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Since April of 2000, the Office of Legal Access Programs (formerly known as the Legal Orientation and Pro Bono Program) has worked to improve access to legal information and counseling and increase rates of representation for immigrants appearing before the Immigration Courts and Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). This has been carried out primarily through initiatives which facilitate access to information and create new incentives for attorneys and law students to accept pro bono cases.
The Office of Legal Access Programs (OLAP) focuses on four main initiatives - the Legal Orientation Program (LOP), the Legal Orientation Program for Custodians of Unaccompanied Alien Children (LOPC), the BIA Pro Bono Project, and the Model Hearing Program. In addition to these initiatives, OLAP also provides access to self-help materials which can assist all aliens in removal proceedings learn about the immigration court process and the forms of relief from removal.
OLAP does not offer legal representation to aliens in removal proceedings. The Office of the Chief Immigration Judge, which is a separate component within the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), maintains the List of Free Legal Service Providers. The list can be used to look for legal representation in immigration proceedings. To access the list, please click here.
Recognized organizations with attorneys or fully accredited representatives also may be able to help you with free or low cost representation in removal proceedings. To access the roster of recognized organizations and accredited representatives approved by the Board of Immigration Appeals, another component within EOIR, please click here. To find out more about recognized organizations and how their accredited representatives may assist you, please click here.
Legal Orientation Program
Since 2003, EOIR has carried out the Legal Orientation Program (LOP) to improve judicial efficiency and assist all parties in detained removal proceedings - detained aliens, the immigration court, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the detention facility. Experience has shown that the LOP has had positive effects on the immigration court process: detained individuals make wiser decisions and are more likely to obtain representation, non-profit organizations reach a wider audience of people with minimal resources, and cases are more likely to be completed faster, resulting in fewer court hearings and less time spent in detention.
Through the LOP, representatives from nonprofit organizations provide comprehensive explanations about immigration court procedures along with other basic legal information to large groups of detained individuals. The orientations are normally comprised of three components: 1) the interactive group orientation, which is open to general questions; 2) the individual orientation, where non-represented individuals can briefly discuss their cases with experienced counselors; and 3) the referral/self-help component, where those with potential relief, or those who wish to voluntarily depart the country or request removal are referred to pro bono counsel, or given self-help legal materials and basic training through group workshops, where appropriate.
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Legal Orientation Program for Custodians of Unaccompanied Alien Children
In the Fall of 2010, EOIR launched the Legal Orientation Program for Custodians of Unaccompanied Alien Children (LOPC) to provide legal orientation presentations to the adult care givers of unaccompanied children in EOIR removal proceedings. The purpose of this program is to inform the children’s custodians of their responsibilities in ensuring the child's appearance at all immigration proceedings, as well as protecting the child from mistreatment, exploitation, and trafficking, as provided under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2009. EOIR works with the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement, and non-government partners to carry out this program nationally.
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BIA Pro Bono Project
In January of 2001, OLAP, in conjunction with the BIA Clerk's Office, implemented the BIA Pro Bono Project (the "Project") to increase pro bono representation initially for individuals detained by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) with immigration cases under appeal. The Project was developed between EOIR and several non-governmental organizations, including the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., the Capital Area Immigrants' Rights Coalition, the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, and the American Immigration Law Foundation. Since its start, the Project has succeeded in securing pro bono counsel for over 450 aliens around the country - individuals who would not have otherwise been represented by counsel.
Immigrants in removal proceedings are not entitled to publicly-funded legal assistance and, thus, many appear before the Immigration Courts and BIA without legal counsel. Agencies that provide legal services to immigrants normally face great obstacles in identifying, locating, and communicating with unrepresented individuals in time to write and file an appeal brief.
Under the Project, EOIR assists in identifying certain cases based upon criteria determined by the partnering volunteer groups. Once cases are identified and reviewed, their summaries are then distributed via e-mail to pro bono representatives anywhere in the United States. Volunteers who accept a case under the Project receive a copy of the file, as well as additional time to file the appeal brief.
Legal representation in many of these cases has had a meaningful impact. Since attorneys or accredited representatives usually identify and argue the issues better on appeal, immigrants with meritorious cases have a greater chance of success. Representation also reduces procedural errors and enables the BIA to provide a more effective and timely case review.
An evaluation performed by the BIA in October of 2004, concluded that the Project was successful in meeting its original goals of increasing the level and quality of pro bono representation before the Board. The full evaluation (PDF) is available for review.
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Model Hearing Program
The Model Hearing Program is an educational program developed to improve the quality of advocacy before the court, as well as increase levels of pro bono representation. Model Hearings consist of small-scale ‘mock' trial training sessions held in the immigration court and presented by volunteer immigration judges. The training sessions, carried out in cooperation with partnering bar associations and/or pro bono agencies, provide practical and relevant ‘hands-on' immigration court training to small groups of attorneys/law students with an emphasis on practice, procedure and advocacy skills. Participants receive training materials, may obtain CLE credit, and commit to a minimal level of pro bono representation throughout the year. Since June of 2001, over 30 Model Hearing training sessions have been held in immigration courts across the country. The Model Hearing Program Training Manual provides detailed information on the content and structure of this program, as well as samples of past training sessions.
MODEL HEARING TRAINING PROGRAM MANUAL (PDF)
For more information on OLAP's initiatives, please send an email to
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