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SB1543 will improve access to justice and advance immigrant rights.

SALEM, Ore – Today, the Oregon House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 1543 (SB1543), Universal Legal Representation. SB1543 will guarantee that immigrant Oregonians in deportation proceedings have access to a free immigration attorney through the creation of a statewide system for immigrant defense. 

Universal Legal Representation advances due process and access to justice for immigrant Oregonians by providing culturally sensitive, free immigration legal services to income-qualified Oregonians facing deportation. The program will have a major impact on access to legal support for immigrant Oregonians, and is likely to notably decrease deportations in Oregon. 

Currently, a community member without legal representation is 5.5 times more likely to be deported than someone with representation, regardless of the merit of their case. Only 37% of all immigrants and 14% of detained immigrants are represented by an attorney in immigration court. Universal Legal Representation will ensure that all Oregonians facing deportation can receive the legal advice and support they need, and that more Oregonians can remain in the country with their families and loved ones. 

“For too long we’ve seen our clients and community struggle to find legal representation when facing the threat of deportation,” said Tony DeFalco, Executive Director of Latino Network. “This historic investment finally and permanently expands access to these critical services. The Universal Representation system centers impacted immigrant and refugee communities,  and resources the culturally responsive organizations and legal service providers that serve them.”

“Universal Legal Representation will allow all immigrants and immigrant families to have better access to legal representation during our immigration proceedings. We always have many obstacles, including economic ones, to get an attorney,” said Yanin, who fled persecution in Guatemala and lives in Portland with her family. “With Universal Legal Representation for all immigrants in Oregon, we will feel accompanied and oriented in our immigration legal process. My family was part of the Equity Corps of Oregon program and we felt very fortunate to meet its members because they fought alongside us at each step of our asylum case. That is why I can say that Universal Legal Representation is a project that changes the lives of us as immigrants for the better.”

Universal Legal Representation will make Oregon more fair, more inclusive, and more prosperous. Immigration advocacy and civil rights organizations celebrated this historic win. 

“¡La unión hace la fuerza! The passing of Universal Representation is once again proof that when we work together, we can achieve great things,” said Jenny Pool Radway, Executive Director of Causa. “Everyone is entitled to a fair day in court, and Universal Representation will ensure that no Oregonian facing deportation goes through that process without legal representation. SB 1543 helps further us along in building an Oregon of strong families and just institutions.”

“This Universal Representation bill, once signed into law, puts Oregon on a pathway to systemic change, distancing our state from exclusionary and inequitable policies and bringing us closer to inclusion and fairness for our immigrant communities of color,” said Stephen Manning, Executive Director of Innovation Law Lab. “We’re excited to be a part of this effort to make Oregon more equitable. This program is cutting edge and community-led, and is a huge win for everyone in the state.”

This bill expands the successful Equity Corps of Oregon pilot program funded by Multnomah County, the City of Portland, and the State of Oregon into a statewide system. Within this system, local organizations with strong, pre-existing connections to directly impacted communities will oversee and implement the services, respecting and building on a strong foundation of community trust.

SB1543 now goes on to Governor Kate Brown’s desk, where she is expected to sign the bill into law.