WASHINGTON — Immigrant rights groups celebrated a victory Wednesday. At a Senate committee hearing, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he's restoring funding to a program that provides free legal help to people in immigrant detention centers.
The program serves low-income immigrants, helping them access legal advice, and also connecting them to pro-bono lawyers.
Rafael Romero said it changed his life.
"You know, we were able to win my case," Romero said.
Romero entered into the U.S. illegally when he was 12, and had lived undocumented ever since. After being charged with a misdemeanor for a DWI, Romero had been taken to an immigration detention center, where he sat for five months. The Legal Orientation Program provided Romero with the legal knowledge he needed, and helped provide the pathway to finding a good lawyer.
"And now, luckily I got my residency," Romero said.
However, funding for these legal services had recently been paused as the Department of Justice conducted a review of its effectiveness.
"I have previously expressed some concerns about the program," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said before a Senate committee Wedensday.
After outcry from lawmakers and the public, Sessions decided to reverse his funding decision.
"I have ordered that there be no pause while the review is being conducted," Sessions said.
That's being celebrated by those like Robert Painter, who works at the immigration legal services nonprofit American Gateways.
"The program is important because our constitution and international law say that everyone has a right to due process and equal protection," Painter said.
But there is still the potential for Sessions to cancel the program.
And for Romero, a concern for those he met in detention, but who still haven't yet made it out.
"We're just trying to survive here in the US," Romero said. "Make our American Dream come true."