Detainee Assistance Project

The Detainee Assistance Project provides representation and advice for detained immigrants.

The Detainee Assistance Project, operated jointly with the Advocates for Human Rights and area law schools, was created to meet the legal needs of detained immigrants. Unlike in the criminal court system, individuals held in immigration custody are not provided any legal assistance and are responsible for locating their own counsel. The vast majority are unable to afford the services of a private immigration attorney, and federally funded legal aid organizations are prohibited from assisting detainees, leaving immigrants in detention with few options, if any.

The need for immigration legal and educational services is critical as the number of refugees and immigrants detained by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in the Upper Midwest reaches record highs. The number of deportations in 2010 from Minnesota and the five-state region are on track to be a third higher than in 2009—nearing 10,000 for the first time.[1] According to DHS statistics, the majority of detainees in the region come from Mexico, and significant refugee producing countries such as Somalia, Guatemala, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, and Liberia. Many in custody may be eligible for special relief under asylum, the Convention Against Torture, or Withholding of Removal.

It is critical that detainees receive legal representation to advocate for release from detention, to advocate for humane detention conditions, to facilitate departure, or to prevent illegal deportation through secret and circuitous routes. Services in this program include deportation defense, representation on appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) and federal circuit courts, representation for long-term detainees, and representation in matters such as applications for asylum, family-based petitions, and other immigration benefits.

If a friend of family member is being held in immigration custody, an attorney from this project will provide a consultation at the detention center prior to his or her first hearing. Although we cannot guarantee this service (due to the rising number of detainees), program staff makes every effort to meet with all detainees. There is no need to call our office to receive this service, as the attorneys regularly visit detention centers at pre-scheduled hearing dates.



[1] See MPR article at

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