A recent article in Slate talks about the immigration reform bill before Congress, and the need for a provision that would allow counsel for detained immigrants facing trial. The ACLU has published a framework for protecting civil liberties in federal immigration reform legislation, which calls for access to counsel in immigration proceedings.

Without political blowback, Congress has extended the right to appointed counsel to accused violent felons at bail hearings (1984), convicted sex offenders at civil commitment hearings (2006), and suspected al-Qaida supporters in military detention hearings (2012), whether citizens or not. The arguments against doing the same for detained immigrants are weak. Jon Feere, of the Center for Immigration Studies, argues that so-called “illegal aliens” would be “guaranteed greater protections than citizens” because immigration proceedings are civil, not criminal. As law professor and former INS official Jan Ting put it, deportation does not “propose to punish anyone.” Tell that to long-time U.S. residents who are deported to a country they hardly know. What’s more, ordinary civil cases don’t involve being locked up. When they do, for example in juvenile detention and psychiatric commitment hearings, the Supreme Court generally has provided for appointed counsel.

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