February 02, 2012

Immigration Detention Project secures grant

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The Southern Illinois University School of Law has again received a grant to continue its work assisting detained immigrants.

The Illinois Equal Justice Foundation is supporting the law school’s Immigration Detention Project with $2,800 to defray costs associated with providing legal information to immigration detainees at the Tri-County Detention Center in Ullin. Volunteer law school students, faculty and when needed, translators, visit the detention center to interview detainees and asses their legal needs.

Cindy Galway Buys, a professor of law and director of international law programs, said the program, which began in 2005, sought increased funding this year due to the significant increase in the number of detainees. About 30 first- through third-year law students are among the volunteers who participate during the semester, Buys said.  There are between 250 and 260 detainees during each visit, she said.

Detainees receive basic information about the immigration system and laws to assess what they need to do, Buys said.  The “Know Your Rights” packets are each about 30 pages long, in six languages, and packet copying costs are the biggest expense.  A portion of the grant funds offset those costs.

Immigrants, unlike criminal defendants, are not entitled to counsel paid for by the government, so most of the detainees at the Tri-County Detention Center have no legal representation, Buys said.

Law school student volunteers meet with detainees for intake interviews to collect biographical data and information for initial assessments on whether a detainee has a good legal argument that might help them stay in the United States, Buys said. 

Buys appreciates the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation’s continuing support.

“It shows that the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation recognizes the value of the work we are doing,” she said.  “For a very small amount of money … we are able to have an impact on hundreds of detainees. They have been incredibly supportive of the program for several years and we are very appreciative of their continuing support.”

Students also learn because they have the opportunity to interview actual clients with legal problems, Buys said.  Students are able to apply theoretical knowledge of immigration law to “real world problems.”

The Illinois Equal Justice Foundation funds the immigration detention project “because it is a cost-effective way to disseminate legal information to people who desperately need it,” said Leslie Corbett, IEJF executive director.  The project is one of 17 to receive funds totaling $1.66 million announced earlier this month. 

State funding for civil legal aid is through the Illinois Equal Justice Act through the Illinois Attorney General’s budget.  The appropriation was $1.75 million for a third consecutive year.

“Without this project, these detainees would have no access to legal information,” Corbett said, noting regular visits from program volunteers.  “They shine a light on important issues and identify meritorious cases for the National Immigrant Justice Project who can take further action to ensure detainees' rights are upheld.”

For more information on the program contact Buys by email at cbuys@law.siu.edu.