Lawyers and nonprofits who serve immigration clients are concerned at recent actions by the Department of Justice (DOJ); actions that seem designed to reduce their ability to provide information and support in situations where they have insufficient resources to provide full client representation for non-citizens in deportation (removal) proceedings.
Specifically, the DOJ has in the last several weeks sent cease-and-desist letters to various nonprofit organizations providing legal services to immigrants. The letters state that, under Immigration Court Rule 8 C.F.R. § 1003.102(t), such organizations cannot provide any form of legal assistance to immigrant clients if they do not commit to full representation (in technical terms, file Form EOIR-28, putting themselves on record as that person's attorney).
This rule was originally promulgated by the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR), with the intention of making sure lawyers zealously represent their clients and do not commit disciplinary infractions like accepting bribes, making false statements, or continuing to accept clients after having been disbarred.
The rule's current use against charitable organizations that are, in good faith, trying to provide education, support, and limited help with document preparation or review to the vast numbers of immigrants whom they cannot, with their limited funding (and none from the federal government) accept for representation or accompany to court proceedings has taken the immigration community by surprise. Immigration services organizations have been conducting such activities for years with no objection from the U.S. government.
Given the lack of legal representation--particularly affordable representation--to immigrants, who have no right to a government-paid attorney in immigration court, this could be a serious blow to many who are attempting to assert legal defenses to deportation.
One of the affected organizations is the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), with offices in Washington State. NWIRP has filed suit against Jeff Sessions, the DOJ, and the Executive Office for Immigration Review.
Judge Richard Jones, in the Western District of Washington, responded by issuing a nationwide TRO in favor of NWIRP, prohibiting the government from enforcing or threatening to enforce this rule. The TRO allows nonprofits across the U.S. to continue their activities for the moment, until a full hearing can be conducted on this issue. NWIRP will be seeking a permanent injunction against the government.