The U.S. Department of Justice's (DOJ's) decision to maintain a program that provides basic legal information to detained immigrants is a rare reprieve from this administration's cruel immigration policies, which too often break families apart and punish people who are fleeing from persecution.
Navigating through our government’s complex legal immigration system is like playing a high-stakes poker game, blindfolded. The government should be doing all it can to ensure that immigrants know whether they are eligible for relief, so they can make informed decisions about how to proceed through this legal labyrinth.
Such relief should include orientation sessions – like the ones the Legal Orientation Program (LOP) provides – to help immigrants know their rights. The LOP also helps detained immigrants get access to attorneys who can represent them.
The SPLC’s Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI) – which enlists and trains volunteer lawyers to provide free legal representation to detained immigrants facing deportation proceedings in the Southeast – furnishes some immigrant detainees with attorneys. But the vast majority of people caught up in the deportation machine still do not have lawyers.
The DOJ should move in the direction of providing access to counsel, rather than depriving people of basic information about their legal rights. The administration’s threat to suspend the LOP program was a clear indicator that it wants to roll back these fundamental protections for immigrants.
We are grateful that the sustained efforts of immigrant advocates convinced U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to change his mind about funding the LOP, and that immigrants – at least for now – will continue to receive this vital resource.