Bar Association Calls for Independent Immigration Court System

The American Bar Association, in a recent report, warns that political meddling and long case backlogs have so badly damaged the immigration courts that they need a complete restructuring independent of the Justice Department.

The American Bar Association issued a dire warning last week that the nation’s system of immigration courts is “irredeemably dysfunctional and on the brink of collapse.”

In a new report, ABA said that since its last report on the subject in 2010, case backlogs have increased drastically, and the system—housed within the Justice Department—is undermined by significant policy changes, political interference, underfunding, and possible bias in judicial hiring.

“In the current environment, policies have been put forth that seek to limit access to asylum, counsel, and the courts themselves. There is little regard for the human cost of detention and deportation,” the report, “Reforming the Immigration System,” states [PDF]. “While enacting policies that more closely adhere to a fair and humane interpretation of the immigration laws could do much to reverse these problems, there is little question that legislation is necessary to return balance and due process to the system.”

The report, prepared by the ABA Commission on Immigration, recommends that an independent court system for handling immigration cases be created outside of the Justice Department or any other federal agency.

“We now view an Article I court system for the entire immigration judiciary as much superior to an independent agency in the executive branch,” the commission wrote in an executive summary.

The Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review opposes such a change, according to CNN.  James McHenry, director of the office, said in congressional testimony earlier this month that “considerable progress” has been made in improving administration of the courts. However, in comments to CNN, Wendy Wayne, chair of the ABA’s immigration commission, warned that a recent push to clear out backlogs may be undercutting due process.

“While our current immigration system is confronting substantial challenges with respect to delays and backlogs, we would all agree, we must never lose sight of the tenets that underpin our legal system and reflect this country’s values,” Wayne said. “The rights that our laws provide to those subject to our immigration system, those cannot be sacrificed in the name of efficiency.”

ABA is not the only organization to call for restructuring of the immigration courts. Last year, the National Association of Immigration Judges argued that the courts should be separated from the Justice Department, as did leaders of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

(zimmytws/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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