Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Price Of Injustice

The center-left editorial board of the Los Angeles Times got another one right. This time the subject was the failure to provide detained undocumented immigrants with legal counsel.

Until now, federal courts have held that only criminal defendants are entitled to court-appointed counsel. An immigration case, even if it involves detention, is a civil matter. As a result, the vast majority of detainees, including children and the mentally ill, are forced to represent themselves in immigration court. [Emphasis added]

Yes, that's right. Being in this country unlawfully is not a crime. It's a civil matter, something most people (especially conservatives) don't understand. As a result, there is no automatic right to legal counsel. And that means that most people don't stand a chance at hearings and that many get lost in detention for years. That's hardly fair or consistent with due process. It's also very expensive for the taxpayer.

A 2011 study, headed by a federal judge, found that immigrants with lawyers are five times more likely to win their cases than those without. Put simply, an immigrant's access to an attorney can be as important as the facts in his or her case.

The only reasonable solution is to provide attorneys to those immigrant detainees who need them. It would cost, of course, but due process comes with a price. And in some cases, assigning lawyers to detainees could actually lead to savings. The government spends an average of $40,000 a year on each detainee. Providing lawyers could help screen those cases. If a detainee had no legal case or grounds for relief, his attorney could explain that to him, and he would probably agree to leave the country rather than remain in detention, sometimes for years.
[Emphasis added]

Clearly we can do better on the issue. During this time of "deficit cutting," maybe Congress should look at the issue from the standpoint of the sheer wastefulness of the system as presently constituted. Of course, that would require cutting through the xenophobic crap being spewed during an election season, so I don't see anything happening in Congress for another year. Further, I don't see much evidence of a spine in the White House when it comes to real justice on this issue. Like I said, it's election season.

Perhaps, as the editorial points out, it's time for some judicial action on the due process issue.

I certainly hope so.

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Blogger PurpleGirl said...

I dislike using the economic costs as a reason to be against the death penalty and immigrant detention and other such policies, but if that is the reason you can get someone to understand why a policy is wrong... well, then give me the numbers.

10:27 AM  

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