Holder Moves To Restore Fairness To Immigration Proceedings

June 3, 2009

Attorney General Withdraws Bush Administration Ruling Denying Immigrants Protection From Lawyers' Mistakes

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org 
 
WASHINGTON – In a major step towards restoring key legal protections for immigrants facing deportation, Attorney General Eric Holder today withdrew a last-minute Bush administration order that severely restricted the right of immigrants to reopen immigration cases lost because of their lawyers' mistakes. Holder also stated that he will review the problem of "ineffective assistance" in immigration proceedings to determine whether additional protections are necessary.

The American Civil Liberties Union had urged Holder to reconsider former Attorney General Michael Mukasey's ruling that overturned years of established legal precedent just days before Mukasey left office.

"Attorney General Holder correctly recognized that fairness and due process apply to everyone including immigrants," said Lee Gelernt, Deputy Director of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project. "By restoring the longstanding right of individuals to challenge immigration proceedings lost because of lawyers' mistakes, innocent immigrants at risk of being deported through no fault of their own are once again protected by the rule of law. Holder's decision will profoundly affect the lives of many immigrants and their families."

Deportation hearings, held in special immigration courts, are overseen by the Justice Department. Holder's decision makes clear that the rule of law guarantees individuals fundamentally fair deportation proceedings and ruled that immigration cases lost due to "ineffective assistance of counsel" is grounds for a new hearing.

"The winners today are fairness and due process. Attorney General Holder has taken a huge step in the right direction, and we applaud his decision. The Obama administration recognizes that immigrants facing deportation, including longtime permanent residents with U.S. citizen children and family, should not be denied fair hearings because of incompetent or unscrupulous lawyers who fail in their duty to provide proper representation to vulnerable immigrants, many of whom lack fluency in English and an understanding of the complex procedures that govern their hearings. It is now essential that the Justice Department take the same position in pending court cases," said Lucas Guttentag, Director of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project.

Mukasey's ruling was issued in January 2009, after a truncated decision-making process that did not allow sufficient time for many lawyers and legal organizations to prepare and submit legal briefs on the issue. Although the rushed process drew protests from prominent legal and civil rights organizations, Mukasey did not significantly expand the amount of time for submission of briefs.

Attorneys who worked on the brief include Gelernt, Guttentag, Caroline Cincotta, Michael Tan and Farrin R. Anello of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project. 

Attorney General Holder's ruling regarding the Compean decision can be found online at: www.aclu.org/immigrants/gen/39750lgl20090603.html

The ACLU's friend-of-the-court brief and other information are available online at: www.aclu.org/immigrants/gen/37064res20081007.html

More information on the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project is available online at: www.aclu.org/immigrants/index.html

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