Written by: Taher Kameli, Esq.
A recent report by the American Bar Association described the US immigration courts as “facing an existential crisis . . . irredeemably dysfunctional and on the brink of collapse”. Besides requiring a major overhaul for inefficiency, the US immigration courts may suffer from another fundamental problem – bias against immigrants. This point was made in an administrative complaint filed yesterday by the American Immigration Council and the American Immigration Lawyers Association with the US Department of Justice with respect to the El Paso, Texas Service Processing Center immigration court.
According to the administrative complaint, there is “[a] culture of hostility and contempt towards noncitizens who appear at the El Paso SPC Court”, and “[t]he use of problematic court practices which undermine due process and a fair day in court for noncitizens appearing before the El Paso SPC Court”. The El Paso Service Processing Center immigration court hears cases of immigrants detained at several locations near the southern border.
One problem with the El Paso immigration court is “notably high rates of denial”, according to the administrative complaint. The court granted less than 4 percent of asylum applications heard there between fiscal year 2013 and fiscal year 2017. This figure is significantly lower than the 35 percent of asylum applications that are granted nationally, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
Another issue described in the administrative complaint is the inappropriate comments made by judges at the El Paso immigration court. One judge described the court as “the bye-bye place”, telling a lawyer, “You know your client is going bye-bye, right?” Another judge remarked that “there’s really nothing going on right now in Latin America” that would provide the basis for asylum.
The administrative complaint also notes rules limiting evidence at the El Paso immigration court that could deprive an immigrant of due process. For example, one judge’s standing order limits the length of exhibits that can be filed to 100 pages. According to the administrative complaint, “This order is particularly harmful for individuals seeking protection whose cases are more complex or where country conditions are at issue”. Other examples of due process issues at the El Paso immigration court include a prohibition on supplementing previously submitted relief applications, a prohibition on direct examination by counsel, the blanket denial of telephonic appearances, and the use of multiple problematic bond practices (including the presumptive denial of bond).
The administrative complaint is not litigation, but rather a step in a formal grievance process used to bring issues to the attention of officials at the US Department of Justice. While it is hoped that the administrative complaint will lead to changes being made, in the interim, immigrants who are subject to the El Paso immigration court apparently are being harmed. The Law Offices of Kameli and Associates has overcome many judicial obstacles in its many years of successfully representing immigrants in the United States. If you are an immigrant facing difficulties in any US immigration court, please contact the Law Offices of Kameli and Associates, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-233-1000, for counsel.