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Northwest Immigrant Rights Project sues Department of Justice

Last month the U.S. Department of Justice sent a “cease and desist” order to the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP). The order stated that NWIRP is violating federal regulations by not filling out a Notice of Entry of Appearance form for each client that NWIRP provides legal counsel to.

The DOJ orders the NWIRP to “cease and desist from representing aliens unless and until the appropriate Notice of Entry of Appearance form is filed with each client that NWIRP represents.”

In response, the NWIRP has filed a lawsuit, NWIRP v. Sessions claiming that the DOJ is restricting the NWIRP’s First Amendment rights as well as their Tenth Amendment rights.

The vague and overbroad rule, and EOIR’s [Executive Office for Immigration Review] application of it to NWIRP, violates (1) the First Amendment, by restricting NWIRP’s rights to free speech, free association, and to petition the government, and (2) the Tenth Amendment, by invading the power reserved to the State of Washington (and other states) to regulate the practice of law.

The NWIRP supports immigrants, asylum-seekers, and refugees regardless of immigration status.  The majority of their clients have an income of less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. They provide legal representation to those in immigration and deportation proceedings at little or no cost.

Since undocumented immigrants do not have a right to a public defender or appointed council in immigration court, organizations like the NWIRP provide legal assistance to people who would otherwise not be able to afford legal assistance.

This is not NWIRP’s first lawsuit against the Trump administration. They, along with other immigrant rights groups, filed a class action lawsuit against President Trump’s second executive order limiting travelers from six predominantly Muslim countries back in March. NWIRP also filed a class action lawsuit for the first version of the executive order.

Columbia Legal Services, who also provides legal assistance to low income clients, released a statement on the matter:

Columbia Legal Services denounces the DOJ’s attempt to obstruct essential legal services provided by the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and support NWIRP’s lawsuit challenging the order. NWIRP has a proven 30-year record of helping people understand their rights and protect themselves from deportation — often a life-changing decision. Meanwhile, the new administration has a disturbing record of using executive orders and threats like this one to target communities based on immigration status and religion.

As legal advocates who work closely with undocumented immigrants, we are concerned about notarios who provide inadequate and improper legal advice to immigrant communities and often do more damage than good. The DOJ appears to be using 2008 agency regulations targeting notarios as a false pretense to attack a reputable legal service organization. However, NWIRP is no notario. It may be no coincidence that NWIRP and other civil and immigrant rights groups in our state and across the nation have challenged Trump’s Muslim ban.

If the DOJ order is allowed to stand, it would preclude the majority of people in deportation proceedings in Washington State from receiving any legal assistance in their cases. This order undermines American values and Constitutional protections and we stand with NWIRP and the communities we serve to help block it.

In the lawsuit, NWIRP says they are presented with aHobson’s choice: either NWIRP must commit to full legal representation of every immigrant in removal proceedings it presently assists (which is plainly impossible), or NWIRP must refrain from providing them any form of legal assistance—not even a brief consultation.”

As of May 4, there were approximately 8,882 pending cases in the Seattle and Tacoma immigration courts.

If the courts uphold the Department of Justice’s interpretation of agency regulations, other free legal services for undocumented immigrants could be jeopardized.