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July 09, 2019

ABA signs joint letter to Congress on establishing an independent immigration court system

WASHINGTON, D.C., JULY 9, 2019 —The American Bar Association has joined with three other legal organizations to call on Congress to establish a separate immigration court system that is independent of the U.S. Department of Justice.

ABA President Bob Carlson, along with the presidents of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the Federal Bar Association and the National Association of Immigration Judges, will send a joint letter to Congress on July 11 stating that immigration courts “cannot meet the standards which justice demands” because they are not truly independent. This issue is particularly crucial as immigration courts struggle with crisis-level backlogs of almost 900,000 cases.

Under the current arrangement, immigration courts are part of the U.S. Department of Justice, and the judges in those courts are answerable to the U.S. Attorney General, who is also the nation’s chief prosecutor.

In their joint letter to Congress, the four organizations note that this inherent conflict of interest means that immigration judges are “particularly vulnerable to political pressure and interference.” In addition to the structural issues, the letter said that problems have “resulted in a severe lack of public confidence in the system’s capacity to deliver just and fair decisions in a timely manner.”

The lack of independence in the immigration court system was also addressed in the ABA’s recent updated report, “Reforming the Immigration System.” In the report, the organization urged removing the immigration courts from DOJ to ensure they are given the independence they need to be fair, impartial arbiters.

A telephone media briefing on the letter will be held Thursday, July 11, at 1pm ET/10am PT immediately following submission of the letter to Congress.

Briefing speakers

  • Wendy Wayne, Chair, American Bar Association Commission on Immigration
  • Jeremy McKinney, Second Vice President, American Immigration Lawyers Association
  • Hon. Denise Noonan Slavin, former Immigration Judge and President Emeritus of the National Association of Immigration Judges
  • Elizabeth Stevens, Chair, Federal Bar Association Immigration Law Section
  • Greg Chen, Director of Government Relations, American Immigration Lawyers Association (Moderator)

Contact [email protected] to receive dial-in information and the embargoed letter.

With more than 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is one of the largest voluntary professional membership organizations in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law. View our privacy statement online. Follow the latest ABA news at and on Twitter @ABANews.