Detention Programs

The Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center provides comprehensive legal services to immigrants in detention, focusing its services on immigrants detained in the York County Prison and the Berks County Family Shelter.

PIRC’s Programs for Detained Immigrants are focused on three major programs: the Legal Orientation Program (LOP), the Vulnerable Populations in Detention Program, and the PA Immigrant Family Unity Project (PAIFUP), in addition to education and outreach.


Legal Orientation Program (LOP)

The LOP, administered by the Vera Institute of Justice through a contract with the Department of Justice, Executive Office of Immigration Review, educates detained immigrants on immigration law, immigration court procedure and the availability of legal remedies to individuals who are or may be in immigration removal proceedings. PIRC strives to reach each of the immigrants detained at the York County Prison and Berks Family Shelter, providing legal education, legal assistance, and when possible, direct legal representation (under separate funding). Since 2006, PIRC has provided legal services to over 10,000 foreign nationals. 


As one of approximately 18 nonprofit, legal service organizations nationwide authorized to provide the Legal Orientation Program (LOP), PIRC provides LOP services in English, Spanish and other languages that include:


  • Group Legal Orientations: PIRC provides group legal orientation presentations an average of three times per week at York County Prison and once per month at the Berks County Family Shelter. Interactive, multilingual group orientations take place as soon as possible prior to the detained immigrants’ initial hearing before the York Immigration Court.
  • Individual Legal Orientations: For unrepresented detained immigrants who desire assistance in understanding their particular legal situation, PIRC conducts individual legal orientations. Through the LOP individual orientations and self-help workshops, PIRC prepares detained immigrants in pro se representation before the Immigration Court empowering individuals to successfully represent themselves.
  • Self-Help Workshops: PIRC provides self-help workshops for detained immigrants interested in pursuing relief from removal and offers self-help materials such as asylum or habeas packets, and country conditions research.
  • Pro Bono Referrals: Through the LOP, PIRC promotes and facilitates pro bono representation to detained immigrants identified as having meritorious cases to PIRC’s in-house direct representation programs or outside volunteer attorneys, law schools, and legal clinics. The assistance and advocacy of pro bono attorneys is invaluable in serving the greatest number of vulnerable immigrants in detention.


Vulnerable Populations in Detention


Through PIRC’s Vulnerable Populations in Detention Program, PIRC renders services such as direct representation and pro se assistance to indigent individuals who are currently held in immigration detention in Pennsylvania, serving primarily detained immigrants in York County, and detained families in Berks County.


Under this program, PIRC provides targeted assistance and pro bono services to detained immigrants in removal proceedings who are particularly vulnerable due to serious mental or physical illness or past persecution and torture. This legal representation helps these vulnerable individuals navigate complex proceedings and helps them seek immigration relief, including protection under the Convention Against Torture, Asylum, Cancellation of Removal, Withholding of Removal claims, and Adjustment of Status for Refugees. Through this program, PIRC also cultivates collaborative relationships with national and local advocates and volunteer experts. In 2017, PIRC also became a provider of representation through the National Qualified Representative Program(NQRP), a nationwide program to provide representation to  detained respondents who are found by an Immigration Court to be mentally incompetent to represent themselves in immigration proceedings.



Pennsylvania Immigrant Family Unity Project (PAIFUP)

The Pennsylvania Immigrant Family Unity Project (PAIFUP) is a collaborative of nonprofit organizations in Pennsylvania formed to achieve universal representation for detained immigrants in removal proceedings in the state. Launched in 2019, PAIFUP is Pennsylvania’s first publicly funded defense counsel project for detained immigrants.


There are no eligibility criteria other than income and a lack of private counsel. We do not exclude individuals based on prior criminal convictions, residency, or any other reason. Unlike other legal providers, our high quality, zealous representation is merits-blind. Clients are represented without considering the likelihood that the case will have a particular outcome in the immigration court. We are committed to our clients and will represent them throughout their entire case until a final decision is made.  


For more information, please visit the PAIFUP website.


Community Defense Project


Launched in 2017, the Community Defense Project serves immigrants in the community and in detention, providing education, referrals, and legal services to protect immigrants from deportation, link community members with their loved ones and critical resources, and seeks to keep immigrant families together.


If you have a loved one in detention and need help with referrals or information, please contact us.