May 30, 2017
The lawyers at Northwest Immigrant Rights Project recently found themselves in the crosshairs of the Department of Justice for doing something they’ve done for more than 30 years: helping immigrants who can’t afford a lawyer.
In a letter to NWIRP, the DOJ attempted to require the group to either agree to provide full representation in deportation proceedings to an immigrant seeking help or forgo helping that person entirely. Groups like NWIRP do not have the resources to fully represent every immigrant who needs help, and in immigration proceedings the government does not provide lawyers to people who cannot afford them. The DOJ’s demand would severely limit the number of immigrants who receive legal assistance in Washington.
It also happens to be unconstitutional.
NWIRP challenged the DOJ’s in court, and the ACLU of Washington filed an amicus brief in support of the challenge. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Jones granted NWIRP’s request for a temporary restraining order, finding that the government’s demand violated the nonprofit’s free-speech right to share information with others.
Since the 1960s, the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly and consistently recognized that the right of people to receive information from lawyers, and the right of lawyers to give information to people in need of it is free speech protected by the First Amendment.