The recent case of a Jamaican asylum seeker who was held in detention for over a year prior to trial because he was unable to communicate with the Immigration Judge illustrates why appointing attorneys to aliens may be more cost-effective in certain cases.
Derrick Cotterel came to the U.S. 10 years ago. After being arrested for robbery, he landed in removal proceedings. Mr. Cotterel requested asylum because he fears returning to Jamaica, where police allegedly failed to investigate his brother’s murder because of the brother’s political activity.
Mr. Cotterel has a severe stutter, which prevented him from communicating with the Immigration Judge. He is also illiterate, so he could not communicate in writing. As a result, he sat in the York County, PA detention facility for 10 months before an IJ was able to decide his case (his application was denied).
At about $96.00 per day, the cost to tax payers for Mr. Cotterel’s incarceration was approximately $28,800.00. This seems like a big waste of money, especially considering that if we had paid a few thousand dollars for a lawyer, the case would likely have been resolved much more quickly, saving money for Mr. Cotterel’s detention, and helping to ensure a fair hearing.
One possible solution is to assign a public defender-type attorney to each major immigration detention facility. These attorneys would be paid for by the government, and would represent detained aliens who could not represent themselves (for example, children or disabled people). With attorneys representing the most problematic detained cases, the cases would move along more quickly and this would save money. It would also help to protect the rights of the most vulnerable aliens in the system.
Another possibility would be to pass the Refugee Protection Act of 2010, which requires that detention facilities be located near cities with lawyers who can represent aliens pro bono. In this case, perhaps the government could subsidize the pro bono attorney’s expenses in order to encourage more lawyer to help detained aliens.
It is in the best interest of everyone to find lawyers for detained aliens who are incapable of assisting themselves. It will help protect immigrants’ rights, ensure that we fulfill our humanitarian obligations, and save money.