Legal Representation Urgently Needed for Immigrants at Risk of Deportation

“Nearly 70% of people appearing before the immigration judge do so without a lawyer.” — Sarah Plastino, Senior Attorney with Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network (RMAIN)


Thousands of immigrants in Colorado are at risk of detention or deportation and most of them have had to face legal procedures without any legal representation.  Their situation has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Local immigrant rights advocates say families statewide who are already dealing with trauma like loss of employment and health impacts, are now navigating a complex immigration legal system without representation.

Recent studies show that immigrants with legal representation are 10 times more likely to have successful outcomes than those without a lawyer.

Sarah Plastino, Senior Attorney with Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network (RMAIN),  told KGNU’s Rossana Longo that there has been a local push to create a Legal Defense Fund, a program to fund lawyers for indigent Coloradans appearing in deportation proceedings before immigration courts in Colorado.

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“People generally don’t know this, but there’s no right to appoint counsel in deportation proceedings like there is in criminal proceedings. So as a result, nearly 70% of people appearing before the immigration judge do so without a lawyer. And this is so despite the fact that people with lawyers are 10 times more likely to be able to remain in the United States than people without a lawyer,” says Plastino.

Children facing deportation proceedings, people in immigration detention, and victims of human trafficking don’t have a right to a lawyer. The effort to create a statewide fund is a campaign of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC) of which RMAIN is a member. Plastino says the fund is important to keep Colorado families together. “It’s designed to ensure that no person should face deportation proceedings without a lawyer purely because of poverty,” she said.

Plastino says that the COVID-19 pandemic has further complicated the situation, making it difficult for people to access services, but she says it has shone a spotlight on how urgent the situation is.

“At the immigration detention facility in Aurora, there’s currently a huge outbreak of COVID-19.  A large percentage of the people detained there have tested positive as well as corrections officers who work at the facility. It’s a very serious and dangerous situation. And this only highlights the urgency even more because of the health and safety and public health implications of having immigration proceedings for people in immigration detention, without a lawyer. It makes it only more urgent. Can you imagine trying to request release without the help of a lawyer? People with serious health conditions remain in detention and remain at risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19, but don’t have the benefit of a lawyer to petition for their release.”

The City of Denver has created its own Legal Defense Fund for immigrants. Find out more information here.

Find out more about CIRC’s efforts to create a Legal Defense Fund here.