Austin/San Antonio – American Gateways is deeply saddened and frustrated to learn that the Department of Justice has announced the discontinuation of all funding for the Legal Orientation Program (“LOP”) and Immigration Court Helpdesk (“ICH”) programs, effective at the end of April and July respectively. With sites across the country, these programs provide basic legal education to thousands of immigrants in removal proceedings who would not otherwise have access to legal counsel. The DOJ-funded programs were implemented by the Vera Institute for Justice, who in turn partnered with a national network of legal services providers. American Gateways serves as the LOP provider at three immigration detention centers in the region, including the South Texas Detention Complex, the Karnes County Residential Center, and the South Texas Residential Center. We are also the Helpdesk (ICH) provider at the San Antonio Immigration Court.
At an annual cost of just over $10 million, the LOP and ICH programs served more than 53,000 individuals and families facing deportation each year. Through presentations and workshops, LOP and ICH providers explained the immigration system and court processes, the legal rights of immigrants in deportation proceedings, and any potential legal pathways for those appearing before the courts to remain in the United States. It also created a mechanism for direct referrals to pro bono attorneys willing to provide representation.
The abrupt cancellation of the program marks the Trump Administration’s most recent assault on the immigrant community and their utter disdain for fundamental human rights. “These actions are an affront to basic principles of due process and equal access to justice,” said Rebecca Lightsey, Executive Director. “The LOP and ICH programs insured that our team of attorneys and legal professionals were on the ground, providing basic services for thousands of the most vulnerable in our community. Those affected include asylum seekers and survivors of violence and human trafficking as well as countless Central Texas families who have seen a loved one apprehended and carried away by ICE.”
“Although the Justice Department’s move represents a significant blow to our region, we will not be deterred. In the coming hours, days, and weeks we will be working to respond to this challenge and continue the fight for immigrant justice.”