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 well over 1,000 individuals around the country - individuals who would not have otherwise been represented by counsel.
As a general matter, immigrants in removal proceedings are not entitled to publicly-funded legal assistance and, thus, may appear before the Immigration Courts and BIA without legal counsel. Through the Project, EOIR assists in identifying potentially meritorious cases based upon criteria determined by the partnering volunteer groups. Once cases are identified and reviewed, case summaries are then distributed via email to pro bono representatives across the United States within two weeks of the filing of the appeal. Volunteers who accept a case under the Project then enter an appearance and proceed as usual. Although volunteers typically receive the file before a briefing schedule is issued, they may request additional time to file an appeal brief as appropriate.
Legal representation has had a meaningful impact in many of these cases. Attorneys or Accredited Representatives involved in an appeal usually identify and argue the legal issues of a case more effectively, which gives individuals with meritorious cases a greater chance of qualifying for relief. 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 2004 evaluation (PDF) is available for review. A more recent evaluation published in 2014 shows that the Project continues to provide a highly valuable service connecting pro se respondents to pro bono counsel, and highlights several cases initiated under the Project which resulted in published decisions. The full 2014 evaluation (PDF) is also available for review.
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