Fewer than four in 10 people facing deportation proceedings in the United States are represented by legal counsel. Among the majority of those immigrants who are in government detention, just 14 percent had lawyers, according to a new study.
The American Immigration Council report released Wednesday found only 37 percent of all immigrants had legal representation in removal cases. The report recommends creation of a government-funded public defender system that could pay for itself by reducing the taxpayer costs of detaining immigrants for years on end as they await removal proceedings.
Among the report’s findings:
- Mexican nationals were least likely to be represented in deportation cases, with just 21 percent having lawyers in cases decided between 2007 and 2012. Conversely, Chinese nationals were represented 92 percent of the time.
- People from Mexico facing removal proceedings were detained 78 percent of the time, compared with people from China, who were detained just 4 percent of the time.
- Detained immigrants who had lawyers were more than twice as likely to receive a custody hearing. Those represented by attorneys at custody hearings were four times likelier to be released afterward.
- Immigrants who were never detained were granted relief in 63 percent of immigration cases where lawyers represented them compared with 13 percent where the immigrant was unrepresented.
“In short, at every stage in immigration court proceedings, representation was associated with considerably more successful case outcomes,” the report says.
The study said the government spends $2 billion annually on detention of immigrants awaiting removal proceedings. “More than half of immigrants facing removal in immigration court during the six-year period covered in this report (2007-2012) spent their entire case in government custody — almost 56 percent of immigrants were ‘detained’ in prisons, jails, and detention centers across the country as they awaited the decision of an immigration judge,” the report says.
“These data thus support other research concluding that a government-funded public defender system for immigrants could potentially pay for itself by helping to reduce court and detention costs associated with having immigrants pursue their immigration cases without the advice of counsel.”