The American Immigration Lawyers Association issued the following Press Release today (AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 07091061 (posted Sep. 10, 2007)):
WASHINGTON, DC – The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) calls on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to assure access to counsel and information about individuals’ legal rights and options in the context of any enforcement action. America is a nation of laws and is founded on guarantees of due process embedded in our Constitution. These principles are the hallmark of a democracy based on the rule of law that has served the United States admirably for more than 225 years.
Immigrant communities across the United States are under fierce scrutiny as immigration raids and enforcement actions increase by the day. In order to assist immigrants in understanding and protecting the rights guaranteed to them by the U.S. Constitution, non-profit pro bono organizations, lawyers and community groups have been stepping up their efforts to provide accurate and timely information to individuals and communities deeply affected by these enforcement actions. Unfortunately, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency charged with upholding the law, seems to be applying a one-sided standard and has been reported to have condemned legitimate educational efforts.
Last week, in an article published in the Boston Globe, an ICE spokesperson was quoted as saying, “We would encourage organizations that are engaging in that kind of information distribution [information about legal rights] to stop.” If this quote is accurate, AILA strongly disagrees.
Part of the strength of our democracy is the notion that “justice is blind,” meaning that every individual has the right to legal counsel and a day in court without regard to their status, race, background, or any other attribute. Recently, the Pennsylvania U.S. district court’s decision in Lozano v. Hazleton reminded us that Lady Justice is still blind as to the application of the U.S. Constitution in the context of local ordinances focused on immigration status issues. The court stated the following: “The genius of our Constitution is that it provides rights even to those who evoke the least sympathy from the general public. In that way, all in this nation can be confident of equal justice under its laws.”
It is also well settled case law that ICE cannot enter a home or business without a warrant. Providing information on what U.S. law requires of enforcement authorities in conducting an arrest or providing information on U.S. immigration laws is not the same as advising someone to violate the law. It is troubling to see a call by ICE, the agency charged with enforcing U.S. immigration law, to limit access to legal counsel. Citizens would certainly question the IRS, if it called for tax lawyers and advisors to stop providing legal counsel. Unfortunately, we have learned time and again that ICE is far from perfect in its execution of our immigration laws. Some of the people arrested by ICE have turned out to be U.S. citizens. Without access to legal counsel and our judicial system, even more U.S. citizens would be at risk of being mistakenly deported.
“I strongly support the actions and initiatives of those individuals educating immigrants on their legal rights in our unique and honored system of justice,” said Kathleen Campbell Walker, President of AILA. “Attempts to provide pro bono legal assistance in this country to the poor and the undocumented should not be seen as threatening to law enforcement officials. In the current backlash after the defeat of comprehensive immigration reform, let us not also lose the principles of justice for which we are admired and respected as a nation. Legal knowledge and access to legal rights enhances our system of justice and makes sure that everyone, including the government, plays by the rules crafted by Congress and embodied in our Constitution.”
The American Immigration Lawyers Association is the national association of immigration lawyers established to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice, and enhance the professional development of its members.