Tuesday, May 16, 2017
Immigration Article of the Day: A ONE-YEAR, SPECIALIST’S LAW DEGREE TO INCREASE AND IMPROVE REPRESENTATION AMONG IMMIGRATION RESPONDENTS by JOHN THOMPSON
A ONE-YEAR, SPECIALIST’S LAW DEGREE TO INCREASE AND IMPROVE REPRESENTATION AMONG IMMIGRATION RESPONDENTS by JOHN THOMPSON, Georgetown Immigration Law Journal (2016)
American immigration law suffers from a counsel crisis. Vast numbers of immigrants face removal proceedings with no representation, and many more are not adequately served by their attorneys. Immigrants are also regularly defrauded by unlicensed “notarios.” These problems can be attributed in part to the fact that a large segment of the immigrant population is low-income and cannot afford attorneys’ fees. This paper proposes that the Department of Justice change its regulations to allow for holders of a one-year specialist’s degree in immigration law to practice in immigration court. Such a change would permit law schools to develop a shorter, less costly degree for specialists in immigration law. By reducing the price of education and the opportunity cost of two years of law school, law schools could produce a class of immigration service providers that more immigrants could afford and rely upon. By striking a better balance of education and cost, the DOJ and cooperating law schools could help alleviate the market failure that fuels the immigration counsel crisis. This proposal presents a uniquely feasible option. It would not require legislative action or a landmark Supreme Court ruling; it would be budget-neutral for the DOJ and would result in long-term cost-savings, and it would facilitate other reforms such as creating a right to counsel for immigration respondents. It would involve limited risk, low investment, and the potential for a scalable change that could strike a more pragmatic path towards a better system of representation for our nation’s newcomers.