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Jayapal, Barragán Inquiry Reveals 2.6% of Immigrant Families in Removal Process Have Legal Counsel

WASHINGTON – A response to efforts from U.S. Representatives Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, and Nanette Barragán (CA-44), Chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, to get information regarding the new Family Expedited Removal Management (FERM) process revealed that only 2.6 percent of families in the program have legal counsel to support their asylum claims. 

“There is no question that our immigration system is broken and major reforms must be made to ease the situation at the border – but removing people seeking asylum without an opportunity to thoroughly present their case is dangerous and unjust,” said Jayapal. “People coming to the country fleeing persecution and violence must have the opportunity to access counsel to meaningfully present their asylum cases. We cannot deport families that have valid asylum claims and will be returning to danger, it’s that simple.”

“We cannot have an orderly and efficient immigration system while failing to help those seeking asylum,” said Barragán. “The lack of available legal counsel for asylum seekers is unjust and increases delays at our southern border. We must fight to reform our immigration system and build an efficient asylum claim system that fulfills the American promise to welcome and house immigrants.”

According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), FERM was established to expedite processing. However, the FERM program requires that those seeking asylum conduct their credible fear interview (CFI), or an interview with U.S. officials to ensure that asylum applicants are eligible, within 6-12 days of processing. This extremely expedited timeline limits access to counsel and therefore overall hinders the asylum process.

Of 4,421 participants, only 118 had legal representation as of November 22, 2023. There is simply not enough time for newly arriving migrants to find attorneys, and for those attorneys to sufficiently prepare them for their CFIs. While participants are provided with information on free legal consultations, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, the information is only available currently in English, Spanish, Haitian Creole, and Portuguese.

Jayapal and Barragán sent their letter in October 2023, joined by 70 members of Congress concerned with the FERM process.