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The Justice Department temporarily shut down a legal services group that opposed the Muslim ban

A judge eventually issued a restraining order to prevent the Justice Department crackdown.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File
CREDIT: AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File

The Justice Department temporarily shut down a non-profit group in Seattle that provides free pro se, or temporary, legal representation to immigrants for nearly a month on a technicality, the Nation reported.

The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), which offers legal services to upwards of 10,000 immigrants each year, helped immigrants at Seattle-Tacoma International airport avoid deportation under the Trump administration’s Muslim ban executive order earlier this year. But federal authorities shut down the group’s operations via a cease-and-desist letter in April, warning the group to close its asylum program and drop its clients or face disciplinary action.

The NWIRP is accused of breaking an obscure law meant to punish fraudulent, predatory immigration lawyers, also known as “notarios” who will take on a case, collect a fee, and then drop it before seeing it through. NWIRP filed suit against the Justice Department in early May, and was granted a restraining order Wednesday that allows them to the group to resume operations, the Nation reported.

The Justice Department also indicated that it was planning to “continue issuing cease and desist letters to non-profit organizations providing legal services to immigrants,” according to NWIRP’s complaint filed with the U.S. District Court Western District of Washington at Seattle.

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The court extended the temporary restraining order nationwide as a result. The court also agreed that the Justice Department’s cease-and-desist letters caused “significant and ongoing” harm.

Immigrants aren’t entitled to legal representation under U.S. law, but groups like NWIRP aim to help immigrants facing deportation navigate a complex justice system.

The crackdown on immigrant legal representation represents the latest application of the White House’s anti-immigration policies. President Donald Trump signed a public safety executive order in January that directed federal agencies to withhold grants from cities and counties that refuse to share immigration information. That sentiment has caused businesses to be more reticent when hiring foreign born workers, Politico reported, and has also encouraged faith leaders to provide safe harbor for immigrants at risk from increasingly harsh policies. Since Trump took office, immigrant arrests are up nearly 33 percent.