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Legal Aid Could Save Thousands Of Immigrants In DC Area From Deportation

New Center for Popular Democracy report makes case for expanded access to counsel


WASHINGTON, DC – A new Center for Popular Democracy report shows that every year nearly 4,000 immigrants in the DC metropolitan area are left vulnerable to deportation because they lack access to a lawyer. The report calls for a robust legal aid program to provide meaningful legal representation for immigrants facing unprecedented threats from the Trump administration.

Analyzing thousands of deportation cases at immigration courts in Baltimore, Maryland, and Arlington, Virginia, the report calculates that a startling majority of detained immigrants attend court proceedings without a lawyer - about eight in 10 in Maryland and seven in 10 in Virginia. Only about 10 percent of immigrants without representation win their cases.

When legal aid is provided, the results are striking. In Baltimore, people with lawyers were four times more likely to win their case – in Arlington, twice as likely. The results mirror those of other cities. The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, the nation’s first access to counsel program, has improved immigrants’ chances of avoiding deportation by 1,000 percent. A number of cities are following New York’s lead, with pilot programs in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oakland.

The report also calculates the negative consequences of the lack of legal counsel on the DC metro area, showing that both Virginia and Maryland employers lose millions of dollars every year in avoidable turnover-related costs to replace detained or deported employees. State governments must also spend hundreds of thousands on social services when children of immigrants are left without their parents.

The report was put together with the help of the Capital Area Immigrants' Rights (CAIR) Coalition, the primary provider of legal assistance for detained immigrants facing deportation in the DC metro area.

Emily Tucker, Senior Staff Attorney for Immigrant Rights at the Center for Popular Democracy, released the following statement:

“Deportation is one of the most devastating legal consequences anyone can face – yet tens of thousands of immigrants every year face that threat alone, without a lawyer to help them understand and fight their cases. We have seen access to counsel programs in other cities prevent hundreds of unjust deportations, and it’s time for elected officials to lead the way in restoring due process in the DC area.” 

Claudia Cubas, Senior Program Director for the Detained Adult Program at the CAIR Coalition, also released a statement:

“We know that investing in access to counsel works. Legal representation is the determining factor on whether an immigrant is able to remain in the United States free from harm and with their loved ones. We have seen this with our own eyes, helping scores of immigrants stay together with their families, including green card holders and those who escaped terrible violence in their home countries. As the Trump administration implements a radically anti-immigrant agenda, it is ever more important that local lawmakers commit the resources needed to keep immigrant communities safe and free from fear.”

Avideh Moussavian, Senior Policy Attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, also released a statement:

“Nobody should have to face the possible life sentence of deportation simply because they can't afford a lawyer in immigration court. At a time when the Trump administration is threatening to massively expand our inhumane immigration detention system so that private corporations can profit, localities and states can invest in their communities by ensuring those in detention get a truly fair day in court. This report shows that, in Maryland and Virginia, universal representation leads to due process and fair outcomes while reducing the fiscal and human cost of detention.”



The Center for Popular Democracy promotes equity, opportunity, and a dynamic democracy in partnership with innovative base-building organizations, organizing networks and alliances, and progressive unions across the country. CPD builds the strength and capacity of democratic organizations to envision and advance a pro-worker, pro-immigrant, racial justice agenda.


Media Contact: 

Asya Pikovsky, apikovsky@populardemocracy.org, 207-522-2442

Anita Jain, ajain@populardemocracy.org, 347-636-9761