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After years of trying to persuade U.S. immigration officials that there should be guidelines to link lawyers more quickly with detained immigrants to more adequately protect their human rights, the American Bar Association and Immigration and Naturalization Service have agreed to test some of the proposed principles. According to one ABA official, the INS and the legal profession’s largest bar have agreed to a trial period, in which certain proposed guidelines will be monitored during a three-month period. He would not elaborate on the details of the accord, which is likely to generate controversy regardless of the final language adopted. Still, all the recent signs seem to be pointing toward a resolution of the long-standing dispute. “I think the Attorney General realizes her time is running out to do something, no matter what the outcome of the election,” said Seattle lawyer Llewelyn Pritchard, who heads an ABA task force charged with recruiting pro bono attorneys to represent refugees and U.S. immigrants. Pritchard was among a group that met with U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno last month, and he left convinced that she cares about this issue and will work to do something before she no longer has the authority. Pritchard was in Chicago Monday, along with ABA President Martha Barnett, to spotlight the plight of many indigent immigrant detainees, particularly those who are seeking political asylum in the United States. At a luncheon press briefing, Barnett and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Evanston [Ill.], introduced asylum seekers from three parts of the globe — South America, Eastern Africa and China. The only one who would agree to be identified was Dahir Nur, a Somali refugee who fled his homeland after his 27-year-old sister Sara was killed by Islamic fundamentalists because she refused to dress like a traditional Muslim woman. Nur, 31, spent nine months in a DuPage County, Ill., jail before winning his request for asylum. Another family from South America told of being detained, then separated, for months, without the ability to communicate and with a fear that once their baby was born, the child would be taken away. A third woman, identified by her first name Bi, fled her island near China after her parents sold her at age 16 to a man she didn’t know. Though their cases are different, all three had one thing in common — they were able to find lawyers to represent them. All sang the praises of their counsel and implored the legal community to take on immigration cases pro bono. “My case is not unique,” Bi said through tears and broken English. “People come here for different reasons. We all have a dream.” While there was much criticism of the immigration system at Monday’s lunch, Barnett, Schakowsky and Bi praised the Chicago-based International Children’s Center, where Bi stayed and where 61 juvenile detainees are currently housed. Bi said she much preferred that facility, where people were kind and helped her to find a lawyer, to the two days she spent in a jail in Detroit when her plane landed there two years ago. Still, Schakowsky said Congress and Chicago can do better, by requiring representation for minors who are detained and by establishing family-appropriate facilities, like a designated apartment, to avoid situations like that of a family from Sri Lanka, in which the children have been taken from their parents. Schakowsky noted that U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Chicago, is proposing in House Bill 4590, the Youth Immigrant Protection Act of 2000, that detention guidelines be established for alien children not accompanied by an adult. The bill has been referred to the Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on immigration and claims. While the ABA has long sought guidelines for treatment and representation of INS detainees, its complaints have largely fallen on deaf ears. “I think the difficulty is not with the wisdom with what we’re suggesting, but convincing the Attorney General that what we’re proposing should be implemented,” Pritchard said after the news conference. “The ABA has been trying to use its clout where there has been no progress for decades.” Pritchard said, however, that momentum is shifting with Reno’s direct involvement. “I respect her,” he said. “She cares about this issue and she cares about how justice is perceived.” Pritchard declined to be specific about which guidelines will be tested and where during the three-month trial period. He did identify some trouble spots, including requirements that detainees be strip-searched like criminals before they meet with their lawyers. Pritchard said strip-searching acts as a deterrent for detainees to seek out legal advice, even though anecdotal evidence shows that represented detainees spend shorter periods of time in detention and if seeking asylum, have greater success with their cases. In addition to a fear that lawyers would actually bog down the process, another roadblock is the contracts the INS has with local and state facilities currently housing nearly 55 percent of INS detainees. While the INS may be amenable to agreed-upon guidelines, Pritchard said it will be difficult for procedures to be implemented at local levels. In essence, if local and state facilities don’t get a mandate from above, they won’t implement guidelines.

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