Sessions Halts Program That Gives Immigrants Free Legal Advice

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has suspended a free legal assistance program for detained immigrants who need basic advice as their cases wind their way through court.Outcry was swift Wednesday after the Washington Post first reported the news, saying that the legal orientation sessions for about 53,000 immigrants would be halted this month. The government wants to “conduct efficiency reviews which have not taken place in six years” before resuming the program, The Post reported.In North Texas, the program run at Prairieland Detention Center by the Catholic Charities of Dallas through a contract with the New York-based Vera Institute will be affected. The Vera Institute had received its funding through the Justice Department, which runs the nation’s immigration courts in Dallas and about 60 other cities."Every day this program is not in operation puts family unity at risk, harms our communities, and infringes on the right of all people to make informed decisions about their legal claims," said the Vera Institute in a statement Wednesday. It said the program was cost-efficient and helped with the record backlog of nearly 700,000 cases in the nation's immigration courts. They also called the program a "lifeline for many immigrants, refugees, asylum-seekers, and green-card holders --some who are fighting for their lives--who would otherwise not know the rights they have or the odds they face." The American Bar Association in a written statement said it was “deeply disturbed that the Department of Justice has arbitrarily decided to abruptly suspend funding for programs that provide critical legal information and assistance to adults held in immigration detention centers around the country.“The Legal Orientation Program, whose funding will end April 30, has a track record of effectively saving the government millions of dollars in immigration court and detention costs while providing due process and dignity to individuals involved in the immigration court system.”  Continue reading...

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