Report: Immigration Court System Faces “Exploding” Caseload, Needs Reform

Report authors and ABA members discuss the immigration court system - Photo: ABA.

Report authors and ABA members discuss the immigration court system. (Photo: ABA)

The immigration court system faces an “exploding” caseload where each potential deportee’s fate depends largely on who hears their case and 84% of detained respondents don’t even have representation, an independent research report said.

The report, prepared by the law firm Arnold & Porter LLP for the American Bar Association, analyzed the U.S. adjudication system for noncitizen removal and recommended some 60 reform measures to improve it. The study involved the work of over 50 lawyers and legal assistants for more than a year.

Researchers found that immigration courts handle more than 280,000 proceedings annually as a consequence of the current policies and procedures of the Department of Homeland Security.

“Many cases are handled without court oversight,” it said.

Watch: “Tremendous pressure on everybody” in the immigration court
system, says A&P partner Lawrence Schneider

The study comes as the Obama administration has continued the trend of harsh immigration enforcement initiated under President George W. Bush, which advocates say has resulted in the separation of thousands of families and a climate of fear in immigrant communities nationwide.

Among the report’s many troublesome findings:

  • “More than half of respondents in removal proceedings and 84 percent of detained respondents do not have representation.”
  • This has many consequences, including the “risk of abuse by ‘immigration consultants’ and ‘notarios.'”
  • Noncitizens who are eligible to adjust to permanent resident status have removal proceedings initiated against them.
  • The chance of success of a particular case depends “highly” on who is the judge who hears it rather than its merits.
  • Courts “face public skepticism and a low level of respect,” in part, due to their “lack of independence from the Department of Justice.”
  • An immigration judge hears, on average, over 1,200 proceedings a year. “(D)ue to time pressures, judges issue predominantly oral decisions that sometimes are not fully researched or based in law or fact.”
  • The number of immigration appeals to circuit courts increased seven-fold from 2001 to 2006.
  • The Board of Immigration Appeals remands so few cases to immigration judges that “it may be that the Board is not exercising adequate oversight.”

“No other study offers such a comprehensive comparison of federal adjudication systems,” said A&P partner Lawrence Schneider in a press release. “We’re especially proud of the level of detail and research our team contributed to this project. It is a body of work we hope will prove useful immediately, and serve as a reference for years to come.”

Watch: Report recommendations should be
implemented, says ABA president Carolyn Lamm.

ABA President Carolyn Lamm added: “This thoughtful analysis of the adjudication system’s problems will help frame the debate as our nation’s leaders move forward. The ABA is especially hopeful that the report’s findings regarding representation and system restructuring will lead to reforms for which all Americans can be proud.”

[ You can download the press release in pdf here. ]

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