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ABA urges Congress to create separate immigration courts

The American Bar Association is collaborating with three prominent immigration legal organizations to advocate for an independent immigration court system. 

In a letter co-signed by ABA President Bob Carlson and the presidents of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the Federal Bar Association and the National Association of Immigration Judges, the groups urged Congress to move the immigration court system out from under the U.S. Department of Justice.

“Our current immigration court system cannot meet the standards which justice demands,” according to the letter, pointing out that immigration courts answer to the U.S. Attorney General, who is also the nation’s chief prosecutor. “This inherent conflict of interest is made worse by the fact that immigration judges are considered merely government attorneys,” the letter adds, “a classification that fails to recognize the significance of their judicial duties and leaves them particularly vulnerable to political pressure and interference in case management.”

At a press conference on July 11, ABA Commission on Immigration Chair Wendy Wayne said the courts lack the basic structure and procedural safeguards “that we take for granted in other areas of our justice system.”

Also at the press conference, Denise Noonan Slavin, former immigration judge and president emeritus of the National Association of Immigration Judges, criticized rigid case quotas imposed on immigration court judges. She described a dashboard on their computers that resembles a “gas gauge.” If judges grant too many continuances, she said, their gauges can move into the yellow or red zone, potentially putting their jobs as risk.

Citing a 2017 Government Accountability Office report, the four organizations’ letter to Congress also pointed out that dysfunction has contributed to “monumental” caseloads and a “crisis-level” backlog of almost 900,000 cases,

The ABA previously called for an independent court system, in its 2010 report “Reforming the Immigration System” and earlier this year in its 2019 report update, which conducted a comprehensive examination of the immigration removal system. 

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