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  • Article: The Washington Post Exposes Sorry State of Immigration Courts By Beth Werlin

    The Washington Post Exposes Sorry State of Immigration Courts



    This week, the Washington Post ran a front page article drawing attention to the fact that our nation’s immigration courts are operating in crisis mode.  The immigration courts are so overcrowded that judges are forced to make split-second decisions regarding complex legal issues, calling into question whether the court system is fairly administering justice.  The article featured a morning in the life of one immigration judge who had 26 cases to hear before lunchtime.  That equates to an average of just seven minutes per case.  Given the high stakes involved in deportation cases—which can range from permanent separation from family in the United States to being returned to a country where a person fears for his or her life—a system that is overburdened and under-resourced is simply unacceptable.

    Over the past several years, the Department of Homeland Security has dedicated more resources to immigration enforcement efforts, resulting in a 17% increase in cases received by the courts between 2008 (352,117) and 2012 (410,753).  But there has not been a commensurate increase in resources for the immigration courts, and as a result, the courts cannot keep up.  As of the end of 2013, there were 357,167 cases pending in the immigration courts, and according to the Washington Post, just 249 immigration judges to handle them.

    Such extreme conditions compromise immigration judges’ ability to do their jobs.  As the article explains, in this system, immigration judges often sit on the bench for 36 hours a week.  During this time, they hear a wide of variety of cases.  Some involve complex legal issues, and others are more fact intensive.  Many involve heart wrenching asylum claims that not only require judges to synthesize layered stories and apply an ever-evolving set of legal standards, but also make character judgments and credibility determinations, usually after talking to an individual through an interpreter.  And, because the judges’ schedules are so full, they must make decisions right there on the spot, without the opportunity to fully review and reflect on the evidence and law.  As one immigration judge said, it’s “like doing death-penalty cases in a traffic-court setting.”

    In an attempt to manage the crushing number of cases, immigration courts have adopted measures to increase their ability to resolve cases quickly.  For example, many individuals never see the inside of the courtroom and instead appear remotely by video conference from a prison, often far from their families, legal services, and the evidence they may need to defend themselves against deportation.  Other individuals are encouraged to give up their right to any hearing at all and instead to “stipulate” to deportation before ever seeing a judge.  While these measures may help manage the caseload, they do not necessarily ensure just outcomes.

    To make matters worse, the immigration courts lack many of the due process protections that are standard in the criminal justice system.  For example, the government does not provide an attorney when a person is unable to afford one.  As a result, nearly half of all noncitizens—including some children—are forced to proceed on their own in immigration court.  In addition, harsh laws may apply retroactively, the government is allowed to use evidence they obtained unlawfully, and noncitizens have limited ability to appeal their deportation orders in federal court.

    These serious flaws in the immigration court system must be fixed.  The immigration bill that the Senate passed last spring would have significantly increased the number of immigration judges and support staff and improved the training, resources and technology available to judges.  It also would have made important strides in improving due process by, for example, requiring the provision of counsel for children and other particularly vulnerable individuals facing deportation.  But true reform requires more than just adding more judges and providing lawyers for some.  The right to consult with a lawyer must be guaranteed at every stage of the removal process, immigration judges must have discretion to prevent disproportionate penalties for immigration violations, all individuals facing removal must be afforded the right to appear in person before an immigration judge, and individuals ordered deported must be able to ask a federal court to review the order.  Only when these steps are implemented will we begin to respond to the crisis in our immigration courts in a way that lives up to our nation’s standards of justice.

    Printed for the Immigration Policy Center by Beth Werlin. Reprinted with permission

    About The Author

    Beth Werlin is the Deputy Director of the Legal Action Center. Much of her work focuses on protecting the due process rights of noncitizens facing removal. She has represented plaintiffs and amicus curiae in immigration litigation in the federal courts and before the Board of Immigration Appeals and is the author of numerous practice advisories. Beth first joined the Legal Action Center in 2001 as a NAPIL fellow and before that was a judicial law clerk at the immigration court in Boston, Massachusetts.

    The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. violita's Avatar
      violita -
      What our president, Democrats, Republicans tend to ignore, is that America do not need any kind of amnesty or legalization for millions of lawbreakers, Americans are so tired of hearing excuses after excuses for millions of illegal aliens who had in reality invaded America! Why should there be an amnesty or legalization in America, when there are millions of Americans jobless, an amnesty or legalization and giving millions of illegal aliens work permits, will allow illegal aliens to be in competition with Americans in seeking jobs, this is not right or is this fair to Americans! Our own politicians tend to ignore all the problems that illegal aliens are causing, and will cause once they get an amnesty or legalization in America! Our politicians tend to close their mines to all of the disaster they will bring to America, and all the disaster that they are causing now is being totally ignore by our own lawmakers!

      Americans tend to be nothing to our own lawmakers, they tend to sell Americans out when it comes to millions of illegal aliens, millions of illegal aliens are being terribly force on Americans, Americans are being force to accept millions of illegal aliens wrongdoings, and all their excuses that comes with them! Illegal aliens and all their advocates want president Obama, to stop deportations of millions of illegal aliens, they claim that this will stop all the separation of their families, they already have excuses for their children who supposedly have come to America at no fault of their own, this excuse is helping their children to get instant citizenship in America, them having children born through our birthright laws, allow their children to also get an instant citizenship, and illegal aliens are allow to use this constantly! We have no laws to stop them! They had found ways to over populate them selves in America, this is just fine with our American politicians!! So far our politicians has already blocked many laws, so that illegal aliens can live and work in America illegally, it no longer matters if they are working with false social security numbers, false names, false ages, this means that it is ok for them have jobs and bring home paychecks in America, while at the same time millions of Americans are left jobless in their own country and can not bring home paychecks! The sad part illegal aliens in America, Americans have no one in congress to protect Americans from illegal aliens insanity in America, because they tend to cater to illegal aliens more then they do their own Americans welfare, they no longer take illegal aliens out of jobs, and replace their jobs with jobless Americans who do have legal status to America! Millions of illegal aliens in America has corrupted so much of our immigration laws, other laws, even our America constitution, which is our laws, rules, and regulation! Americans are being force to cater to millions of illegal aliens, illegal aliens are taken over America with their families, regardless what our politicians may say. America tend to be doomed now, and will continue to be doomed if any kind immigration bill get passed. It will become a total mess with all the paper work once they get amnesty, anything any illegal aliens says, they will be allow amnesty or legalization, it will just be another disaster like 1986!!!
    1. nolanrappaport's Avatar
      nolanrappaport -
      It's true that our immigration courts are overwhelmed, but focussing on that fact obscures a more important, underlying problem. The law as presently written doesn't provide relief rom deportation for many of the aliens in removal proceedings, and that won't change if the aliens are given full due process hearing without time restrictions. In other words, most of them are pushed through removal proceedings at a rapid pace and then are given deportation orders. If we slow things down, they will receive a full due process hearing before they are given deportation orders. Is that what we want for them?
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