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The right to legal counsel is familiar to most people moving through the criminal court system. But the same right isn’t available to immigrant detainees facing the immigration courts. This adds to the difficulty in protecting their rights and legal status.

In addition, hiring a lawyer to help you resolve your case can be costly. You may not know where to find a qualified immigration attorney who will provide the resources you need.

Understanding your right to counsel under immigration law is the first step in overcoming the challenges related to a detention or potential removal. 

The Rights of Immigrants in Court

The inability to secure legal counsel impacts the outcome of your legal proceedings. But many immigrant detainees are unaware of their rights in relation to getting proper legal representation.

Immigrant detainees may obtain counsel at their own expense. But many seek counsel at the expense of the government.

The laws and regulations regarding the right to counsel are numerous and include Constitutional amendments, federal regulations and statutes, and the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

Although immigrant detainees lack a right to counsel, some courts may provide counsel at the government’s expense depending on the unique circumstances related to a case.

Legal Counsel Essentials

The right to legal counsel for defendants facing the criminal courts was established with Gideon v. Wainwright. This case ruled that each state must provide counsel to defendants who are unable to afford their own legal counsel.

But this ruling wasn’t extended to immigration courts. As a result, immigrant detainees do not have the right to legal counsel, and most are unable to cover the cost of securing an attorney.

Deportation is a civil sanction rather than a criminal one. So immigrants don’t have the same right to legal counsel as those who enter the criminal court system.

Obtaining an immigration lawyer when you’ve already been detained makes the situation more difficult.

Also, immigrants have to face government attorneys who can present a case for deportation even in cases where the immigrant has no legal representation.

The U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment enables immigrants to secure legal counsel at their own expense. State courts recognize the importance of allowing immigrants to secure their own counsel and maintain fairness in court proceedings.

The Constitution’s Sixth Amendment and the INA don’t grant immigrant’s the ability to retain counsel at the expense of the government.

But immigrants who are deemed mentally incompetent to present their cases in court may be aided by a qualified professional who’s been appointed by the government.

Legal Protection for Immigrant Detainees

Immigrant detainees have greater success when they have the right legal resources. They’re more likely to obtain a release from their detention and apply for deportation relief.

Lacking the right to legal counsel highlights the importance of securing an immigration attorney as soon as possible, preventing many unwanted issues down the line.

Protecting your legal status ensures that you avoid the disruption that a deportation causes.

Although you may not have the right to free legal counsel under the law, working with a skilled immigration attorney is essential to avoiding deportation and providing a secure future for your entire family.