When an individual is accused of a crime in the United States, the U.S. Constitution guarantees them the right to an attorney. If the defendant cannot afford an attorney, the court will appoint a public defender at no charge to the defendant. But, immigrants in Florida who are detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and facing deportation proceedings have no right to a court-appointed lawyer. They do have the right to hire counsel at their own expense, but this is beyond the means of many detainees.
In many cases, an immigration judge will postpone a hearing to provide the detainee time to find an attorney, but the court will not provide an attorney. Immigrants who do not speak English and do not have family in the U.S. are often unable to find an attorney, even with a postponement. As a result, a postponement often means the detainee just spends more time in the detention center.
Immigrants who don’t understand U.S. immigration law are at a serious disadvantage in the courtroom. A study by the University of Pennsylvania found that when detainees go to immigration court without an attorney, only two percent of them win their cases. The study also found that detainees who had lawyers were 15 times more likely to fight their deportation cases and five-and-a-half times more likely to win.
Having a lawyer on one’s side clearly makes a difference in immigration court. Those who are able to hire their own counsel can significantly increase the odds in their favor by doing so.
Source: seattleglobalist.com, “Long odds: Defending yourself in U.S. Immigration Court,” Damme Getachew, Aug. 15, 2016