Jan 21, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Biden administration to provide more legal help to migrants

Immigrant men are taken into custody by U.S. Border Patrol agents at the U.S.-Mexico border in Yuma, Arizona.
Migrant men are taken into custody by Border Patrol agents in Yuma, Ariz. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

The Biden administration is gearing up to provide legal services to migrants entering the immigration system in seven border towns, according to a government solicitation for contractors published on Thursday.

Why it matters: Increasing migrant access to legal services has long been a goal of the administration. While the new Legal Access at the Border (LAB) program will help prepare migrants for the immigration legal process, it will not directly provide them attorneys.

  • The plan notably includes migrants placed in the re-implemented "Remain in Mexico" policy, formally named the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP).
  • Many legal aid organizations who would typically provide pro bono legal services to migrants have refused to assist with MPP, due to serious humanitarian concerns associated with the program. They’ve criticized President Biden for restarting it, even though it was ordered by a court.
  • Earlier this month, senior administration officials highlighted efforts to increase legal services for migrants enrolled in MPP during a call with reporters.

Details: Contractors will run the new orientation program, but the Justice Department's Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) will oversee it.

  • It’s part of the agency’s broader efforts to increase information and representation, which it calls the “Access EOIR” initiative, spokesperson Kathryn Mattingly told Axios.
  • It will be for migrants attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, those in Border Patrol custody, in the MPP program or who may be enrolled in MPP or otherwise placed in deportation proceedings, according to the published documents on SAM.gov.

The program will be set up in San Diego and Calexico, Calif.; Nogales, Ariz.; as well as El Paso, Eagle Pass, Laredo and Brownsville, Texas — MPP was once enforced in all seven. The administration hopes to launch the program sometime during the next 60 days.

  • Contractors will explain the migrants' options for staying in the U.S. while deportation orders are pending, as well as general immigration court practices and procedures.
  • The solicitation asks contractors for plans that include individual and group orientations, pro bono referrals and options for remote legal services.

The big picture: The effort to improve the court process for migrants arriving through the U.S.-Mexico border comes as the immigration court backlog has boomed to nearly 1.6 million pending cases.

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