SEATTLE — A federal judge in Seattle said Monday that nonprofit legal groups around the country can keep assisting immigrants facing deportation, after a Justice Department decision threatened to curtail much of that work.
In April, the Justice Department told the Seattle-based Northwest Immigrant Rights Project that it cannot provide certain legal assistance to immigrants unless it undertakes full, formal representation of them in court.
The organization — and similar groups around the U.S. who could be hindered by such a rule — said they don’t have the resources to do so, and that the order would force them to give up preparing motions and other documents on behalf of immigrants who represent themselves.
The DOJ’s decision meant that thousands of immigrants facing deportation, who aren’t entitled to a lawyer the way criminal defendants are, would have to go through the process without legal help, the groups said.
U.S. District Judge Richard Jones issued a temporary order blocking the Justice Department’s restrictions in May. On Monday, he issued a more formal preliminary injunction, saying the restrictions would violate the groups’ rights under the First Amendment of the Constitution.
“During this unprecedented time of increased immigration detention and deportation of immigrants by the Trump Administration, thousands of immigrants who cannot afford an attorney rely on legal advice to help them as they face deportation,” Jorge Baron, executive director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, said in a written statement. “Today’s victory grants them a better opportunity to seek justice.”
The Justice Department did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
In an April cease-and-desist letter, the Justice Department Executive Office of Immigration Review cited a rule adopted in 2008 and designed to stamp out attorney misconduct and so-called “notario” fraud, in which people unauthorized to practice law advertised themselves as able to help immigrants obtain lawful status.
Since the rule took effect, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project has noted its involvement on any motions it filed on behalf of otherwise unrepresented immigrants, but it said it doesn’t have the resources to formally represent everyone it advises.
Such representation is much more time consuming, and for example can require attorneys to undertake intensive investigation into their client’s case.