McEachin, Lofgren introduce FAIR Proceedings Act

Donald McEachinReps. A. Donald McEachin (VA-04) and Zoe Lofgren (CA-19) introduced the Funding Attorneys for Indigent Removal (FAIR) Proceedings Act which would guarantee legal counsel during removal proceedings for children, individuals with disabilities, victims of abuse, torture, and violence; and those at or below 200% of the federal poverty level.

Contrary to American constitutional guarantees in criminal cases, those subjected to removal proceedings in immigration cases do not have right to counsel. This law, if enacted, would not only guarantee that the government ensure access to counsel, but it would also appoint or provide an attorney for these vulnerable individuals. The funding for legal representation would come from a nominal increase in fees collected from those who apply for immigration benefits.

“No one should be without an attorney in such a crucial hearing but certainly not children, vulnerable individuals with disabilities, victims of abuse or violence, nor those unable to afford a lawyer,” said Congressman Donald McEachin. “Those people most assuredly should not be forced to represent themselves during a court hearing. As a former attorney, I believe that access to an attorney during such a critical hearing should not be a privilege, but should be effectively a right—in keeping with the spirit of our Constitution.”

“Immigration judge Dana Leigh Marks once said that immigration proceedings are like ‘death penalty cases heard in traffic court settings.’ This is particularly true for asylum seekers, children and other vulnerable populations,” said Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, ranking member of the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security of the House Committee on the Judiciary. “Ensuring counsel for immigrant children and particularly vulnerable individuals, as this bill provides, would help reduce the immigration court backlog, save the government money and guarantee that the due process rights of children are protected.”

One economic study calculating the cost-benefit analysis of providing counsel to all individuals facing removal—a broader group than what this bill contemplates—found that the savings provided by reductions in detention center spending, foster care, and transportation “would pay for most if not all of the entire cost of the [p]roposal.” The FAIR Proceedings Act aims to help save the federal government money and time while providing much-needed services to disadvantaged individuals.

This legislation has been endorsed by American Association for Justice, American Immigration Lawyers Association, and Heartland Alliance.

Bill text is available here. Section-by-section is available here.

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