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Informal Opinion: Indigent Persons Facing Deportation Should Have the Right to Appointed Counsel

By Tova Indritz

Sometimes we are so caught up in the crisis of the moment that it is hard to look for long-term solutions. When children are being ripped from parents and the government seeks deportation, that emergency must be faced. But a long-term question is the right to appointed counsel for all indigent persons facing deportation, including those who are afraid that deportation will cause their deaths in their home countries.

Over a half-century ago (1963), the U.S. Supreme Court held in Gideon v. Wainwright1 that a person facing imprisonment who is indigent is entitled to appointed counsel. Forty-six years ago that court held that even for a misdemeanor, a person who is facing any jail time and is indigent is entitled to appointed counsel.2 But because deportation is considered to be “civil” rather than “criminal,” a person facing deportation who is indigent is not entitled to appointed counsel. And there are many studies showing that represented persons are way more likely to succeed in their i

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