For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 

Claire O’Brien, (202) 675-2312;

Senate Hears Testimony on Troubled Immigration Court System

Court-Appointed Counsel is Vital to Protect Due Process Rights of Immigrants, Says ACLU

WASHINGTON - The American Civil Liberties Union today called on Congress to ensure that all people facing permanent deportation are afforded court-appointed immigration counsel. In a written statement submitted for a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee that centered on the many challenges facing U.S. immigration courts, the ACLU also pushed for a number of other urgently needed reforms to the broken immigration court system that is plagued by backlogs and insufficient staffing.

The court system is increasingly unable to handle the volume of cases before it, a direct result of increased immigration enforcement.   

A fundamental problem with the immigration court system is that people facing permanent deportation are not afforded court-appointed immigration counsel. People must pay for their own legal representation or else represent themselves against government trial attorneys in complicated immigration hearings that could have permanent consequences, including deportation, separation from U.S. citizen family members, termination of employment and the severing of financial and community ties to the United States. Court-appointed counsel is particularly important to protect the due process rights of vulnerable groups such as immigrants with mental disabilities, juveniles and asylum-seekers. A report released in July 2010 by the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, “Detention by Default,” highlights the difficulties facing mentally disabled detainees in immigration proceedings.

The following can be attributed to Joanne Lin, ACLU legislative counsel:

“Immigration courts in America have a lot of work to do in order to ensure that people facing permanent deportation have a fair chance to defend themselves, and that means access to legal representation. Without court-appointed counsel, people facing deportation are left to fend for themselves in a tangle of legal proceedings, and constitutionally protected values of due process and fairness will continue to fall by the wayside. The shortcomings of the immigration court system need to be addressed immediately to ensure that people get a fair hearing and are not deported in violation of their constitutional rights.”

The statement submitted by the ACLU for today’s hearing is available at:

The report by the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, “Detention by Default,” is available at:


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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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