At ACLU Urging, Cleveland INS Allows Foreign Citizens to Bring Attorneys to Special Registrations

Affiliate: ACLU of Ohio
December 13, 2002 12:00 am

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CLEVELAND — The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio today praised the decision of the Cleveland office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service not to deny the right to counsel to foreign citizens called in for questioning during the next few weeks.

“The denial of counsel is always extremely serious,” said Robin Goldfaden, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “This incident points out the need for vigilance regarding how these programs are implemented.”

The INS has summoned citizens of five countries — Iran, Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Libya — to participate in mandatory registration interviews over the next few weeks. Failure to comply can result in deportation. Concerns arose when several local immigration lawyers were told they could not accompany their clients to the interviews although federal law provides a right to bring private counsel during such meetings.

In separate contacts with the INS., David Leopold, a leading Cleveland immigration attorney, and ACLU of Ohio Legal Director Raymond Vasvari, demanded that the INS clarify its policy and allow lawyers to accompany registrants. In a letter faxed to the ACLU late Wednesday, INS Acting District Director Linda Rabbett confirmed that the Cleveland INS District office would respect the right of registrants to be represented by counsel.

“We give credit to Ms. Rabbett for her quick action to ensure that the INS in Cleveland will respect the rights of aliens,” said Vasvari. “With immigrants from dozens of countries to be interviewed in the next few weeks, we must all take care to be sure these registrations occur in a just and lawful manner.”

The Cleveland incident highlights growing concern nationwide that legal aliens have been subject to widespread interrogation by federal law enforcement agents, often without being apprised of or understanding their right to counsel. As part of an effort to make immigrants aware of their rights, the ACLU of Ohio has worked closely with immigration lawyers and bar associations across the state to provide legal advice to those facing interrogation.

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