Jeff Sessions Reverses Course, Will Allow Legal Training for Detained Immigrants

Sessions says the DOJ won't suspend the Legal Orientation Program, which provides legal advice to detained immigrants.
Sessions says the DOJ won't suspend the Legal Orientation Program, which provides legal advice to detained immigrants. reinstein
Attorney General Jeff Sessions says that the Department of Justice has changed its mind about suspending legal orientation trainings at immigration detention centers.

In operation since 2003, the Legal Orientation Program serves 53,000 people a year in 38 detention centers around the U.S., providing a legal crash course to detained immigrants who are going through court proceedings, most of whom do not have a lawyer, since counsel isn't supplied as it is traditionally under criminal law. For most detainees, it's the only legal information they receive before going into an immigration courtroom and advocating for themselves, including in deportation cases. 

The DOJ caused an uproar when it recently decided to suspend the program, drawing ire not just from nonprofits that administer the legal trainings but also critical comments from municipalities including the City of Denver and members of Congress such as Jared Polis.

But today, April 25, Sessions suddenly reversed course. The news came in comments he made before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies.

"I’d like to address one matter that I know is important to the committee: the Legal Orientation Program," Sessions said. "I have expressed some concerns about the program, and the Executive Office for Immigration Review has expressed its intent to pause two parts of the program pending the results of a formal review of the program. I recognize, however, that the committee has spoken on this matter, and, out of deference to the committee, I have ordered there be no pause while that review is conducted. I look forward to evaluating the findings and will be in communication with the committee when they are available."

Because the Legal Orientation Program had already been proven to save the DOJ $4 for every dollar it spends — since advising detainees streamlines the court process — Mekela Goehring, executive director of Rocky Mountain Immigration Advocacy Network, a nonprofit that trains immigrants in Colorado's only detention center in Aurora, had previously told Westword that the decision to end the program "flies in the face of common sense."

Today, after Sessions's comments, she added, "The near disappearance of the Legal Orientation Program (LOP) is a call to action for all of us who care about the rule of law and justice for immigrants in the United States. RMIAN is thrilled that the Department of Justice has reversed its decision and is now doing the right thing by allowing the Legal Orientation Program to continue. However, we know this battle is not over. RMIAN will continue to fight for the rights of our fellow community members ensnared in civil immigration detention in Colorado and ensure this vital lifeline continues well into the future."
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Chris Walker is a freelancer and former staff writer at Westword. Before moving to the Mile High City he spent two years bicycling across Eurasia, during which he wrote feature stories for VICE, NPR, Forbes, and The Atlantic. Read more of Chris's feature work and view his portfolio here.
Contact: Chris Walker