The Department of Justice is instructing lawyers to stop representing immigrants in need of legal assistance for President Donald Trump’s travel ban and for ICE deportations.
According to an investigative report from The Nation, four weeks ago the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) in Seattle received a “cease and desist” letter from the DOJ demanding they drop their clients and close down programs or face disciplinary action. The DOJ is accusing the NWIRP of requiring clients pay them and then dropping the cases after receiving the money.
The NWIRP disputes the DOJ’s accusations.
Viewers of TV crime shows are familiar with the police recitation, “You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford one, one will be appointed for you by the court.” Any immigrant facing deportation is not entitled to such an attorney because they haven’t technically been charged with a crime. This results in crowded immigration courts in which few defendants have attorneys.
Non-profit groups work to ensure those in the hearings have access to attorneys through volunteers at big law firms. At the same time, there are thousands of dishonest attorneys who do take money from immigrants promising to help defend them before walking off with their money. NWIRP isn’t one of those, according to The Nation, yet under Attorney General Jeff Sessions the DOJ intends to pursue a disciplinary review of them and other non-profits.
They’re not entitled to an attorney or provided with one but can accept the work of an attorney that will agree to help if the case ends up being a long one. If it’s short they’re not allowed to have any help in filling out legally binding documents. Any attorney that tries to help will be sanctioned.
NWIRP, however, has worked with immigration officials to ensure they can run programs to help people fill out forms or assist with legal proceedings with advice and explanation.
The organization has been on the frontline of fighting Trump’s travel ban with volunteer lawyers at Seattle’s SeaTac airport. There are many other groups who did the same.
Sending the cease and desist letter frightened employees volunteering for the cases and concerned the firm that they might become a target by the DOJ for other projects. If the pro-bono lawyers stop providing the service it’ll result in silencing the bar and diminishing the work of the groups providing people with important services around the U.S.
Lawyers sprang into action when airports began restricting access to citizens on planes arriving in the U.S. from countries on Trump’s ban list. Their stories dominated the news cycle and it’s assumed that Trump took offense to defying the order. Other institutions like the FBI, Justice Department, and courts all seem to be under attack, according to The Nation.