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For Immigrants, Finding a Good Lawyer is Not So Easy

A New York Times article, “Judges Express a Bleak View of Lawyers Representing Immigrants,” dated December 18, 2011, offered a preview to a study that will be published in the Cardozo Law Review this week on the representation of immigrants in New York Immigration Courts.  The study points to the overwhelming need for representation and the shocking disparity of successful outcomes in represented and unrepresented cases, which has been established time and time again by previous studies and reports.  Importantly, however, the study also points to the inadequacy of many attorneys representing clients in Immigration Court, as well as the crippling effect of transferring detainees out of New York which creates practical difficulties for their attorneys.

The need for legal representation

According to this newest study, while about 67% of represented immigrants in New York between October 2005 and July 2010 had successful outcomes in their cases, only 8% of those without attorneys won their cases.  The preliminary findings of the New York Immigrant Representation study had the breakdown as such:

  • Represented and released or never detained —- 74% have a successful outcome
  • Represented but detained ————————- 18% have a successful outcome
  • Unrepresented but released or never detained — 13% have a successful outcome
  • Unrepresented and detained ———————– 3% have a successful outcome

However, during the same time frame, non-detained immigrants in 27% of cases appeared to court unrepresented, while 67% of detainees appeared alone.  According to the FY 2010 Statistical Yearbook by the Executive Office of  Immigration Review (“EOIR”), which tracks the statistics on a nationwide level from 2006 to 2010, the percentage of represented aliens ranged from only 35 to 43 percent.  While the figure is much better on the appellate level–79% of immigrants are represented before the Board of Appeals according to the Yearbook–it is shocking that individuals still pursue pro se  appeals when the rate of success is only 10%, as opposed to 40% for represented clients.  (BIA Program Review Report, 2004).

The battery of disproportionate numbers, which goes on and on, begs the conclusion that legal representation is crucial in the court.  But the study points to another quadmire for immigrants facing removal proceedings: ineffective representation by attorneys and accredited representatives.

Getting a good lawyer is another challenge

The study referenced by the New York Times was conducted by Judge Robert Katzmann from the Second Circuit, who polled 33 sitting judges in New York to gather anecdotal evidence about the quality of legal representation in the courts.  The judges stated that between mid-2010 and mid-2011, immigrants got “inadequate” representation, even”grossly inadequate” in fourteen percent of cases.  Apparently, private lawyers got the lowest grades.  Kirk Semple from NY Times reaps a valid explanation from Judge Katzmann:

“Judge Katzmann blames predatory lawyers who are not familiar with immigration law for much of the poor representation.  The immigrants who hire them often do not speak English and are unfamiliar with the court system, making them particularly vulnerable.

‘They are easy prey for ambulance-chasing style lawyers who do not adhere to the highest standards of responsibility,’ said the judge, who for several years has been pushing for better legal representation of immigrants in New York.

We frequently see cases that have been damaged by ineffective representation.  Sometimes, the impact is fatal – such as, e.g., hiring an attorney or representative who does not file for Temporary Protected Status in time, or who doesn’t pursue Special Immigrant Juvenile Status when needed, because there is no way to go back in time and retroactively correct the error.  Other cases, such as missing the one-year deadline for filing an asylum application due to the ineffective assistance of counsel, may be remediable, but it’s not easy.  It’s a fair warning to immigrants not simply to go out and hire a lawyer, but to be educated in their hiring choices.

We look forward to the upcoming study and hope that the court takes better steps to ensure that clients secure counsel, and that the legal community is more aware of the situation.  But ultimately, immigrants in removal proceedings need to educate themselves about the importance of having a good attorney, because it’s evident that the rest of immigration law just isn’t navigable for someone without legal training.


“Immigration Lawyer” “Long Island” “Bay Shore” “Brentwood” “Central Islip” “Bryan Johnson” “Ala Amoachi” “Hempstead” “Uniondale” “Roosevelt” “New York” “Immigration Attorney”

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