The Vera Institute of Justice is a nonprofit organization with a mission to improve justice systems that ensure fairness, promote safety and strengthen communities. The U.S. Department of Justice announced on April 10 that it will be halting the Vera Institute’s Legal Orientation Program (LOP) as of April 30th. The LOP program serves more than 53,000 people each year in 38 detention centers in more than a dozen states. The program makes sure that all immigrants understand the essential information they need to navigate the complex legal system in this country.
A story in the Washington Post reports that the Executive Office for Immigration Review is planning to conduct efficiency reviews to examine the cost-effectiveness of the federally funded programs to ensure that they do not duplicate other efforts within the court system.
To reduce the immigration court backlog of 650,000 cases by half by 2020, Attorney General Jeff Sessions imposed production quotas on immigration judges to encourage them to clear their cases faster.
Unlike the U.S. criminal courts where defendants are entitled to a government-appointed lawyer, immigration courts do not provide this service. The Post story reports that about 8 in 10 detainees in immigration court will face a government prosecutor without an attorney. If that were not bad enough, children are also denied an attorney. (John Oliver, host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” took up this issue in early April. You can access the video here, but we should warn you that Mr. Oliver’s language choices may not be appropriate for everyone.)
Ending the program is morally and fiscally irresponsible
On their website, the Vera Institute reports that the LOP has had unquestionably positive effects on the immigration court process and terminating it would be fiscally irresponsible. A DOJ study found that the LOP program created a net savings of nearly $18 million for the government–this means that every $1 the government spent on LOP saved $4, which is why the LOP has enjoyed strong support in Congress which has funded the program in FY2018.
The Post story describes the hour-long group information sessions with detainees to explain their rights, describe how the court process will work, and possible defenses to deportation in federal law. They also meet with detainees individually and refer them to free or low-cost lawyers, but they do not represent detainees in court.
Mary Meg McCarthy, Executive Director, National Immigrant Justice Center, commented in a statement, “Terminating the LOP and help desk program is a deliberate attempt to eliminate due process from the deportation process.” and she also said, “Terminating the LOP program is an act of flagrant fiscal irresponsibility,” given that detainees who received legal orientation from the LOP completed their court proceedings more quickly and were detained for an average of six fewer days, which saved the federal government millions of dollars each year.
At the Law Offices of LaFevor & Slaughter, our Knoxville immigration attorneys work diligently to inform immigrants of their rights and help to keep them from being deported. You are welcome to call us at 865.272.4454 or complete our contact form to arrange a free consultation. Our Knoxville immigration lawyers are dedicated to helping you and your loved ones.