Projects: National Qualified Representative Program

The National Qualified Representative Program (NQRP) provides legal representation for unrepresented immigrants who are detained in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and have been found by an Immigration Judge or the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) to be incompetent to represent themselves because of a serious mental disorder.

The NQRP is the first program in the United States to provide appointed counsel at federal government expense to immigrants facing deportation. Detained immigrants who receive representation through the NQRP are typically severely mentally ill and have often suffered serious persecution or torture in their home countries as a result of their mental disabilities. By shifting the burden of representation from the immigrants themselves to highly-qualified attorneys and BIA Accredited Representatives, the NQRP seeks to ensure the fairness of removal proceedings for this vulnerable population while increasing the efficiency with which the immigration court system operates.

In April 2013, the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), along with DHS, announced a nationwide policy to, among other things, provide legal representation for this population throughout the country. This nationwide policy coincided with Franco-Gonzales v. Holder, a class-action lawsuit seeking certain protections, including legal representation, for mentally ill detained immigrants. EOIR created the NQRP as the mechanism to provide such representation under both the nationwide policy and the Franco litigation. In 2014, EOIR contracted with Vera to set up services in local jurisdictions, and to provide training, technical assistance, and evaluation for the overall program.

Representation of NQRP clients is provided by a network of primarily non-profit organizations that have significant experience providing legal orientation and representation to detained immigrants. Some providers have particular expertise analyzing the immigration consequences of criminal convictions, while others employ social workers to help ensure that NQRP clients receive appropriate mental health treatment in support of their immigration cases. Still others bring specialized language capacity, expertise working with women and LGBT immigrants, and insight into the ethical issues that arise when representing clients with impaired mental capacity. Vera works to connect NQRP providers to each other in order to leverage their shared expertise and facilitate the high-quality representation of this particularly vulnerable population.

As of September 2015, the NQRP operates in California, Arizona, Washington, Colorado, Florida, and Texas.

Why We Need This Program

For unrepresented, indigent, mentally ill immigrants, self-representation in immigration court is virtually impossible. Without government-funded representation, these immigrants often spend months, or even years, in detention waiting for their immigration cases to be resolved. Moreover, the stakes of removal proceedings for these immigrants are especially high – many have suffered persecution and torture in their home countries as a result of their mental disabilities, while most have no hope of receiving the treatment they need if they are deported. By shifting the burden of representation to highly-skilled immigration legal service providers, the NQRP works to ensure that these immigrants are treated fairly and receive the help they need, while reducing inefficiencies in the immigration court system that result from the requirement of self-representation.

For more information, contact Michael Corradini.

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Program Director, Center on Immigration and Justice