• June 14th, 2024
  • Friday, 05:04:37 AM

Legislation Introduced to Create Statewide Universal Representation in Colorado

Last week, Representative Kerry Tipper (D-Jefferson), Representative Naquetta Ricks (D-Arapahoe), and Senator Dominick Moreno (D-Adams) introduced legislation to ensure immigrants who are facing removal proceedings in civil court do not face the unjust immigration system without legal representation. HB 21-1194 addresses one of the most pressing civil rights issues in Colorado and our nation: the fact that immigration deportation proceedings are the only legal procedures in the nation where a person can be detained without the right to a government-funded lawyer, even if that person is a child or an asylum seeker.

“Everyone should be able to have their day in court with proper representation. The legal system is hard to navigate. In order for it to truly administer justice, we have to ensure everyone has access to a lawyer if they cannot afford one,” said Representative Kerry Tipper.

Providing access to legal counsel for people who cannot afford a lawyer in removal proceedings can offset the harm of deportation and detention on Colorado families who lose a breadwinner, on children who face long-lasting emotional trauma, on employers who have to find new workers, and on local communities who lose a valued member.

“People facing deportation are our neighbors, friends and family members. When someone goes to immigration court, they face a daunting tangle of arcane laws and they are forced to do it alone,” said Senator Dominick Moreno. “Immigrants don’t leave their human rights behind when they come to Colorado –– it’s past time for our government to uphold those rights by ensuring universal access to legal representation.”

“People who have a lawyer are 3.5 times more likely to be released on bond as the law allows, instead of languishing for months or even years in for-profit detention centers.”
Raquel Lane-Arellano, Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition

Daniel Fesshaye, a Fort Morgan resident originally from Eritrea, explains, “Coming up with the money for a lawyer was difficult, but I knew I had no other choice if I wanted to win my case. I had to borrow $4,000 from a friend. As soon as I got out of immigration detention, I had to focus on repaying him, instead of rebuilding my life.”

“Universal representation is also critical to addressing anti-Blackness in immigration court and fighting back against the detention-to-deportation pipeline,” said Representative Naquetta Ricks. “The compounding forces of systemic racism, over-policing in Black communities, and entanglement between law enforcement and ICE have created an immigration system that detains, deports, and harms Black immigrants more than four times as frequently as non-Black immigrants. When our community members have legal representation in court they are ten times more likely to be granted the relief they qualify for.”

Legal representation is critical for families living in Colorado.

“Both myself and my husband were thrown into deportation proceedings after a traffic stop. Over the past eight years, there were moments we had to decide between paying our lawyer or putting food on the table for our children. I can’t imagine confronting this process without legal representation,” said Guadalupe López, an organizer with the American Friends Service Committee, and an immigrant from México. “Now that we’re through the nightmare, I’m organizing my community in Fort Morgan. Many working families here don’t have much savings and couldn’t afford a lawyer no matter how hard they try. They are desperate because they know they have almost no chance at the relief we won, not because of the law, but because they can’t pay. Every single person should have the dignity of representation.”
“Universal representation could be life saving for immigrant families, who are experiencing disproportionate impacts of COVID; both in community and in detention centers,” said Raquel Lane-Arellano, Policy Manager at Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, “People in detention face loss of liberty and employment and lasting trauma from inhumane conditions. Access to counsel can mean all the difference. People who have a lawyer are 3.5 times more likely to be released on bond as the law allows, instead of languishing for months or even years in for-profit detention centers.”

“Universal Representation would benefit so many people in my close knit mountain community. There are so many people who have very few resources, like me. A pro bono attorney is so much help, so much,” said Ismael of Mountain Dreamers, who asked not to use his last name for fear of immigration enforcement.

HB 21-1194 would create a fund that allows for public and private contributions through gifts, grants and donations. The program would provide a free lawyer through non-profit legal service organizations to qualifying individuals facing deportation proceedings in a Colorado immigration court.


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