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Immigration attorneys in San Antonio discuss expanded rights for detained immigrants.

U.S. Representative Bill Foster has introduced legislation to expand the rights for immigrants being held in detention centers and jails, including their right to access an immigration attorney, The Beacon-News reports. Right now, approximately 25 detention centers across the nation provide any sort of legal orientation to detained immigrants. This accounts for about 10 percent of all facilities, and none are located in the Midwest. Illinois’ interest in revising the current policies for jails where immigrants are detained are heavily vested in the cost to the public.

Foster’s recent statement to reporters about his legislation includes a denouncement of how much the current U.S. immigration system depends upon detention and deportation, and the amount it costs taxpayers. Cutting back detention rates and lengths of stay could save millions of federal dollars in backlogged paperwork and other costs associated with lockup. Foster also cites that one of the biggest problems with the detention system is the lack of access to an immigration attorney or even legal advice, which creates “false hope” in detainees unaware of their legal rights and their potentially lengthy stays without appeal.

Under Foster’s new legislation, the U.S. attorney general would work cooperatively with organizations to develop legal orientations at every jail or detention center where immigrants are housed. Programs would ensure immigrants are given notice of their rights in plain, understandable terms and in commonly spoken languages, as well as their specific restriction of the right hiring an immigration attorney. Because some benefits, like the right to legal counsel in detention, is only conferred to U.S. citizens and not unauthorized immigrants, the creation of a legal orientation would allow detainees access to that information. Being informed of basic procedures regarding immigration hearings and information pertaining to detained undocumented immigrant cases, including necessary paperwork and clarity in what applications and paperwork filings would not be beneficial, would allow undocumented immigrants to better understand their rights in detention.

The Midwest has a large immigrant detainee population - 1,200 of the 34,000 immigrants being detained across the nation on a daily basis are located in Chicago alone. Foster’s legislation would save the court judges time and “ease the concern” of detained immigrants and their families facing a confusing and complex legal process. Foster’s hopes this bill would clarify the situation for detained immigrants, including whether “they should give up seeking relief and accept the removal order,” or whether it is likely that someone like an immigration attorney is able to advocate for them.

Foster is aware that his bill is one that is but a small part of a much needed immigration overhaul in the current system. He reiterates that it saves money, which is hard for any member of congress to walk away from. “People can accept or not accept the justice argument,” the representative says. Yet many reform advocates may not. However, Foster argues that he recognizes that something needs to be done, and his bill begins to do the work necessary to make the needed changes.

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