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Advocates: Changes Must be Made to Address Severe Restrictions on Access to Counsel under ‘Remain in Mexico’ Policy

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild joined 46 other organizations today to urge the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) to address the denial of access to counsel to asylum seekers subject to the “Remain in Mexico” policy.
A letter sent by the organizations notes that, as of February, only 6.2 percent of noncitizens forced to remain in Mexico under the policy had obtained legal representation. By contrast, in FY 2019, 84 percent of non-detained asylum seekers and 54 percent of detained asylum seekers were represented in their immigration proceedings.
“These numbers demonstrate the devastating impact this clearly illegal policy has had on individuals’ legal rights,” said Melissa Crow, senior supervising attorney with the SPLC’s Immigrant Justice Project. “If the government truly wanted to take steps to give them their ‘day in court,’ as they have said, here is a roadmap.”
“The Remain in Mexico program has resulted in violations of migrants’ rights on multiple fronts,” said Sirine Shebaya, executive director of NIPNLG. “The least the government can do is ensure that people in the program have access to counsel so that they can meaningfully seek relief in immigration court.” 
While emphasizing that the most effective way to remedy the denial of access of counsel would be to end “Remain in Mexico,” the letter lays out basic steps DHS and EOIR should take immediately if the policy remains in effect:

  • Allow every represented asylum seeker subject to Remain in Mexico access to counsel while in CBP custody and during their non-refoulement interviews; 
  • Permit use of courtrooms or other accessible spaces for Know Your Rights presentations before master calendar hearings involving individuals subject to Remain in Mexico, and provide additional confidential space for attorneys to screen individuals for representation;
  • Ensure every represented asylum seeker subject to Remain in Mexico has meaningful access to his or her legal representative by establishing a system whereby lawyers can make arrangements for their clients to be brought to ports of entry by appointment; allowing multiple opportunities for attorney-client meetings prior to, and well in advance of, hearings; and providing safe, confidential spaces with access to an international telephone line for purposes of evidence-gathering and third-party interpretation where needed;
  • Provide for attorneys to meet with their clients in a confidential space with access to a telephone for third-party interpretation for at least one hour prior to the start of master calendar hearings and at least 24 hours prior to a merits hearing;
  • Reinstate Friend of the Court for individuals without access to attorneys who can provide them with full-scope representation; and
  • Where appropriate, allow immigration judges to grant continuances to allow for adequate attorney-client meetings, without being penalized for any resultant failure to meet the existing performance metrics for immigration judges.

The names of the coalition organizations and letter can be found HERE