The Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI) provides pro bono legal representation to immigrants detained in the southeastern United States. By ensuring that skilled attorneys are available, at no charge, to protect the due process rights of detained immigrants, SIFI endeavors to win every meritorious deportation defense case arising out of recent and anticipated immigration enforcement actions.
The project is led by the Southern Poverty Law Center. It will begin at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, in collaboration with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the American Immigration Council, the Innovation Law Lab and the American Immigration Representation Project. It will then be expanded to other immigrant detention centers throughout the Southeast.
Draconian immigration enforcement – long practiced in the U.S. – is being ramped up by the Trump administration, driven not by facts but by the rhetoric of hate and fear.
Immigrants caught up in the dragnet deserve fair and humane treatment. They have a right to due process under the U.S. Constitution.
But their rights are frequently denied in an enforcement regime that lacks transparency and is characterized by racial profiling and illegal searches, surveillance and arrests. Many immigrants, split from their families, are detained indefinitely in geographically isolated facilities – some operated for profit by private corporations – and live under cruel conditions with no trial, conviction or ability to post bond.
Nearly all of these detained immigrants lack attorney representation, often because they lack resources. When they have no attorney during immigration court proceedings, the court’s desire for expediency, and at times the judge’s ideology, take precedence over fundamental rights.
In fact, detained immigrants who do have counsel are 10 times as likely to succeed in their cases as those who represent themselves.
Many unrepresented immigrants seek asylum because of persecution in their home country. For them, having an attorney and winning their cases are a matter of life or death.
By providing pro bono attorneys to all detained immigrants in the Southeast, the SIFI not only ensures that due process is protected but holds law enforcement, immigration prosecutors and judges, and detention facility personnel accountable for their actions.
Many of the men, women and children in detention are fleeing uncontrolled and escalating violence in their home countries. Others have been our neighbors, employees, fellow church members or classmates – part of the fabric of our communities for years.
Their lives, families and futures are on the line. They must be afforded basic human rights.
And we must protect our nation’s most fundamental values.