What is “pro se”, and where to find resources

Most people held in immigration detention do not have legal representation. This makes it very difficult for them to pursue their cases. While immigration detention facilities are supposed to provide legal materials in different languages to those in detention, they often do not. And the legal materials provided often do not include basic guides that might help someone who is representing themselves (pro se), and who doesn’t know where to begin. This post provides some links to pro se materials that can be provided to those in detention.

Everyone going though immigration proceedings has the right to counsel. But, unlike in criminal courts with public defenders, most people in immigration court have to find representation at their own expense. If they can’t find a lawyer, they must represent themselves pro se (latin for “on one’s own behalf”). Imagine not knowing English, have little to know money, and/or being completely unfamiliar with U.S. immigration law (as most of us are). For those pursuing, on their own, asylum, removal of withholding, CAT (Convention Against Torture), or other forms of relief from deportation, the task is daunting.

One way volunteers can help is by providing access to guides on how to represent oneself in immigration court. The below links will direct you to materials of use. Several resources can be printed out and mailed to people in detention. While we cannot provide legal advice, we can facilitate access to information.

We must also seek ways to ensure better access to legal resources for those in immigration detention. The Vera Institute of Justice has some ideas about how to do this. The Vera Institute also has an extensive collection of legal orientation program (LOP) materials in various languages including:

  • Amharic
  • Arabic
  • Bengali
  • Fulani
  • French

  • Georgian
  • Korean
  • Nepali
  • Gujarati
  • Hindi
  • Pashto
  • Punjabi
  • Russian
  • Somali
  • Spanish
  • Tigrinya
  • Vietnamese
  • Urdu

Florence Immigration and Refugee Rights Project materials (English and Spanish)

Immigrant’s Rights Clinic at Stanford University asylum guides (English and Spanish)

Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network self help guides (English and Spanish, some Haitian Creole)

Political Asylum/Immigration Representation (PAIR) Project guides (English only)

Center for Gender and Refugee Studies Pro Se Manual (English only)

Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review self help materials