October 1 marked the official launch of Equity Corps, Oregon’s first universal representation program. Portland, Oregon joins several cities nationwide that have invested in pro bono legal representation programs for individuals in removal proceedings.

There is no right to a court-appointed attorney in immigration court. Represented immigrants in the Portland Immigration Court are nearly three-and-a-half times more likely to win their cases than their unrepresented counterparts. If current rates of representation continue, about 80 percent of unrepresented Oregonians will eventually be ordered deported, many back to potentially dangerous situations.

Though Portland is home to several innovative and dedicated nonprofit immigration legal service providers, the demand for pro bono representation has far exceeded existing capacity.  Many Portland residents who cannot afford to pay for an attorney have been left without representation, leading to deportations that tear apart Oregon families and communities. The need for increased legal capacity and collaborative solutions was clear.

Equity Corps is the result of a year-long collaborative effort to research, design, and advocate for a universal representation program. A universal representation committee was convened in late 2017 by Oregon Ready, a statewide immigrants rights coalition, to build a novel model with the potential to eventually scale to serve Oregonians throughout the state.

Support from the City of Portland and Multnomah County took the group’s universal representation concept from vision to reality. “Whether or not you have a lawyer in immigration court is ultimately the most determinative factor in whether or not you win your case,” Jordan Cunnings, attorney at the Innovation Law Lab explained. “It’s a very emotional experience and we are really thrilled to now have the opportunity to support people who are at risk of removal here in Oregon.”

To access Equity Corps services, start by finding a Community Navigator near you.

Read more about the Equity Corps’ novel representation model in this report “Defend Everyone: Creating the Equity Corps of Oregon to Provide Universal Representation.”

The Universal Representation Committee of Oregon Ready is comprised of representatives from Causa, Catholic Charities of Oregon’s Immigration Legal Services, Immigrant Defense Oregon of Metropolitan Public Defender, Immigration Counseling Service, Innovation Law Lab, Transformative Immigration Law Class at Lewis & Clark Law School, and Sponsors Organized to Assist Refugees of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon.