January 8, 2009

Immigrants With Legal Standing At Risk Of Being Deported

CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

NEW YORK – In a radical departure from years of legal precedent, Attorney General Michael Mukasey has ended the practice of allowing immigrants to reopen immigration cases that they lost because of their lawyers' mistakes or incompetence. Mukasey's order, which is effective immediately, may lead to the deportation of innumerable immigrants who have lost their cases due to attorney error.

"This order will have a tremendous negative impact on countless people who will be deported simply because they had the bad luck to be represented by the wrong immigration attorney," said American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants' Rights Project Deputy Director Lee Gelernt. "This is a dangerous move away from the U.S. tradition of fairness and due process. Losing your case because your lawyer missed a deadline or made some other egregious error can never be considered a fair process."

In early August 2008, Mukasey instructed that any briefs responding to the proposed reversal of the right to claim "ineffective assistance" of counsel be submitted by mid-September. After many organizations and lawyers protested that this provided insufficient time to respond to such major legal and policy issues, he extended the deadline a scant three more weeks, preventing organizations opposing the change, including the ACLU and the American Bar Association (ABA), from providing a meaningful response.

"Days before President-elect Obama takes office, the Bush Justice Department has taken another step to undermine the fundamental rights of a uniquely vulnerable group," said ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project Director Lucas Guttentag. "This cries out for reform to preserve the core values of equality and fairness."

Mukasey's order, as well as letters to Mukasey from the ACLU, the ABA, the American Immigration Law Foundation and numerous partners at some of the country's most prestigious law firms opposing the change or objecting to insufficient time allotted for submitting briefs are available online at: www.aclu.org/immigrants/gen/37064res20081007.html

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