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Report: Access to Counsel for Detained Immigrants in PA

October 02, 2019 (2 min read)

Penn State Law, Oct. 2, 2019

"The Penn State Law Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic (CIRC) has released a report on behalf of its client, the Pennsylvania Immigrant Family Unity Project (PAIFUP), that looks at the issue of detained immigrants’ ability to access counsel in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. CIRC collaborated with three member groups of the PAIFUP – Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society Pennsylvania (HIAS PA), Nationalities Service Center (NSC), and Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center (PIRC) – while a Ph.D. student from Penn State University assisted with contextualization and analysis of data provided by the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR).

Detained Immigrants and Access to Counsel in Pennsylvania highlights the importance of providing counsel to improve immigrants’ due process rights. Under the supervision of Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, Samuel Weiss Faculty Scholar and founding director of the Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, Penn State Law students, including Sara Firestone and Yousra Chatti worked on the report for more than a year, conducting research and drafting the report itself while working closely with the PAIFUP members.

“As an immigrant myself, this project meant so much to me because I know how complex the immigration system is in the United States,” said Chatti. “Both qualitative and quantitative data made me realize that detained immigrants are given lesser chances to represent their cases before an immigration judge or to move forward with their cases.”

Based on the data, the report found that access to representation is limited for detained immigrants in Pennsylvania. Those detained immigrants that do have representation have more opportunities to apply for relief from removal, be released on bond, and file successful claims. These findings support the hypothesis that detained immigrants are far more likely to file a claim for relief when being represented by counsel, leading the report to recommend that Pennsylvania fund and implement a program similar to public defenders, for detained immigrants in removal proceedings in order to improve fairness and due process.

“Being able to be a part of the Pennsylvania Immigrant Family Unity Project was one of the most fulfilling opportunities I had during law school,” said Firestone. “Working on this report with my partner, Yousra, alongside the NSC, HIAS, and PIRC allowed me to experience first-hand how important policy work is in the field of immigration while better understanding the need for states to provide funding in order to ensure that every immigrant facing detention and removal has access to an attorney and an opportunity to ensure that justice is being served.”

Founded by Wadhia in 2008, the Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic is one of nine clinics at Penn State Law that allow students to learn through experience under the guidance of clinical faculty. Under Wadhia’s supervision, students in the Clinic engage in community outreach and education on topics such as immigration remedies for victims of crimes and changing immigration policy. The Clinic also provides legal support in individual cases of immigrants challenging deportation (removal) or seeking protection through the Department of Homeland Security and in the courts."