Annual Meeting

Indigent people should be guaranteed counsel for deportation proceedings, ABA House resolution says

  • Print.

The ABA House of Delegates is urging that federal, state and local governments work to guarantee legal representation for indigent persons in deportation proceedings.

On Monday, the delegates approved Resolution 115, which calls for counsel to be appointed for indigent persons in removal proceedings at the federal government’s expense. It also calls for state, local and tribal governments to pay for legal representation if the federal system does not and if no pro bono attorney is available. That counsel would represent the indigent person in proceedings before the Executive Office for Immigration Review and instruct them about their rights to appeal to the federal circuit courts of appeal.

The ABA House of Delegates has previously called for legal representation to be provided for unaccompanied immigrant minors and also for people accused of immigration violations to be instructed of their rights and allowed to contact their attorneys.

Mary McCarthy, the chair of the ABA Commission on Immigration, was the only person to speak on the resolution.

“This is a logical extension of ABA policy that recognizes the need for a civil Gideon,” she told the assembled delegates. “The impact of this resolution is dramatic. It’s life-changing.”

McCarthy cited a pilot project in New York that saw dramatic positive results for detained immigrants when they were provided with counsel.

In contrast, she brought up the case of American citizen Davino Watson, who was held for more than three years by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, despite him telling them that he was a citizen. Earlier this month, NPR reported that the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had found Watson’s case was “disturbing,” but that he was not entitled to damages from the government—because the statute of limitations had passed during the 3½ years he was in detention without counsel.

There was at least one audible “no” vote, but the resolution was overwhelmingly approved.

Resolution 115 was brought forward by the Commission on Immigration, the Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice, the Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights and Responsibilities, the Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence, the Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants, the Criminal Justice Section, the Working Group on Unaccompanied Minor Immigrants, the Section of Litigation, the Section of International Law, the New York County Lawyers Association, the New York City Bar Association and the Massachusetts Bar Association,

Follow along with our full coverage of the 2017 ABA Annual Meeting.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.