Expanding Immigrant Justice by Training Professionals


As a law professor at Villanova University, I headed a clinic that helps hundreds of asylum seekers gain protection in the United States. On good days, I would remember the Talmudic saying, “whoever saves one life saves the world entire,” and take great pride in what my students and I were able to accomplish. On bad days, however, the fruits of our work could seem but a drop in the bucket, for every visit to immigration court demonstrated anew that our clients were the exception. Most immigrants face the immigration system without legal representation of any sort. This unfortunate and seemingly intractable state of affairs motivated me to try to create a solution that went beyond exhortations for lawyers to “do more,” which is, in the end, what most suggested policy reforms have amounted to. It made me think, if harnessing the energies of lawyers has proven, over many years, only minimally successful in addressing the problem of unrepresented litigants, maybe we should take a different approach. Five years later, the solution I landed on has begun to prove its viability and clearly has the potential to substantially increase the number of represented immigrants.

This article begins by explaining the extent of the access to justice problem in immigration and the inability of lawyers to meet the demand for low-cost or pro bono legal representation. The next section suggests a solution to the problem through Department of Justice accredited representatives. That section describes the long-standing regulations authorizing “accredited representatives” to provide legal services to immigrants with applications before the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (Immigration Services) and in removal proceedings before immigration court. The final section puts forth a plan for increasing the pool of accredited representatives through an educational program and surrounding support within the legal services ecosystem.




immigration law, self-represented litigants, unrepresented immigrants, pro-bono, asylum, EOIR, nonrepresented immigrants, ARs, PARs, FARs, VIISTA, asynchronous education, Immigration ecosystem


Immigration Law | Law