According to a report that has been approved by the house of delegates of the
this weekend, and released on Tuesday, there is a statewide shortage of qualified
.The report suggested remedial steps to ensure the proper representation of immigrants, and in particular of those who fell into the low-income bracket. The report also recommended legal representation in deportation proceedings.
Joanna Macri, the co-chair of the bar’s Special Committee on Immigration Representation said in an interview that the stakes are too high in the issue. The committee held that changes to the federal immigration law made in the 1990s had escalated the penalties for violation of immigration law and in turn they have multiplied the woes in adequate legal representation.
The report observed, “The representation crisis is dire because of the dramatic escalation in immigration enforcement and corresponding exponential increases in detentions, and expulsions of
from the United States.”
Immigrant representation requires special consideration, because, unlike normal residents accused of criminal offenses, immigrants facing deportation hearings do not have counsel guaranteed by the government. They have to pay for representation, or rely on
pro bono counsel
, and in some cases non-lawyers simply because they are unable to understand what’s going on. This makes them easy target for fraudsters who charge exorbitant legal fees for representation and legal aid.
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The report further observed, “Although this Special Committee ... has proposed solutions to improve both the quality and quantity of immigration representation in New York State, we recognize that our Sisyphus-like efforts are unlikely to yield significant results unless there is legislative reform and a statutory right to counsel in immigration proceedings.”
The report recommended setting new minimum standards of representation both for attorneys and non-attorneys. It also recommended that those representing immigrants in deportation hearings undergo a certain amount of training and continuing education. The report has also sought to define the scope of representation and creating a handy manual for tackling with the removal proceedings of a client.
Jojo Annobil, the head of the Legal Aid Society’s immigration law unit and the other co-chair of the committee said, “You need representation, but it also has t be quality … Having hundreds of lawyers who don’t know what they’re doing doesn’t help – you might as well not have lawyers in the courtroom.”