IL-11) and Ted Deutch (FL-21) introduced the Immigrant Detainee Legal Rights Act.  The legislation would protect access to basic legal rights for immigrants placed in detention.  It would also streamline inefficient and ineffective court processes, saving taxpayers money.

A copy of the bill is available here.

Every day, thousands of immigrants are placed into detention without full knowledge of why they are being held, what their rights are, or how immigration courts work. There is no requirement for detention centers or jails that house immigration detainees to provide immigrants with this information. When immigrants are taken to court without a legal orientation, judges often delay their proceedings, wasting time and taxpayer dollars. This legislation would require detention centers to provide information on legal rights in the most commonly used languages.

“Far too often immigrants are taken into court with no understanding of why they are there or what is happening,” said Foster. “Not only is this an egregious violation of a person’s most basic rights, it is a waste of time and taxpayer dollars when courts are not able to proceed.  Providing information on legal rights is fundamental to our Democracy and should not be optional.”

“Keeping immigrants in the dark about their legal rights increases the burden on our backlogged immigration courts and leads to longer stays in detention centers that are already hugely expensive to taxpayers,” said Deutch. “It makes no sense that immigrant detainees have certain rights guaranteed under U.S. law and yet there is no mandate for detention centers to actually inform individuals of those rights. The Immigrant Detainee Legal Rights Act will ensure that immigrants receive a basic overview of their legal rights from the moment they are detained.”

Joining Deutch and Foster as original cosponsors are Representatives Rush Holt (NJ-12), Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), Mike Quigley (IL-5), Jan Schakowsky (IL-9), Paul Tonko (NY-21) and Marc Veasey (TX-33).

Currently, only twenty-five detention centers or jails that house immigrant detainees provide legal orientation programs, or LOPs. According to the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), for every $2 million we invest in LOPs, we save $20 million due to expedited court proceedings and better coordination of legal services.

The legislation would require the U.S. Attorney General, with the assistance of non-governmental organizations, to develop and deploy a plan to have an operational LOP in every detention center and jail that houses immigrants within a year of enactment. It also requires this orientation and a legal notice of rights to be available in English and the five most common languages of detainees held at that facility in the previous year.  This will enable immigrants to gain a better understanding of why they’ve been placed in detention and their legal rights. It will also improve our immigration court system because immigrants will be aware of their legal rights before they go to court.

Additionally, this legislation will save taxpayers time and money by streamlining an inefficient court system. Our immigration court system is backlogged and overburdened, due in part to the lack of legal orientation programs (LOPs) provided to immigrants in detention.

According to the Vera Institute of Justice, which administers the LOPs that currently operate in twenty-five detention facilities, immigrants who have participated in an LOP have immigration court case processing that are 13 days shorter on average than cases for detained immigrants who did not receive an LOP. In addition, LOP participants are more likely to be able to identify the relief for which they are eligible, not pursue relief for which they are ineligible, and to have a better understand of the immigration court process, all of which help to improve court efficiencies and save money.