Access to Attorneys Affected by Where You Live

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) released new data showing that the odds of obtaining representation in immigration deportation proceedings varies widely, depending upon the community in which an immigrant lives. According to the report, if you happen to live in Honolulu, then the odds are good that if an ICE agent comes knocking at your door, you will be able to find an attorney to represent you – even a pro bono attorney. Likewise, the odds of finding representation is particularly high if you live in Manteca, California or in Pontiac, Michigan.  But, if you live in Roma-Los Saenz or Huntsville, Texas, or in Coral Springs-Margate, Florida — or even in Atlanta-Decatur, Georgia — you won’t be so lucky. Those places rank among the worst in the proportion of their residents who have found an attorney in their proceedings before the immigration court.

The immigration court system was established by Congress to conduct deportation proceedings and to decide whether a foreign national should be ordered removed from the United States. Over the past five years, only about half the number of individuals in these court proceedings were represented. While the government is always represented by an attorney, this is not true for the immigrant. Unlike in criminal proceedings, the federal government is not required to provide legal counsel to those without the means to hire an attorney. Few dispute the importance of having an attorney to effectively argue one’s case. Representation can also lead to a number of efficiencies in the handling of court proceedings. Yet, only 37 percent of all immigrants (and only 14 percent of detained immigrants) obtain representation. More importantly, individuals who were represented had five times a greater chance of prevailing than those who did not have a lawyer. Because immigration attorney availability varies widely by location, the practical reality is that individuals residing in different communities differ greatly in their ability to find an available attorney and ultimate prevail in their case.

TRAC has an online interactive mapping application that individuals can use to determine the odds of finding appropriate representation.