Friday, October 23, 2020

Sessions reverses decision to end program that helps detained immigrants

Attorney General Jeff Sessions yesterday reversed a controversial decision to shut down a Justice Department program that provides basic legal information to detained immigrants.

Sessions told the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies that he had concerns about the Legal Orientation Program (LOP), that initially led to the decision to “pause” the program, “I recognize, however, that this committee has spoken on this matter and out of deference to the committee, I’ve ordered that there be no pause while the review is being conducted and I look forward to evaluating such findings as our produced and will be in communication with this committee when they are available” he said.

The Justice Department on April 10 announced that it was halting funding for LOP, effective April 30, while it studied the program’s effectiveness. The announcement caught service providers by surprise, threatening dozens of jobs tied to the funding and leaving little time to try to replace the money.

The 2003 program created by George W. Bush administration was meant to provide detained immigrants some basic information about their rights and legal relief that may be available to them. A 2012 Justice Department Study found that detainees who received LOP services had their cases resolved 12 days faster than detainees who didn’t get the services. That resulted in shorter stays in detention facilities and saving the government about $18 million a year.

The program has been praised by immigration attorneys and judges, as well as ICE and even the omnibus spending bill signed by President Trump earlier this year included continued funding for LOP.

“As a community, we need to recognize the importance of supporting programs that provide due process and information for immigrants facing deportation. The basic information provided by the LOP program should not hinge on a single funding stream, and the fact that this program could end anytime should motivate us to create additional programs and systems, such as our new Deportation Defense Houston project” said Kate Vickery, executive director of the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative.

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