ANNAPOLIS, MD – Fifty-three Maryland and national immigrant, labor, faith, civil rights, and legal organizations sent a letter to the Maryland General Assembly asking for support in passage of Access to Counsel in Immigration Proceedings (House Bill 114/Senate Bill 129). The bill creates a state-funded program that provides legal representation to detained Marylanders facing deportation, including individuals with lawful permanent resident status (“green card holders”), those with temporary status (like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or Temporary Protected Status (TPS), among others), survivors of gender-based violence, and undocumented individuals. The letter is available below.

The letter demonstrates the deep and growing support for this legislation which was introduced for the second time in the legislature by Senator Shelly Hettleman and Delegate Nicole Williams. During both the House and Senate hearings at the beginning of February, proponents made powerful arguments for the need for this bill, lifting up the human stories of those deprived of their liberty without access to an attorney. Now the signatories call for Access to Counsel in Immigration Proceedings to be added to the committee voting list right away. Led by CASA, the state’s leading immigrant advocacy organization, the letter is signed by notable state and local organizations including Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, AFSCME Council 3, the Vera Institute of Justice, the National Immigrant Law Center, the Center for Popular Democracy, and more.

“This lack of representation is particularly problematic considering that deportation proceedings, which are civil in nature, often resemble criminal proceedings, including long periods of incarceration and severe consequences, such as permanent expulsion from the country and permanent separation from one’s family,” read the letter, which is being delivered after the House and Senate committees held bill hearings earlier this month.

Under United States immigration law, noncitizen immigrants, regardless of status, are not entitled to legal representation at government expense. Unlike criminal court, where all indigent defendants are provided with counsel, immigrants fight deportation cases on their own. The letter points to the 443,489 noncitizens living in Maryland (7.3% of the state’s population) who could at some point be subject to deportation proceedings.

In the Baltimore Immigration Court—where most Maryland residents appear for their case—representation quadrupled the likelihood that a noncitizen would successfully win their case. Overall, with legal representation, detained immigrants in Maryland are 71 percent more likely to win their deportation cases and stay in our country and communities.

The letter closed, “Everyone deserves the right to due process, fairness, and dignity. This means that everyone should be afforded the opportunity to identify, apply for, and receive the immigration relief they are entitled to under our nation’s laws.”