Obama reverses Bush immigration lawyer rule

Washington Attorney General Eric Holder said he is vacating an order, issued by predecessor Michael Mukasey, which said that immigrants facing deportation do not have an automatic right to an effective lawyer.

Holder said he is also instructing the Justice Department to begin working on a new rule.

Charles Kuck, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, called the move "the beginning of the restoration of due process in the immigration system."

Kuck said that Holder's decision "recognizes we can't treat immigrants any differently than ourselves if we expect to receive the same benefits the Constitution provides."

Mukasey had issued a 33-page decision in January saying the Constitution does not entitle someone facing deportation to have a case reopened based upon shoddy work by a lawyer. Mukasey also said, however, that Justice Department officials have the discretion to reopen such cases if they choose.

Immigrant rights groups had criticized the Mukasey decision, saying such immigrants subject to deportation are particularly susceptible to fraudsters claiming to do legal work on their behalf.

Holder said in a statement that Mukasey's decision had not allowed for enough public comment on the issue.

"The integrity of immigration proceedings depends in part on the ability to assert claims of ineffective assistance of counsel," the attorney general said. "It is important that the American people have the opportunity to participate in formulating our procedures in this area."

At the same time, Holder agreed with Mukasey's findings in the three specific immigration cases that led to the decision.

Mukasey's ruling came after a series of instances in which immigrants claimed poor legal representation and sought to have their cases reopened after they were ordered to leave the country by an immigration judge.

The country's immigration courts do not track how many immigrants seek to reopen cases because of claims of ineffective counsel.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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