Last week, the Attorney General overruled the Board’s decisions in Matter of Lozada, and Matter of Assaad. The decision held that there is no Fifth Amendment right to counsel in immigration proceedings. Matter of Compean-Bangaly-J-E-C, 24 I&N, Dec. 710 (A.G. 2009).
When immigrants face possible deportation, they don’t have the right to a state-appointed attorney. Now, Attorney General Michael Mukasey says this means they also don’t have the right to a new hearing if the lawyer they hire turns out to be incompetent or a fraud. This decision could hurt thousands of immigrants seeking to stay in the U.S.
For 20 years, various courts have ruled that the clients of such a lawyer had a constitutional right to ask for a new trial with a new attorney. But the Justice Department has disagreed with that concept, and recently some courts upheld its view. The ruling does allow the Justice Department to use its discretion to grant new trials if an immigrant can show that his lawyer’s actions were “egregious,” and if the agency believes the immigrant has a valid claim to avoid deportation.
ACLU and other groups plan to appeal the attorney general’s new ruling, and to pressure the new Obama administration to overturn it.