Monday, May 22, 2017

Threats to Immigration Lawyers by the Department That Calls Itself "Justice" Under President Trump (Above the Law Blog)

Despicable threats to immigration lawyers by what retired Texas law professor Mike Tigar calls it "the Department that calls itself "Justice." Check this out from Above the Law Blog:

DOJ Threatens Immigration Rights Lawyers, Demands They Drop Their Clients
The Trump administration tries a scary new tactic to keep lawyers from aiding immigrants.
May 19, 2017 at 10:51 AM

If you can’t beat ’em, bully them with “cease and desist” letters and trumped-up disciplinary accusations. That’s apparently the new motto down at the Department of Justice, where the government is lashing out at the immigration rights attorneys who stymied the administration’s efforts to implement their travel ban. And it’s not just non-profit groups (though those are the first lawyers getting hit); the clever, if diabolical, argument the DOJ has cooked up could be launched to shut down Biglaw attorneys working pro bono matters next. They may have stumbled out of the gate, but this Justice Department came to play hardball, folks.

In a piece posted this morning over at The Nation, Rachel Tiven discusses the plight of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), a non-profit group that offers assistance to people facing deportation hearings. After volunteering their services to fight the Muslim travel ban, NWIRP received a stern cease-and-desist letter from DOJ directing them to close up their asylum advisory services. As one might imagine, this is not something the government can usually order attorneys to do, but the government found a loophole to exploit:

The reason [for the DOJ letter]: a technicality, perversely applied. NWIRP is accused of breaking a rule that was put in place to protect people from lawyers or “notarios” who take their money and then drop their case…. The accusation is that because NWIRP provides advice and assistance to people in immigration proceedings without committing to full representation, it is violating the rules.

It’s a Kafkaesque system: The government won’t provide immigrant defendants with legal representation, and they are allowed to get help for free only if they find a lawyer who will commit up-front to a case that will stretch on for years. Otherwise, they’re not allowed to have any help at all, are required to submit complex legal documents with no assistance, and lawyers who try to help them will be sanctioned.

You’ve got to hand it to them, this is a pretty novel idea. Because too many unscrupulous immigration attorneys robbed their clients blind and then abandoned them, the government imposed regulations to keep the field honest. Unfortunately, those regulations can be twisted to shut out providers of free legal services.

NWIRP took the DOJ to court and won a reprieve on Wednesday, when Judge Richard A. Jones — for the record, yet another George W. Bush appointee who has sided against this administration on its immigration shenanigans — granted the TRO they requested to enjoin the DOJ. But as Tiven’s piece notes, if Sessions manages to ultimately prevail, the non-profits are just the beginning of the crackdown that would ensue:

The DoJ’s suspiciously timed cease and desist letter sends a chilling message to exactly these groups, and to volunteer attorneys. This attack by the government on a legal services-provider for immigrants could dissuade law firms from letting their lawyers volunteer for these cases, scaring those firms away by convincing them that immigration-related projects are too risky pro-bono projects.

Gotta hand it to Sessions on this one. He may have hit a snag, but on paper this was a sound strategy — go after a single non-profit, hoping to keep it under the radar, and get a good result before pushing back against deep-pocketed Biglaw firms. While this administration is getting beaten in the courts like so many rented mules, it’s not for lack of trying.

And what everyone should take away from this episode is that they’re willing to play dirty to keep lawyers from ever making it to the courthouse steps.

Joe Patrice is an editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to emailany tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news.

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