Immigration Law

NWIRP Reaches Settlement with DOJ to Continue to Provide Assistance to Unrepresented Respondents in Removal Proceedings

NWIRP, Apr. 17, 2019

"Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) entered into a settlement agreement in NWIRP v. Sessions, a lawsuit filed in 2017 by NWIRP and Maggie Cheng, a staff attorney at NWIRP, challenging an order from the DOJ instructing NWIRP to “cease and desist” from providing limited legal services to unrepresented immigrants in deportation proceedings. The lawsuit challenged the “cease and desist” letter as well as the implementation of the DOJ regulation it was based on. The parties entered settlement discussions after the federal district court ruled in NWIRP’s favor, granting preliminary injunctive relief on behalf of NWIRP and all other similarly situated non-profits nationwide, enjoining the government from enforcing their regulations that purport to prohibit such limited legal services.

Under the terms of today’s settlement, NWIRP has agreed to dismiss their lawsuit if the DOJ issues a new rule repealing the original rule—Rule 102(t)—which unfairly limits non-profit legal service providers from assisting immigrants in deportation proceedings. Pursuant to the settlement the preliminary injunction will remain in place while DOJ completes the process to implement new regulations that clarify that NWIRP and other attorneys are not required to file a notice of appearance when providing consultations and legal advice. Moreover, the regulation will recognize the right of representatives to engage in other limited legal services, such as preparing motions, applications and pleadings, so long as the preparer identifies themselves in the pleading. The parties will move to dismiss the case with the preliminary injunction once the final regulation is implemented consistent with the terms of the settlement, and pursuant to the settlement DOJ will pay NWIRP $380,000 in costs and attorneys’ fees.

The limited legal services at the heart of this dispute are especially critical because there is no right to a public defender in most immigration court cases, and the majority of people must defend themselves. As District Court Judge Richard Jones declared when he issued the preliminary injunction in NWIRP’s favor, First Amendment case law “embodies the principle that non-profit organizations may not be threatened when ‘advocating lawful means of vindicating legal rights.’”

In response to today’s settlement agreement, Maggie Cheng, staff attorney and plaintiff in the lawsuit said, “Not only does this victory allow NWIRP to continue offering services to individuals who cannot afford private representation and ensure access to due process, it paves the way for other nonprofits across the country to expand the legal services they offer.”

“This case was critical to ensure that the federal government does not unlawfully impede the ability of NWIRP and other immigrant rights organizations to advocate on behalf of people who are unrepresented in removal proceedings— including tens of thousands who are locked up without any other possibility of obtaining informed legal help,” said Matt Adams, legal director for NWIRP.

“Davis Wright Tremaine is honored to support the invaluable work of our colleagues at NWIRP, who provide help to the most vulnerable members of society and those who would otherwise have nowhere to turn,” said Jaime Drozd Allen of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP.

NWIRP and Ms. Cheng were represented in the case by attorneys James Corning and Jaime Drozd Allen of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP and by NWIRP’s litigation team.

Read the joint motion to stay proceedings in accordance with the settlement agreement here, and the notice of settlement and settlement agreement here."