Washington, D.C. – Today, Representatives Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Norma J. Torres (CA-35), and Grace Meng (NY-06), and, along with Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) and Cory Booker (NJ), introduced the Fairness to Freedom Act. This bicameral legislation establishes the right to legal representation for individuals facing removal from the United States who are unable to afford it.
This historic piece of legislation is endorsed by over 170 groups and co-sponsored by Reps. James P. McGovern (MA-02), Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44), Barbara Lee (CA-12), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Sara Jacobs (CA-51), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Grace F. Napolitano (CA-31), Jared Huffman (CA-02), Greg Casar (TX-35), Nydia M. Velázquez (NY-07), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-AL), Jesús G. “Chuy” García (IL-04), Yvette D. Clarke (NY-09), Jill Tokuda (HI-02), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr. (GA-04), Tony Cárdenas (CA-29), Andrea Salinas (OR-06), and Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-07) in the House and Sens. Alex Padilla (CA), Edward J. Markey (MA), Bernie Sanders (VT), Elizabeth Warren (MA), and Jeff Merkley (OR) in the Senate.
Unlike in the criminal legal system, people facing removal proceedings in the U.S. do not have a right to legal representation if they are unable to afford it. As a result, most immigrants who are unable to afford a lawyer must represent themselves in immigration proceedings. Over 1 million people, including both adults and children, are currently facing deportation in immigration court without legal representation, while many more are removed without representation in summary proceedings that take place outside of the courtroom.
“It is plain wrong that every day, noncitizens with limited English proficiency and little or no knowledge of America’s complex immigration system are forced to defend themselves against removal proceedings without legal representation. The consequences of these proceedings can be devastating, separating people from their children, families, and communities in the United States,” said Congresswoman Norma Torres. “Providing legal representation ensures that people facing removal proceedings have their right to due process protected and helps individuals navigate this confusing system. The Fairness to Freedom Act will build a more just immigration legal system, and I thank Reps. Meng & Jayapal and Sens. Gillibrand & Booker for partnering with me on this issue of basic rights.”
“Immigrants have always been an integral part of New York, contributing to the growth and strength of our state,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “However, they are being deprived of the fundamental right to due process, basic fairness and human dignity. That’s why I’m proud to champion the Fairness to Freedom Act, which would ensure due process in immigration proceedings, leading to a more equitable and transparent system that gives immigrants a fair chance. Establishing a federal defender system for immigrants is achievable, and our country will be better for it – what we have in New York is proof and it is just the beginning of what we can accomplish.”
“The Fairness to Freedom Act is important and necessary legislation that will improve our broken immigration system by ensuring legal representation for immigrants facing deportation,” said Senator Cory Booker. “All people, regardless of their immigration status, should have the right to our nation’s foundational principles: fairness and due process under the law. I am proud to join my colleagues on this bill that would ensure no person is left to navigate the complexities of immigration court proceedings without legal representation.”
“America is and always has been a nation of immigrants, and sadly we have been letting our immigrant communities down,” said Congresswoman Grace Meng. “More than one million individuals – men, women, and children – are currently facing deportation proceedings without legal representation. Access to legal counsel is a fundamental right that helps our immigration backlog and ensures that people have access to due process under our laws. That is why I’m proud to introduce the Fairness to Freedom Act which would ensure immigrants who cannot afford it, have access to immigrant attorneys. Thank you to Reps. Torres, and Jayapal and Sens. Gillibrand and Booker for their leadership to help build a more just and fair immigration system.”
“Immigration removal has life altering consequences but because they are civil in nature individuals are currently not entitled to an attorney,” said Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Immigration Integrity, Security, and Enforcement. “Due process and the right to an attorney are fundamental cornerstones of our legal system – and should be for all who have cases before it. By ensuring that all immigrants are able to access universal representation, we can take a major step toward restoring fairness, dignity, and justice to immigration proceedings.”
Legal representation helps ensure people facing removal proceedings have a fair day in immigration court and understand immigration law. Last month, Congresswoman Torres led a letter with 58 lawmakers to request $150 million for a federal legal representation program. Funding such a program will strengthen our immigration system, save tax dollars in the long run, and resemble what more than 50 states and localities have already implemented.
“AILA thanks Congresswoman Torres for her continuing leadership in ensuring that vulnerable people who are facing removal will receive legal counsel if they cannot afford it. The Fairness to Freedom Act guarantees legal representation for indigent people and makes the immigration process fairer and far more efficient. People who are represented are five to ten times more likely to be granted asylum or other legal protection. And legal counsel streamlines the courts which are struggling with backlogs that delay cases more than five years. The bill takes the historic step of creating a national program that draws upon the private bar and non-profits to serve those who are indigent and in need,” said Gregory Z. Chen, Esq., Senior Director of Government Relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).
“The Fairness to Freedom Act seeks to fix a major flaw of our immigration system where lives are upended as a result of lack of legal representation. When a person is facing detention and deportation yet is unable to be represented in court, they are not just at risk of losing a case. If they cannot speak, be heard, and be fairly represented, an immigrant can lose their livelihood, family, belongings, and dreams. We stand in support of this bill and appreciate Rep. Torres’ leadership in bringing back fairness and due process to an immigration system that is deeply in need of restoration,” said Angelica Salas, CHIRLA Executive Director.
“Immigration proceedings that force people to fight deportation without legal representation are fundamentally unfair and violate due process. There has never been a greater need for the Fairness to Freedom Act, and here at NPNA, we are proud to co-lead this national fight to ensure that every person facing detention and deportation is fully seen, heard, and represented,” said Nicole Melaku, executive director of National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA).
“While having a lawyer beside you is a critical immigrant rights issue, it is also much more than that. We cannot selectively advance our nation’s bedrock values of fairness and due process, which is why we need universal representation to protect the rights and freedoms of every person and community in the United States. Congress must take action and establish the right to federally funded legal representation for every person facing deportation who cannot afford a lawyer on their own,” said Nick Turner, president and director of the Vera Institute of Justice.
The full text of the Fairness to Freedom Act is here.
The bill’s summary is available here.
The full list of the 170+ organizations supporting the bill can be found here.