CLINIC Welcomes Change to Immigration R&A Program

SILVER SPRING, Maryland — The Department of Justice’s rule on the Recognition and Accreditation of Non-Attorney Representatives is now available at the Federal Register website. The final rule is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Dec. 19. It will take effect Jan. 18, 2017.

The rule makes substantial changes to the Recognition and Accreditation Program, which includes removing the nominal fee requirement and requiring renewal of recognition. The leadership of Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., welcomes the changes.

“We are pleased to see changes that heighten the professionalism of recognized organizations, while providing the flexibility to encourage the long-term sustainability of our affiliates,” said Jeanne Atkinson executive director of CLINIC. “As a result, more low income immigrants will be able to obtain assistance from trained providers.”

CLINIC is the largest network of nonprofit immigration legal services programs in the nation.

The R&A program governs how nonprofit organizations provide charitable immigration legal services. Nonprofits that meet certain requirements apply for recognition and non-attorney staff members may apply for accreditation after completing rigorous training focused on immigration law. Accredited individuals can help clients with immigration matters before government agencies, including U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the asylum office. Certain accredited representatives may represent clients in immigration court. Currently, nearly 1,000 nonprofits are recognized and 1,900 non-attorney staff members are accredited.

Low-income migrants often cannot afford private attorney fees. Without nonprofits proving such services, immigrants are more likely to apply on their own or fall prey to unauthorized practitioners, sometimes known as notarios. “We want all immigrants to protect themselves by only going to trustworthy providers of legal services,” said Atkinson. “The R&A program is vital to helping achieve that.”

CLINIC’s network of affiliate organizations represents more than one-third of recognized agencies and more than 45 percent all accredited staff. CLINIC’s Capacity Building Director Jeff Chenoweth said, “When CLINIC opened its doors in 1988 we had 17 affiliates. Now we have more than 300. Over the years many things have changed, but the need to provide low cost services to immigrants remains constant. At CLINIC we’re proud to help these organizations achieve their missions. Nonprofits can make all the difference in protecting the poorest and most vulnerable among us.”

Major changes to the R&A program include:

  • moving the administration of the R&A process from the Board of Immigration Appeals to the Office of Legal Access Programs;
  • removing the “nominal fees” requirement and replacing it with a reporting procedure in which federally tax-exempt organizations will now demonstrate they are primarily serving low-income and indigent clients;
  • requiring organizations to renew their recognition every six years; and
  • replacing the current “good moral character” requirement for accreditation with a new “character and fitness” requirement.

As a longtime advocate for an efficient and fair R&A Program, CLINIC applauds the DOJ’s changes as an opportunity for legal service providers to freely manage their own programs. The new rule appropriately shifts the focus in determining nonprofit status to the federal tax-exempt, charitable status of an organization that primarily serves low-income and indigent clients. Also, the new recognition renewal requirement allows the Justice Department to hold providers accountable for maintaining their standards, while providing exceptional service to their clients.

CLINIC advocates for humane and just immigration policy. Its network of nonprofit immigration programs—more than 300 organizations in 46 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico—is the largest in the nation.