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New help desk offers services at Detroit immigration court

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Michigan Immigrant Rights Center attorneys Tonia Morris Diaz, left, and Mercedes Rodriguez outside the federal building in Detroit, where the state's only immigration court is located.

A new resource is available to people facing deportation, seeking asylum, or other immigration proceedings in Michigan.

It’s a help desk located inside the state’s only immigration court, which is located in Detroit.

Susan Reed, an attorney with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, said the group has been working on a resource like this for a long time. The help desk is part of a national network in immigration courts nationwide, with support from the Vera Institute of Justice.

Reed said many people in immigration court desperately need legal help with even the simplest paperwork, because most don’t have attorneys.

“There are many people in high-stakes situations who don’t have attorneys, and we are going to be there to provide them with additional support,” she said. “We’re providing assistance with document translation, with orientation for people to understand how to prepare those applications and file them with the court.”

In addition to help with paperwork, Reed said the attorneys and volunteers staffing the help desk can also make sure immigrants’ due process and other rights are being respected. That’s particularly important for asylum seekers on the so-called “rocket docket,” where proceedings are expedited. Detroit is one of only 10 immigration courts in the country with an asylum docket.

Reed said a backlog of cases in immigration courts adds to the importance of such legal assistance, because proceedings can often take years.

“The backlogs are still really significant, and it is an obstacle to accessing representation,” she said. “And it's a place where this kind of self-help assistance can actually be especially useful because of that additional challenge for people in getting counsel.”

Reed said the help desk will also provide follow-up services for clients. She said people in need of those services provides can also contact the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center for assistance.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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