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Legal Advice Ending for Immigrants in Detention in US

FILE - Undocumented immigrants wait in a holding facility after arriving at the U.S. Border Patrol detention.

Immigrants in detention in the U.S. will no longer be getting legal advice, at least temporarily.

The Executive Office for Immigration Review is planning this month to halt a program that provides incarcerated immigrants with information about their rights in immigration court — the latest in a series of immigration measures taken by the Trump administration.

The program is run by the Vera Institute of Justice and, along with other nonprofits, it holds information sessions for more than 50,000 immigrants each year in some 40 detention facilities around the U.S.

A spokesperson for EOIR, an agency of the U.S. Justice Department, told The Washington Post the program will be subjected to "efficiency reviews which have not taken place in six years."

"Through [the Legal Orientation Program] legal service organizations provide basic information to men and women in immigration jails about the detention and deportation process. The goals of the bipartisan program are to improve judicial efficiency and help immigrants in detention without attorneys navigate the immigration court process," said Mary Meg McCarthy, Executive Director for the National Immigrant Justice Center, which provides legal services to immigrants.

McCarthy's statement said a 2012 DOJ study found that the program reduced the time immigrants remained in jail by six days and saved the government $17.8 million per year.

FILE - President Donald Trump speaks to reporters before leaving the White House in Washington, Oct. 7, 2017.
FILE - President Donald Trump speaks to reporters before leaving the White House in Washington, Oct. 7, 2017.

Other changes to immigration

In addition to the legal program, the Trump administration has made several other immigration policy changes in the last 10 days.

On Friday, President Donald Trump issued a proclamation calling for multiple federal government agencies to work together to end the so-called "catch and release" policy.

Under catch and release, immigrants seeking asylum at the border are released from detention while their cases make their way through the immigration courts.

The proclamation calls for multiple reports from the Departments of Homeland Security, Defense, Justice, and Health and Human Services. In 45 days, the agencies are to report on their efforts to end catch and release. Within 75 days, they are to report on what resources they need to achieve this goal. And in 60 days, they must report on what measures are being taken to ensure deportable immigrants are returned to their home countries.

The proclamation also commissions a list of facilities, including military sites, that could be used to incarcerate people suspected of violating immigration law.

"It is time to empower federal authorities by providing them with the legal authority and resources they need to effectively enforce our nation's immigration laws. Otherwise, the influx of illegal aliens into the United States will only continue," the White House said in a statement on the proclamation.

Also last Friday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a "zero-tolerance" policy on border crossings. The policy amounts to a call to federal prosecutors on the Mexican border to pursue all immigration cases referred to them by the Department of Homeland Security.

Earlier in the week, the Justice Department issued a requirement that immigration judges process 700 cases a year. While the directive is intended to make a dent in a sizable backlog of immigration cases, advocates believe it will not improve the quality of justice in immigration cases.

"Each week, the Trump administration finds new and cruel ways to hurt immigrants," Lorella Praeli of the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement on the halt of the Legal Orientation Program.