The U.S. immigration system is exceedingly complex, and access to legal representation is the primary determinant in obtaining a just immigration outcome. Immigrants must navigate a byzantine, burdensome, and high‑stakes legal process, conducted in a language they often do not speak. They often must do so without any legal representation. Unlike criminal defendants, immigrants are not entitled to government-funded lawyers. Legal services organizations, such as Legal Services Corporation, that receive any federal funding are prohibited from providing legal representation to most immigrants. Faith-based and charitable legal services organizations provide some legal representation to immigrants through attorneys, staff members, and volunteer lawyers who provide pro bono legal services. The limited pro bono legal services that are available, however, cannot meet even a majority of the demand. This imbalance has persisted for decades and, indeed, has recently grown exponentially worse despite significant efforts to recruit lawyers for pro bono assistance.
Long-standing regulatory authority provides a possible pathway forward. Federal regulations allow what are called “accredited representatives” to provide legal services in administrative immigration proceedings. This authority has existed for more than seventy years, during which accredited representatives have competently and successfully assisted many migrants. Although there are only approximately 2,300 accredited representatives today, many more persons could effectively and efficiently be educated to do the job. But they will not be unless existing members of the immigration ecosystem recognize the importance of accredited representatives and take steps to support their occupation’s growth.