DOJ Attempts to Bully Attorneys Helping Immigrants


By Amy Roe

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.

Because there’s a danger the government could use selective enforcement of broad rules to censor such speech, and because First Amendment freedoms need “breathing space” to survive, the Court has said that government can only regulate lawyers with “narrow specificity.”

And when free-speech rights have involved the freedom of association characterized by nonprofit organizations like the ACLU and the NAACP, courts have defended them especially vigorously.

The Trump Administration’s attacks on the rights of immigrants are unlike anything America has ever seen. They include a pair of discriminatory Muslim bans and threats to yank portions of federal funding from jurisdictions that refuse to comply with the government’s unconstitutional mass deportation program.

From challenging the Muslim ban to giving free legal advice to immigrants who need it, NWIRP has stood strong in the face of these attacks.

That is their right. The First Amendment isn’t first for nothing.

Amy Roe is a Senior Writer with ACLU of Washington

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6 thoughts on “DOJ Attempts to Bully Attorneys Helping Immigrants”

  1. Tia Will

    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.”

    This is clearly absurd as well as harassment designed to obstruct and tie up attorneys in litigation so as not to be able to provide aid to a targeted population. The absurdist part is the arbitrary limitation. Should this demand for all or none representation apply to all attorneys. So I cannot consult an attorney for advice regarding domestic violence, or divorce, or development of a trust or business deal unless they follow me all the way through to complete resolution. Really ? So much for equal treatment under the law !

    I am no expert as all know. But I have lived quite a long time and I have never, not even under Nixon, seen an administration so reckless with and disrespectful of our laws, rights and protections under the constitution.


  2. Tia Will

    The Trump Administration’s attacks on the rights of immigrants are unlike anything America has ever seen. ”

    Unfortunately this is not quite accurate. There are very strong resemblances to how various administrations have treated Native Americans, how we have treated Black Americans whose ancestors were brought here forcefully against their will, how we treated the American Japanese during WWII and how we treated Jews attempting to come to the United States for life saving refuge. This is not new. What is new is how very blatant and self congratulatory it is in the open for all to see.

  3. Jim Hoch

    I’m not an expert on withdrawal from representation however these are the general guidelines I believe. This is predicated on the lawyer taking some action rather than just providing advice.

    Getting the Court’s Permission to Withdraw
    Even where withdrawal is mandatory, an attorney must first seek and obtain the court’s permission before ending representation in the middle of a case.
    While a court will usually be sympathetic to the plight of an attorney faced with circumstances requiring or permitting withdrawal, permission to immediately withdraw may not be granted if:

    the facts giving rise to the withdrawal request are in dispute, or
    withdrawal would materially prejudice the client’s ability to litigate the case.

    In such circumstances, the court might hold an evidentiary hearing on the disputed factual issues before making a ruling on the attorney’s withdrawal request. And, in most situations where the withdrawal request is granted, the court will give the client a reasonable amount of time to find new counsel.
    Once an attorney has received court permission to withdraw from the representation, the attorney must return all of the client’s property in his or her possession, including client funds and any unused or unearned prepaid fees or retainers. The attorney must cooperate with the client’s new counsel and must hand the client’s complete file over as directed.
    An attorney who has withdrawn from representation has a continuing professional obligation to maintain the confidentiality of all matters within the attorney-client relationship, so for example the attorney cannot become a witness for the client’s opponent in the case on matters falling within the scope of the attorney-client privilege. This obligation arises from the rules of professional responsibility that govern the duties of attorneys to current and former clients, and a violation of these rules can result in disciplinary action against the attorney, up to and including disbarment.

  4. Robin W.

    An attorney needs court approval to withdraw from representation if that attorney has appeared in court on behalf of the client. That is not the situation at issue in this case. The DOJ is attempting to preclude the pro bono attorneys here from providing the clients any advice unless they also represent them in the immigration court proceedings.

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