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Biden to Increase Legal Access For Immigrants

May 18, 2021

President Biden will sign an executive action Tuesday to increase access to legal representation for immigrants, minorities, and low-income Americans.

The memo will order the Department of Justice to restore its Office for Access to Justice, an initiative launched in 2010 but effectively shuttered by the Trump administration. Biden will also re-establish the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable, an Obama-era task force that examined how civil legal aid could improve federal programs.

“The federal government has a critical role to play in expanding access to the nation’s legal system and supporting the work of civil legal aid providers and public defenders,” said the White House in a fact sheet about the memorandum. “President Biden’s executive action today will reinvigorate the federal government’s role in advancing access to justice, and help ensure that the Administration’s policies and recovery efforts can reach as many individuals as possible.”

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Currently, immigrants in immigration court have no right to government-appointed legal representation. This applies to immigrants of all ages, including the minors who were sent to deportation hearings during the height of Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy in 2018.

“This means that the incredibly complicated, highly rule-driven proceedings of a removal or asylum hearing in immigration court are faced alone by individuals who frequently do not speak English fluently and have no knowledge of the legal system in which they are operating,” said Maggie Riley, legal advisor for immigration law at Boundless.

The presidential memorandum is part of a larger effort by Biden to strengthen the U.S. immigration system, including establishing a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants and granting legal status to immigrants who came to the United States illegally as minors.

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