"Civil Right to Counsel" Granted to Immigrants Facing Deportation
In San Diego County, Lawyers Will Be Provided Free, As In Even Minor Criminal Cases
This is an important step for the "Civil Right to Counsel" movement - sometimes called the "Civil Gideon" movement after the famous 1963 case of Gideon v. Wainwright in which the U.S. Supreme Court held unanimously that the Constitution required states to provide attorneys to defendants unable to afford their own, at least in criminal cases, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf.
Yet, as the Washington Post recently reported, despite this right, "enshrined by the Supreme Court nearly six decades ago and then expanded to cover even minor cases in which incarceration is unlikely, . . in courts across the country, poverty-stricken litigants in noncriminal cases routinely face life-shattering outcomes, including jail time, without ever seeing a lawyer or receiving basic legal advice."
The current immigration crisis is exacerbating this problem, says Banzhaf, citing a 2016 study by the American Immigration Council showing that "immigrants with legal representation were four times more likely to be released from detention while awaiting a custody hearing and also more likely to win their deportation cases."
The problems and unfairness of subjecting people to complex legal proceeding which can result in very harmful consequences, but without any legal representation, is not confined to immigration-
It also occurs, all too often, in many other situations.
As the Washington Post pointed out, "those cases include disputes in which the stakes could not be higher: forfeiture of parental rights; eviction or foreclosure;
So San Diego's decision to assume this responsibility, even for a matter which is more federal than local, might focus more attention on the problem of depriving people facing dire consequences in various legal proceedings of any effective representation - especially the kind they would be constitutionally entitled to if accused even of a minor crime with virtually no threat of any jail time.
At the least, it suggests that Congress, as it wrestles with the many problems and controversies involved in "immigration reform," should consider whether any involved in that legal system should be entitled to representation provided by the federal government, suggests Prof. Banzhaf.