From an EOIR press release issued earlier today:

The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) announced today the launch of a new, upgraded automated case information system, which is designed to assist respondents and their representatives and families in learning the current status of their proceedings. The toll-free number, 1-800-898-7180, has not changed, but a new local number, 240-314-1500, is in service. The system becomes effective August 23, 2010, and callers will need to be prepared to enter both the alien registration number and the date of the respondent's charging document.

This development-at least on the immigration lawyer list serve I read-has been universally panned.  The problem is, aliens and their representatives often do not have the date of the charging document.  And if you do not have the charging document, it is not easy to get one.  You can file a FOIA request, which takes months (I think the "F" in FOIA stands for "Forever").  You can call up DHS counsel, but they are often not very responsive.  You can go to the Immigration Court to look at the file, which is too time-consuming for most advocates, especially those who work for not profit organizations.  Also, sometimes there is more than one charging document, and they might have different dates.

"I said I don't have the dang charging document!"

I suppose EOIR's intention-to make the court information more secure-is laudable (though I have never heard of anyone having a problem with the current level of security).  But by requiring information that may not be available to the alien, the agency is creating a situation where it will be more difficult for aliens and their attorneys to know their court dates.  This could cause aliens to miss their court dates, which would result in a removal order.  In short, it is another bureaucratic barrier thrown in front of the alien. 

There are alternatives.  My favorite alternative is to leave the system alone.  As I mentioned, I have not heard about problems with the current system.  Another alternative is to remove the alien's name from the computer system (the current system spells the alien's name after you type in his A-number).  This would provide some level of security.  A third possibility would be to require some other information that the alien would know, like her birth date or her country of origin. 

At this time, it is unclear whether EOIR vetted the new system with AILA or other advocacy groups.  Perhaps a short pause to consider alternatives and have a conversation with immigration attorneys would be in order.