WASHINGTON - The Obama administration yesterday reversed a Bush administration rule that immigrant-rights groups had criticized as unfair.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said he was vacating an order, issued by predecessor Michael B. Mukasey, which said that immigrants facing deportation did not have an automatic right to an effective lawyer.
Holder said he was also instructing the Justice Department to begin working on a new rule.
Charles Kuck, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, called the move "the beginning of the restoration of due process in the immigration system."
Kuck said Holder's decision "recognizes we can't treat immigrants any differently than ourselves if we expect to receive the same benefits the Constitution provides."
Mukasey had issued a 33-page decision in January saying the Constitution does not entitle someone facing deportation to have a case reopened based upon shoddy work by a lawyer. Mukasey also said, however, that Justice Department officials had the discretion to reopen such cases if they choose.
Immigrant-rights groups had criticized the Mukasey decision, saying such immigrants subject to deportation are particularly susceptible to fraudsters claiming to do legal work on their behalf.
Holder said in a statement that Mukasey's decision had not allowed for enough public comment on the issue.
"The integrity of immigration proceedings depends in part on the ability to assert claims of ineffective assistance of counsel," the attorney general said. "It is important that the American people have the opportunity to participate in formulating our procedures in this area."
At the same time, Holder agreed with Mukasey's findings in the three specific immigration cases that led to the decision.
Mukasey's ruling came after a series of instances in which immigrants claimed poor legal representation and sought to have their cases reopened after they were ordered to leave the country by an immigration judge.
The immigration courts do not track how many immigrants seek to reopen cases based on claims of ineffective counsel.