Adult Representation Project
Adult Representation Project

ImmDef’s Adult Representation Project (ARP) represents immigrants in detention who are entitled to court-appointed counsel because of serious mental disorders that render them unable to represent themselves. This model of court-appointed counsel in immigration court is possible thanks to Franco v Holder, a class action lawsuit and settlement. 

This settlement was the first time any U.S. court ruled that a group of immigrants is entitled to government-funded legal representation. It is an

important first step toward the goal that ImmDef  and  other  immigrant rights organizations have been working toward for years: a public defender model of representation in immigration court that guarantees everyone facing an immigration judge receives an attorney to represent them.

Adults with mental health issues are among the most vulnerable immigrants because they often cannot understand, let alone defend themselves in, their deportation hearings.


Our team zealously advocates on behalf of our clients while they are imprisoned in remote federal facilities. We continue to represent them once they are released to their families or guardians in their local communities. Many ImmDef staffers who work on this program have done so since it was created as a result of the settlement.

Because of current funding restrictions, the ARP limits its cases to those that fall within the Franco v Holder settlement class. We hope to expand our capacity to take on additional types of adult cases in the near future.

ImmDef is especially interested in expanding representation to cover more adults in detention. At the moment, only about 14 percent of detained immigrants are able to get legal counsel, compared with 66 percent of immigrants who are free on their own recognizance or with monitoring. More importantly among immigrants in detention, those who have an attorney are twice as likely as unrepresented immigrants to prevail in their cases.      

Immigration Relief in Criminal Cases

ImmDef is one of the only nonprofits in California with dedicated staff working to give immigrants the chance to challenge deportations based on unlawful criminal convictions. Immigrants with criminal convictions are primary targets for immigration authorities in the United States. Many people do not realize that a conviction for a low-level offense such as petty theft, shoplifting or non-violent drug possession can trigger a deportation order and lead to exile for legal permanent residents (LPRs) who may have had status in the United States for years. A criminal conviction that might be a learning experience for a U.S. citizen can become a life sentence for someone who only has legal residency.

Depending on the conviction, immigration judges may or may not have discretion to grant relief from deportation, regardless of mitigating factors in the case. For legal permanent residents whose convictions effectively make them ineligible for any immigration relief from deportation, vacating the criminal conviction may be the only chance they have to remain in the United States.

To advance our work in this emerging area of immigration law, ImmDef, in partnership with the USC Gould School of Law, was honored in 2016 to establish the USC/ImmDef Fellowship for Post-Conviction Relief. This fellowship dedicates a full-time attorney to researching and analyzing our client’s cases to determine whether an unlawful conviction can be erased in order to defend against deportation. Depending on the facts of the case, our fellow may reopen criminal cases and try to correct mistakes that block the client's access to available deportation defenses.

Social Services Case Management


At ImmDef, we know the needs of vulnerable immigrant populations don't stop with legal representation. While that is the heart of our work, we also try to ensure that clients who need other assistance can connect with organizations and people who provide it.


The ARP case manager works with our clients to refer them to available social services, including mental health counseling, health insurance, help with paying energy bills, tutoring, access to donated goods, and community-based moral support. Our main goal is to ensure that our clients are empowered with all the resources they need to focus on helping with their own legal defense against deportation.


The ARP case manager works closely with clients and attorneys to determine how to best support  

the legal case. After an evaluation, he works with

the client to draft a service plan. This plan may include coaching and role-playing exercises that will train the client to handle various social situations. Our case manager may accompany clients to appointments and may explain what to expect during these appointments. The goal of these services is to give our clients stability so that they can be an active partner with their attorney in defending themselves against deportation.


For our clients with mental health challenges, the case manager is an advocate to ensure the client is getting the required care, including medications, transportation, even housing, to ensure success long after their immigration case has been resolved.


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