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Tuesday, April 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Immigrants Often Have Bad Lawyers, Court Says

NEW YORK (CN) - The 2nd Circuit chided attorneys for the "disturbing frequency" with which they provide lousy representation to immigrants seeking legal status in the United States. The court reopened the deportation proceedings of a Jamaican immigrant whose attorney, David Scheinfeld, failed to tell him about a hearing or keep him informed about his case.

A paralegal for Scheinfeld inaccurately toldpetitioner Garfield Livern St. Valentine Aris that no hearings were scheduled. As a result, Aris was ordered deported in absentia. An associate at Scheinfeld's firm blamed the error onthe paralegal, and noted that Scheinfeld had since left the firm.

The firm then failed to inform Aris about the status of his case, and "(f)or nearly a decade, Aris lived under the mistaken belief that the law firm had resolved his immigration problems," the ruling states. In 2005 he was arrested on the outstanding 1995 deportation order. His subsequent nine-month detention stripped his wife and stepdaughter of his steady income, forcing them to move to a homeless shelter when they were unable to pay rent.

Judge Katzmann said quality representation is especially important to immigrants, "a vulnerable population who come to this country to search for a better life, and who often arrive unfamiliar with our language and culture, in economic deprivation and fear."

Aris' attorneys "failed spectacularly to honor their professional obligation to him and to the legal system they were duty-bound to serve," Katzmann wrote.

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