Kevin Gardner


To an outside observer, immigration courts may appear identical to criminal courts. However, there is one critical distinction. In criminal court, defendants have a well-established right to court-appointed counsel if they cannot afford a lawyer. But there is no such right for aliens with removal orders. If they cannot afford an attorney, or if they do not have the good fortune to find a pro bono attorney, they must fight their case alone against an experienced government attorney. This is troubling because the consequences of an unjust removal order can be horrific: loss of employment, permanent separation from loved ones, torture, and death, just to name a few. Even James Madison, the "Father of the Constitution," recognized that deportation is such a severe punishment that it is difficult to imagine a worse "doom." By creating a right to court-appointed counsel, more aliens will be shielded from being sacrificed like unarmed prisoners to gladiators. Access to court-appointed counsel will also ensure that aliens in removal proceedings can get a fair shake by having an advocate that can act as both offensive sword and defensive shield.