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Pro Bono Law in American Immigration

Updated: Mar 15

How do pro bono legal programs work in the U.S. immigration process?

Many see legal counsel in ICE detention facilities as a lifeline for prospective American citizens. Pro bono programs allow immigrants to successfully navigate the complex U.S. immigration system. 


According to the American Immigration Council, immigrants without legal counsel have only an 11 percent chance of obtaining citizenship. Those who have an attorney are four times more likely to be released from an ICE detention facility. 


The U.S. immigration system is daunting. In light of language barriers and general unfamiliarity, the task of defending oneself can be overwhelming. Pro bono programs within detention facilities such as the Catholic Charities of Dallas, Light of Hope Immigration Law Center and Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center provide legal services to immigrants but are often stretched thin.  


Due to the large number of immigrants, pro bono programs find themselves inundated with applicants and ultimately must turn away those seeking assistance. Due to scarce legal resources, around 86 percent of detained immigrants move forward without a lawyer.


The National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) actively seeks attorneys to join them in their mission to provide legal services to immigrants in the U.S. Their goal is to outline an immigrant’s rights for each stage of the immigration process and to disseminate that knowledge to those in need. 


Pro bono programs in the NIJC give essential advice to immigrants, such as their rights to remain silent when questioned or arrested by ICE. They tell them to stay calm, don’t run and create a safety plan with a reliable emergency contact. This advice can be the difference between citizenship and deportation. 


Pro bono programs seek to provide basic due process rights and access to a fair trial for immigrants. These rights are given credence when attorneys work on an immigrant’s behalf. Pro bono work gives immigrants a voice without compromising border security. Without pro bono volunteers, immigrants may continue to wait in detention facilities, separated from children and parents, oblivious to their due process rights. 


Sources


“About the American Immigration Council.” American Immigration Council, 24 Nov. 2021. Retrieved on February 27, 2022, from https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/about/our-mission.


“Know Your Rights If You Encounter the ICE.” National Immigrant Justice Center, 2020. Retrieved on February 27, 2022, from https://immigrantjustice.org/know-your-rights/know-your-rights-if-you-encounter-ice.


“List of Pro Bono Legal Service Providers.” The United States Department of Justice, 23 Feb. 2022. Retrieved on February 27, 2022, from https://www.justice.gov/eoir/list-pro-bono-legal-service-providers.


“The Value of Pro Bono Legal Services in Immigration Detention.” Immigration Impact, American Immigration Council Staff Members, 29 Oct. 2020. Retrieved on February 27, 2022, from https://immigrationimpact.com/2020/10/28/pro-bono-legal-services-immigration-detention/#.YhtvsOjMKUk.

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