Universal representation that is merits-blind and does not exclude people based on prior contact with the criminal justice system ensures all immigrants have access to due process: Luis’s story

Luis’s story demonstrates the value of merits-blind universal representation that views all clients as equally deserving of assistance. Luis explained he had spent months looking for an attorney from inside detention, but nobody would take his case because he had a DUI charge; indeed, many immigration lawyers who offer free representation are overwhelmed with the level of need and often develop criteria that lead them to “cherry pick” the strongest cases. Most fee-based attorneys Luis reached out to from detention told him they could not even offer a consultation without a hefty fee. Desperate to get out of detention so he could continue to support his nine-year-old U.S. citizen daughter, Luis tried to navigate the process alone, seeking a bond hearing. He attended that hearing without the assistance of a lawyer and was granted a $20,000 bond he could not afford to pay. When Luis’s case was accepted for representation, he was surprised to learn that his lawyer did not expect to be paid, attempted to lower the bond amount, and even helped raise money for his bond through a local community organization, eventually helping him secure release. Luis recounted that the lawyer’s dedication to his case motivated him to continue appearing in court and enabled him to return to work to support his family while fighting his case. Without a program like SAFE that offers due process to all immigrants, Luis would have continued to languish in detention unnecessarily, away from the family that needs him.