May 19, 2017
If you can’t beat ’em, bully them with cease and desist letters and trumped up disciplinary accusations. That’s apparently the new motto down at the DOJ, where the government is lashing out at the immigration rights attorneys who stymied the administration’s efforts to implement their travel ban. And it’s not just non-profit groups — though those are the first lawyers getting hit — the clever, if diabolical, argument Justice has cooked up could be launched to shut down Biglaw attorneys working pro bono matters next. They may have stumbled out of the gate, but this Justice Department came to play hardball, folks.
In a piece posted this morning over at The Nation, Rachel Tiven discusses the plight of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), a non-profit group that offers assistance to people facing deportation hearings. After volunteering their services to fight the Muslim travel ban, NWIRP received a stern cease and desist letter from DOJ directing them to close up their asylum advisory services and drop all their clients. As one might imagine, it’s not something the government can usually order defense attorneys to do, but the government found a loophole to exploit:
It’s a Kafkaesque system: The government won’t provide immigrant defendants with legal representation, and they are allowed to get help for free only if they find a lawyer who will commit up-front to a case that will stretch on for years. Otherwise, they’re not allowed to have any help at all, are required to submit complex legal documents with no assistance, and lawyers who try to help them will be sanctioned.
You’ve got to hand it to them, this is a pretty novel idea. Because too many unscrupulous immigration attorneys robbed their clients blind and then abandoned them, the government imposed regulations to keep the field honest. Unfortunately, those regulations can be twisted to shut out providers of free legal services.
NWIRP took the DOJ to court and won a reprieve on Wednesday, when Judge Richard A. Jones — for the record, yet another George W. Bush appointee who has sided against this administration on its immigration shenanigans — granted the TRO they requested to enjoin the DOJ. But as Tiven’s piece notes, if Sessions manages to ultimately prevail, the non-profits are just the beginning of the crackdown that would ensue: