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EOIR declares BIA Pro Bono project as successful
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An Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) evaluation of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) Pro Bono Project indicates that the project has been successful in increasing the level and quality of "pro bono" (free of charge) representation for "respondents" (persons in immigration removal proceedings) who appeal their cases to the BIA. The majority of these respondents are detained by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Moreover, based on input from BIA members and staff attorneys, as well as from the private attorneys and members of the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who participate in the project, the study finds that both respondents and the government benefit from the increased level and quality of legal representation.

Evaluation Findings

The October 2004 evaluation, which reviewed the first 3 years of the BIA Pro Bono Project since its inception in January 2001, found that the project:
  • Increased the number of respondents with pro bono counsel. Nearly 300 respondents, who would not have had legal counsel otherwise, obtained pro bono legal representation through the BIA Pro Bono Project.

  • Facilitated the BIA's legal review of cases by increasing the number and enhancing the quality of legal briefs filed in support of BIA appeals. While most "pro se" (self-represented/without legal representation) respondents do not file a brief in support of their appeals, nearly all of the project cases included briefs which clearly articulated the key issues on appeal.

  • Fostered continuous learning throughout the immigration advocacy community. For example, the project provides real-world educational opportunities to law students who intern in law firms and law clinics that participate in the project.
For complete evaluation of the Pro Bono project by EOIR, click here

Background

Under U.S. law, individuals in immigration proceedings are not provided legal representation by the government. While they may obtain legal representation at their own expense, many times they cannot afford to pay for private legal counsel. EOIR's BIA Pro Bono Project assists several NGOs in their efforts to link volunteer legal representatives nationwide with aliens, most of whom are detained, who have immigration cases on appeal to the BIA and cannot afford legal representation.

The project seeks to remove traditional obstacles private attorneys face in identifying, locating, and communicating with unrepresented aliens by providing EOIR case tracking and summary information to facilitate the initial contact. Generally, the process is as follows:
  • EOIR identifies certain types of cases for pro bono representation, based upon criteria determined by the NGOs.

  • NGOs review and summarize the selected cases and then distribute them via e-mail to pro bono representatives throughout the country.

  • Volunteers who accept a case then receive a copy of the court record and, in most cases, additional time to file the appeal brief.
The Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) has provided critical assistance in coordinating the project with other NGOs, which include the American Immigration Law Foundation, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the Capital Area Immigrants' Rights Coalition, and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild. To date, EOIR's NGO partners have recruited more than 350 attorneys, law students, and accredited representatives, and have matched 310 individuals who would not have been represented by counsel, with pro bono legal representation.

The BIA Pro Bono Project is one of three major EOIR Pro Bono Program initiatives that are managed by the EOIR Pro Bono Coordinator with the goal of facilitating access to pro bono legal assistance and creating new incentives for attorneys and law students to take on pro bono cases before the Immigration Courts and the BIA. The other two Pro Bono Program efforts are:
  • Legal Orientation Program - provides comprehensive briefings about Immigration Court procedures and other basic legal information to detained individuals at seven DHS detention facilities nationwide; and

  • Unaccompanied Alien Children initiative - a cooperative effort with DHS, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (Department of Health and Human Services), and NGOs to provide pro bono assistance and improve legal services for these children.
For additional information about EOIR's Pro Bono Program click here


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