The Department of Justice will temporarily halt and review a program providing detained immigrants with legal advice and assistance, the latest move in a series of crackdowns on immigration and immigrant rights more broadly by the Trump administration.
The Washington Post’s Maria Sacchetti reported Tuesday night that the Executive Office for Immigration Review intends to “conduct efficiency reviews which have not taken place in six years.” The implications will be immediate: officials told the Vera Institute of Justice that the organization’s government-backed Legal Orientation Program (LOP) will be paused beginning this month. Vera works with the 18 other nonprofits to administer information sessions for thousands of immigrants every year, assisting some 53,000 immigrants in 2017 across numerous states including those bordering Mexico.
The Justice Department established in 2012 that the Legal Orientation Program has saved the government $17.8 million a year and offered “a cost-effective and efficient way to promote due process” in addition to cutting detention time by an average of six days. But an immigration official told the Post that the government is conducting the audit to determine whether the program offers duplicate services that could be cut in a cost-saving measure.
“Two out of five legal orientation programs have been paused in order to conduct an audit of effectiveness, which has never occurred for one program and has not occurred in six years for the other,” an official said on behalf of the Justice Department.
The government also indicated it would look into the help Vera provides non-detained immigrants also facing deportation. In the LOP, lawyers explain to detainees how the court system works and offer advise on how to proceed, in addition to referring them to low-cost or pro-bono legal representation.
Executive Director of the National Immigrant Justice Center Mary Meg McCarthy, whose organization works with Vera, slammed the Justice Department’s decision.
The program “is a life line for the more than 40,000 immigrants who face complex deportation proceedings from remote detention facilities every day,” McCarthy said in a statement.
“Terminating the LOP and help desk program is a deliberate attempt to eliminate due process from the deportation process,” she continued.
President Trump’s administration has overseen a series of sweeping crackdowns on immigration, targeting the H-1B visa program for highly-skilled workers along with the diversity visa program, which benefits immigrants from countries underrepresented in the United States. Trump has also ordered troops to guard the U.S.-Mexico border, despite little indication that the area poses a danger to U.S. citizens.
Undocumented immigrants have received the bulk of the administration’s ire: the White House has targeted so-called sanctuary cities and Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in September. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last week that the Justice Department will impose quotas on immigration judges in an effort to accelerate deportations. Judges will be asked to clear 700 cases per year in an effort to clear a backlog of more than 600,000 cases.
Vera has tangled with the government on immigration issues before now. The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) reportedly warned the organization not to inform undocumented minors about their right to an abortion. Scott Lloyd, ORR’s director, has made headlines in recent months for his efforts to stop undocumented pregnant minors from obtaining abortions, spurring legal action by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Lloyd is known to be strongly opposed to abortion. HHS later said the government’s instructions to Vera were a “miscommunication.”