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Title Detained Immigrants and Parole Decisions: Does Legal Aid Make a Difference?
Post date 08/28/2019
C1 Background and Explanation of Rationale

Immigration legal proceedings are highly complicated civil proceedings, although commonly misunderstood as criminal proceedings. Immigrants with detention hearings are not entitled to an attorney if they cannot afford one. While nonprofits attempt to help low-income immigrants, they struggle with scarce resources. Additionally, legal scholars and social scientists provide no clear answers on whether legal aid is even effective (Poppe and Rachlinski 2016). We are conducting a pilot study which consists of a random assignment field experiment and follow-up in-person interview to examine the effects of legal aid in immigration parole hearings for asylum applicants (asylees).

In the pilot study, we seek to determine what impact legal assistance has on parole adjudications. Parole adjudications are “paper hearings” conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. These are informal adjudications with no physical hearing or oral testimony. Instead, arguments in support of granting parole are presented by written arguments and documentation (Schreckhise 2015). Although the outcomes such hearings greatly affect the lives of individuals, applicants are not entitled to legal assistance if they cannot afford to pay for it.

C2 What are the hypotheses to be tested?

This study is designed to demonstrate the impact of legal assistance in parole adjudications, which are “paper hearings” conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Based on the scope of the relevant social science and law literature cited below, we hypothesize that:

H1: Receiving legal assistance significantly increases the likelihood of detained asylum applicants receiving parole.
H2: Receiving legal assistance will significantly reduce the wait time to receive a parole determination from ICE.

C3 How will these hypotheses be tested? *

This mixed-methods field research project consists of two parts: 1) a random assignment legal-aid experiment with asylees applying for parole; and 2) follow-up interviews with International Institute of Akron (IIA) legal staff and a selection of asylee participants. The location is the CoreCivic’s Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Youngstown, Ohio. Through our partnership with IIA, we are randomly assigning subjects to two groups: 1) those receiving pro-bono legal assistance with their parole application; and. 2) those without legal assistance in applying for parole. IIA attorneys present potential subjects with a consent form explaining the nature of the research project.^1 IIA passes the individual’s name and case number to researchers who use a random number generator to determine group assignment. A random number generator, with 50/50 odds, assigns the individual to one of two groups:

Group 1: The individual receives a pro-bono attorney to assist the asylee with a parole application.
Group 2: The individual is assigned to the non-attorney group and receives a $40 commissary card. The commissary card can be used to make phone calls, which can help the applicant collect evidence for a parole petition. Group 2 is also provided a list of local immigration legal-aid groups.

Due to recent changes in federal policy, ICE is required by law to issue a parole determination for everyone, even if they specifically do not put forward a formal petition. We have access to the determinations through the IIA attorneys for Group 1 and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for Group 2. Exactly 30 days after we have reached our targeted in-take (30 signed consent forms for both groups) we will begin our follow-up check-ins for Group 2, which allows us to determine if any of these individuals obtained legal aid aside from IIA (potential crossover influence).^2 It is also at this time we will intend to FOIA ICE for the 30 Group 2 determinations.^3

Researchers use the notification documents to create our two outcome measures and compare parole determinations and the time it took to receive them across the two levels. The results, we believe, will demonstrate that receiving legal assistance will increase the likelihood of 1) a successful parole application; and, 2) reducing the time for ICE to issue the determination. Because the ICE parole determination contains an “issued” date and we know exactly when each subject was originally detained at Youngstown by our initial meeting and consent form, we will know exactly the number of days the individual waited for a parole determination from ICE (our second dependent variable).

We will begin contacting individuals for the in-depth semi-structured interviews 30 days after our targeted in-take goal. We intend to conduct 20 interviews with subjects (10 for each group) and interviews with the legal staff at IIA. Our inquiry into the effects of representation goes beyond focusing solely on the effect it exerts on the outcome of the parole hearings. These interviews provide a holistic understanding of how representation provides immigrants with agency to exercise their rights and alleviates marginalization within legal proceedings. We will also be able to assess the attorneys’ and participants’ perceptions of how race and ethnicity, and being a “non-member” of the U.S. community, affects their treatment in the legal system, thus making additional contributions to membership theory and crimmingration literatures. Additionally, the interviews provide a way to explore best practices for immigrant-serving nonprofits from both the perspective of the organizational representative and the client. Our IIA legal staff interviews will consist of two staff attorneys, one Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) accredited representative, and one Immigrant Justice Coordinator (IJC) legal assistant, along with the executive director (ED).^4 Interviews help to understand the effect that representation has on exercising rights in a process that does not allow physical or oral testimony. Therefore, our interviews begin with asking questions to uncover and connect themes across the various cases in our sample of study.

Our sample of immigrants without legal representation through IIA will be asked similar questions about their agency in the process and their understanding of the legal procedures and outcomes. For legal staff, our semi-structured interviews will focus on understanding their interactions with the ICE agents and with their clients, focusing on patterns they have seen which have remained similar or changed over time. Additionally, our set of interview questions will further seek to understand how they view their role in helping immigrants apart from just providing legal assistance and representation. By being able to interview most of the parties in the parole hearing process, we will be able to unpack the effects of representation from legal outcomes to the ways that representation helps create agency for a marginalized community with limited political rights, especially during an era of hyper crimmigration (Stumpf 2006) that often presumes immigrants are guilty until proven innocent. Once all interviews have been completed and transcribed, we will use a theoretical thematic analysis that focuses on detecting trends across interviews. The theoretical framework we use supports our random assignment experiment and should develop nonprofit theory on service delivery to vulnerable populations. We will also draw best practices by focusing on themes of what asylees lacked, in terms of aid, and what they felt were the best interactions they had with IIA.

1: English and Spanish consent forms available upon request.
2: We stress, individuals assigned to Group 2 may obtain legal assistance on their own. Indeed, in addition to building on the scholarly literature on the effects of legal representation, the project’s ultimate goal is to help nonprofits by determining whether legal aid is effective in such circumstances. However, we would also add it would be highly unusual for a detained asylee at Youngstown to obtain legal aid for a parole application aside from any pro-bono assistance provided by IIA, but the authors will be checking with each Group 2 subject to document for the purpose of crossover.
3: A copy of an ICE’s parole notification form, used to create our dependent variables, is included as Appendix A.
4: The ED is also an attorney. See IIA’s staff members: (accessed Feb. 28, 2019).

C4 Country United States
C5 Scale (# of Units) Group 1 (receiving legal assistance) = 30 subjects; Group 2 (control, commissary card) = 30 subjects; anticipate 20 total in-person follow-up interviews: 10 from Group 1 and 10 from Group 2; also interview 5 members of IIA's legal staff
C6 Was a power analysis conducted prior to data collection? Yes
C7 Has this research received Insitutional Review Board (IRB) or ethics committee approval? Yes
C8 IRB Number Kent State IRB: IRB #19-089
C9 Date of IRB Approval 08/15/2019
C10 Will the intervention be implemented by the researcher or a third party? Legal aid is provided by staff attorneys at the International Institute of Akron (IIA).
C11 Did any of the research team receive remuneration from the implementing agency for taking part in this research? No
C12 If relevant, is there an advance agreement with the implementation group that all results can be published? not provided by authors
C13 JEL Classification(s) not provided by authors