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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

Increasing The Efficiency And Fairness Of Immigration Removal Proceedings: Why Congress Should Expand The Legal Orientation Program

by Andrew I. Schoenholtz, J.D., Ph.D.

The Legal Orientation Program (LOP) saves the government money, makes Immigration Court more efficient, and facilitates access to justice for detained noncitizens in removal proceedings. The government's own study made these findings and recommended its expansion to all immigration detention facilities (EOIR, Evaluation of the Rights Presentation). Two Congressionally-established commissions have supported expansion of the LOP. Win-win programs like this rarely come along in the immigration field.

The LOP provides detainees in DHS custody informational presentations informing them of their legal options and responsibilities, immigration court procedures and legal remedies. The Justice Department's Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) directs the LOP in partnership with numerous nongovernmental organizations. Noncitizens are better prepared to accept their removal at their first immigration hearing when they have learned from an organization not affiliated with the government that they have no immigration relief options. Most participants do just that. Accordingly, the LOP has resulted in greater judicial efficiency, less detention time that DHS pays for, and greater access for noncitizens to legal information, counseling, and pro bono representation when they have meritorious claims for relief.

In its first full year of operation, the LOP reached over 17,000 detainees, about 20% of the total number of detained proceedings completions at Immigration Court in FY 2003. According to EOIR estimates, the LOP resulted in an average decrease in detention time of 1.5 days for each individual. (USCIRF, Report on Asylum Seekers in Expedited Removal, Vol. II, p. 266) Based on the $85 average cost of daily detention, the LOP saved the government well over $2 million.

The United States Commission on Immigration Reform, also known as the Jordan Commission, recommended significant expansion of the LOP model in its 1997 report, Becoming an American: Immigration and Immigrant Policy. The Commission found that the model reduced detention time, expedited removal where relief was not available, and increased court efficiency. In its very recent report on expedited removal, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended the system-wide expansion of the LOP because of concerns regarding the treatment of asylum seekers fleeing religious persecution (http://www.uscirf.gov/reports/ERSrpt/index.php3). Both of these Congressionally created bodies supported the LOP because it enables the government to carry out its responsibilities in a more efficient manner, assists noncitizens with meritorious claims, and provides those without a realistic possibility of relief a better understanding of their prospects.

Congress has appropriated $1 million annually for the LOP from FY 2002-2005, a very small expenditure compared to detention. For FY 2006, DHS has requested an additional $176 million for detention and removal, a 19% increase over the FY 2005 budget (http://www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/interapp/press_release/press_release_0613.xml). As Congress continues to increase detention space at a significant cost, lawmakers can make the use of that space much more efficient by a relatively small investment in the LOP. As indicated above, the return on investment in the LOP calculated simply with regard to the detention of noncitizens in removal proceedings has been excellent-the $1 million investment resulted in well over $2 million in savings.

Ultimately, Congress should fund the LOP system-wide, as USCIRF recommends. Efficiency and fairness are critical to the effectiveness and integrity of our immigration system. The Legal Orientation Program helps everyone involved in the removal system by ensuring that detained noncitizens understand whether they may have a right to remain in the United States. When informed about removal proceedings and our immigration laws, detained noncitizens come better prepared to their first Immigration Court hearing to accept removal or to request a merits hearing. Most LOP participants accept their removal. That makes the work of DHS Trial Attorneys and DOJ Immigration Judges much more efficient. Noncitizens receive more fair treatment, as those with no relief available spend less time in detention before their removal and those with potentially meritorious cases are more likely to find pro bono assistance. Increasing funding for such a successful program is a no brainer.


About The Author

Andrew I. Schoenholtz, J.D.,Ph.D. is the Deputy Director of Georgetown University's Institute for the Study of International Migration (ISIM), where he conducts studies on a range of international migration matters, including the causes and potential responses to population movements, immigration and refugee law and policy, comparative migration, the integration of immigrants into their host societies, and the effects of international migration on social relations, economics, demographics, foreign policy and national security. Dr. Schoenholtz also teaches courses on Refugee Law and Policy, Refugees and and Humanitarian Emergencies, and Immigration Law and Policy. Previously, he served as Deputy Director of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform and practiced immigration, asylum and international law with the Washington, D.C. law firm of Covington & Burling. Dr. Schoenholtz has conducted fact-finding missions in Haiti, Cuba, Germany, Croatia, Bosnia, Malawi, and Zambia to study root causes, refugee protection, long-term solutions to mass migration emergencies, and humanitarian relief operations. Dr. Schoenholtz' publications include: Refugee Protection in the United States Post-September 11th (forthcoming); Improving Legal Frameworks, in The Uprooted: Improving Humanitarian Responses to Forced Migration (forthcoming); The State of Asylum Representation: Ideas for Change (co-authored with Jonathan Jacobs); Asylum in Practice: Success, Failures, and the Challenges Ahead (co-authored with Susan Martin); Aiding and Abetting Persecutors: The Seizure and Return of Haitian Refugees in Violation of the U.N. Refugee Convention and Protocol; and Temporary Protection: Towards a New Regional and Domestic Framework (co-authored with Susan Martin and Deborah Meyers). Dr. Schoenholtz holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School and a Ph.D. from Brown University.


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