The unsafe conditions in many immigration detention centers have been roundly criticized over the last few months. While we have previously discussed how this issue has affected Illinois, there is one question below the surface of every one of these stories: Should all immigrants being held in a detention center have legal representation?

In criminal cases, every accused individual has the right to an attorney. Even though many deportation hearings are sparked by criminal accusations, those who are detained awaiting a hearing aren't guaranteed representation by an attorney. This raises the concern that undocumented immigrants won't be made aware of their rights.

The issue of legal representation became heightened by national reports that at least 300 detained individuals are kept in solitary confinement on any given day, which the United Nations views as torture under some circumstances. This is the exact circumstance in which legal representation can help to make sure that people facing deportation are treated fairly.

Despite the obvious problems with detention centers, some critics are adamant that legal representation shouldn't be required for all detainees. Furthermore, studies show that immigrants with adequate representation in deportation hearings are more likely to receive a positive outcome.

While detainees are often separated from their family while awaiting a hearing, being deported obviously puts family members in a situation to decide whether or not to leave the United States or live without their loved one nearby. This is a very difficult situation for anyone to handle. As such, the right advice can help untangle the situation and point to a positive solution.

Source: The New York Times, "Immigrant Detainees and the Right to Counsel," Ian Urbina and Catherine Rentz, March 30, 2013

  • To learn more about the issues covered in this post, please see our Chicago immigration page.