DOJ Program to Credential Immigrant Legal Representatives at Virtual Standstill, Leaving Low-Income People Without Representation in Life-or-Death Immigration Matters

SILVER SPRING, Maryland — A new report  from CLINIC finds that the Recognition and Accreditation, or R&A, program within the Department of Justice is virtually stalled due to a severe shortage of staff and resources, leading to a lack of legal representation for low-income immigrants seeking asylum or other immigration statuses.

Applications to become an “accredited representative” can now take seventeen months to be processed, while those same applications took three to four months just a few years ago.

For low-income immigrants, a DOJ-accredited representative, trained in immigration law, may be the only hope they have for representation in court. Immigration cases can have life or death outcomes and determine whether a family is separated or not. Yet, unlike the criminal system where representation is guaranteed for such high stakes, immigrants, including children, may find themselves in court with no legal advocate.

The Department of Justice’s R&A program is a unique system in which people who are not attorneys, but receive training and education in immigration law, can provide legal assistance in immigration matters to low-income and indigent people, through non-profit organizations. Since access to justice should not be based on income, the DOJ R&A program is a vital lifeline for many who qualify for relief under U.S. immigration law, but cannot afford to pay a private attorney to help them obtain it.

Anna Gallagher, Executive Director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., or CLINIC, stated, “Decisions in immigration cases can have devastating consequences, including deportation into deadly situations and permanent separation of families. Considering these high stakes, ensuring access to affordable legal representation reflects our values as Catholics and as Americans, as every person deserves a fair opportunity to fully understand and present their case, no matter their immigration or socioeconomic status.”

As detailed in the report, immigrants with legal representation are far more likely to succeed in their cases than those without legal assistance. Low-income and indigent people must have access to quality legal representation in order to have access to justice and to ensure due process. “To meet current need for low-cost, trained legal representation and prepare for potential legalization through Congress, the Biden administration must invest now in ramping up the R&A program. CLINIC and our affiliates are ready to do our part," said Karen Sullivan, CLINIC’s Advocacy Manager and Policy Advocate.

“We urge DOJ to provide the R&A program with sufficient resources and staff to process applications for new representatives within a three to four month timeline,” said Sullivan. In a May 2021 memorandum, the Biden administration stressed the importance of expanding legal representation, noting that, “[l]egal services are crucial to the fair and effective administration of our laws and public programs, and the stability of our society.” Sullivan continued, “DOJ has the R&A program available at their fingertips; they need only remove self-imposed barriers to leverage this powerful program to help meet their access to counsel and access to justice goals.”