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DOJ Directive Over Immigrant Legal Representation Paused

DOJ Directive Over Immigrant Legal Representation Paused

A Washington federal court has moved to temporarily pause a U.S. Department of Justice directive that instructed an immigration legal services organization to stop assisting unrepresented immigrants in deportation proceedings without filing notices of appearance.

U.S. District Judge Richard A. Jones granted the temporary restraining order sought by the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, which argued that the DOJ directive violates its attorneys’ constitutional right to free speech. A written memorandum outlining the judge’s oral order is due to be filed, according to court documents.

“We are pleased with today’s ruling from Judge Jones and pleased that he issued this temporary restraining order on a nationwide basis so other organizations can continue their work without the threat of being sanctioned,” said Jorge L. Baron, NWIRP’s executive director, in a statement.

The DOJ’s Executive Office for Immigration Review‘s April 5 cease-and-desist letter relies on a “new and novel interpretation” of a rule governing attorney misconduct that the agency issued in 2008, and violates the First and 10th Amendments of the Constitution, according to NWIRP’s May 8 complaint.

The rule requires attorneys to enter a formal notice of appearance if they provide any legal assistance to individuals in deportation proceedings. But, NWIRP says, immigration courts don’t allow limited appearances, so once attorneys file a notice of appearance, they are required to take over full representation in the deportation proceedings – something it would be impossible for the group to do for all of the people it helps each year.

NWIRP claims it met with a local immigration court administrator following the 2008 rule’s adoption and had agreed to notify the court when it assisted with any pro se motion or brief by including a subscript or other clear indication that NWIRP had prepared or helped prepare the documents, according to court documents.

“EOIR’s cease-and-desist order to NWIRP will deprive thousands of immigrants – including asylum seekers and unaccompanied children – of the chance to consult with a NWIRP lawyer to evaluate their potential claims for legal residence,” the complaint reads.

The government had asked the court not to grant the temporary restraining order, contending that NWIRP was unlikely to prevail in the case and that the organization had failed to demonstrate that the DOJ seeks to impair its First Amendment rights by requiring attorneys to file notices of appearance in cases in which the lawyers draft legal pleadings that immigrants then present on their own.

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