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Update from CLINIC

The Department of Justice, or DOJ, has re-opened for public comment the revised versions of forms EOIR-31 and EOIR-31A, which are used to apply for recognition of non-profit organizations and accreditation of non-attorney representatives. Public comments are due by Sept. 11, 2020.

DOJ previously held public commenting periods for these revised forms, but did not accurately follow procedures for public commenting. CLINIC and our partners brought this concern to DOJ, and they agreed to open another commenting period. The DOJ Recognition and Accreditation, or R&A, webpage currently displays the Feb. 2020 version of the forms, however, DOJ personnel have confirmed that they are still accepting the previous versions of the forms, dated January 2017, for filing. CLINIC recommends that applicants use the 2017 versions of the forms, posted on our webpage, until DOJ announces that applicants are required to use the new version. The versions of the forms that are currently open for comment are slightly different from the February 2020 versions, and are available for you to review on our webpage.

CLINIC plans to submit our comment early, by the end of August. We will distribute our comment so that organizations can use our comment as a template. If you wish to draft your comment earlier, below are some of the changes to the forms that are most concerning that you may want to address in your comment.

  • The revised forms attempt to create policy change through the form-revision process rather than through the proper channels of the regulatory process. These proposed policy changes must go through the more rigorous regulatory process.
  • Many of the questions that have been added to the forms are fraud-focused, and would turn a highly successful capacity-building program into a fraud investigation program, which is redundant since EOIR already has a system in place to investigate any allegations of fraud in the R&A program.
  • The revised forms would increase the burden on applicant organizations by requiring additional documentation that exceeds the requirements set forth in the regulations, including:
    • Specific non-profit documentation rather than general organizing documents;
    • Organizational fee waiver or reduction application forms, in addition to general fee schedule and policy documents; and
    • Extensive evidence of relationship among multiple locations of the same organization, in addition to an authorized officer’s declaration, when requesting extension of recognition.
  • Applicants for renewal of accreditation are required to demonstrate that they have used their accreditation in cases before USCIS and EOIR, however the regulations only require for renewal that applicants meet the same requirements they did for initial accreditation, which does not require demonstrating prior appearances in cases.
  • The revised form for representative accreditation requires organizations to ask about and report on applicants’ past actions, such as possible criminal activity or unauthorized practice of law, even if they were not arrested or charged with any crime. The regulation only requires that both applicants and authorized officers attest to the character and fitness of the applicant for accreditation. This change goes beyond the regulatory requirement and is far too broad a question, requiring individuals and organizations to make legal judgments about matters that have not been before any court.
CLINIC affiliates: If you need assistance resolving issues with a case, please contact our Training and Legal Support team by submitting your question to Ask the Experts at  cliniclegal.org/find-legal-help/ask-experts. If you have exhausted your case resolution options for a pending case, you can contact our advocacy team. You can also contact advocacy if you have questions about responding to changes in federal regulations and policies, as well as state and local laws.
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