University of New Hampshire

School of Law

School of Law

In New Article, Professor Advocates Alternative Framework to Civil Gideon for Immigrants Facing Removal From U.S.

A recent article by Professor Erin Corcoran, director of the University of New Hampshire School of Law’s Social Justice Institute, addresses the possible shortfalls of continuing to push for the courts to recognize a constitutional right to an attorney for immigrants facing deportation.

Her article, “Bypassing Civil Gideon: A Legislative Proposal to Address the Rising Costs and Unmet Legal Needs of Unrepresented Immigrants,” argues that given the current landscape, efforts for reform would be better spent focusing on alternative legislative driven models that provide immigrants with funded and trained advocates working at non profits with immigration expertise.

The article, published in the Winter 2012 edition of the West Virginia Law Review, refers to the landmark 1963 case Gideon v. Wainwright, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that defense counsel is fundamental and essential to a fair trial. “Civil Gideon” refers to laws giving poor residents the right to an attorney in civil matters.

Corcoran writes that a constitutional right to counsel for immigrants in deportation proceedings is unrealistic.

“In addressing unmet legal needs for immigrants in removal proceedings, most advocacy efforts … have focused on trying to persuade courts that immigrants … have a constitutional right to government-paid counsel. This tactic has repeatedly failed,” Corcoran argues in the article.

Instead, Corcoran advocates “expanding immigrants’ access to qualified and trained Board of Immigration Appeals accredited representatives.” She adds: “Increasing access to these accredited representatives would provide immigrants with accurate counsel and advice about the availability of immigration relief, reduce backlog and delay within the immigration agencies, save the federal government money, and ensure the individual has a competent advocate demanding the fair adjudication of his or her application for immigration relief.”

Corcoran will speak on the topic at a symposium, “Expanding the Civil Right to Counsel: 50 Years After Gideon,” at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law in March.


Before coming to UNH Law, Corcoran served as a professional staffer on the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations and was counsel to U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski. Corcoran also served as staff attorney for Human Rights First and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and was a consultant to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Zambia.