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ABA president to Congress: Fix the immigration courts

Jan. 29, 2020

On Jan. 29, ABA President Judy Perry Martinez carried an important message to Congress: Our nation’s immigration courts are broken and you must fix them.

Martinez testified before the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship. She was one of four witnesses at a hearing titled “Courts in Crisis: The State of Judicial Independence and Due Process in U.S. Immigration Courts.” 

ABA President Martinez testifies during “Courts in Crisis: The State of Judicial Independence and Due Process in U.S. Immigration Courts.”

ABA President Martinez testifies during “Courts in Crisis: The State of Judicial Independence and Due Process in U.S. Immigration Courts.”

American Bar Association photo

Other witnesses were Judge A. Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges; Jeremy McKinney, second vice president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association; and Andrew R. Arthur, a former immigration judge and resident fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies.

“There are serious challenges to due process in our current immigration court system, judicial independence is at significant risk and fundamental change is necessary,” Martinez told the subcommittee. Later, she added, “The immigration court system lacks the basic structural and procedural safeguards that we take for granted in other areas of our American justice system.”

In 2010, the ABA Commission on Immigration published a landmark report on immigration reform, which recommended creating an independent immigration court system. The commission updated its report in 2019 and found the problems of 2010 persist.

“Both reports found serious flaws in the system and ultimately determined that the immigration courts must be moved out of the Department of Justice to ensure judges have full decision-making authority without fear of reprisal or improper political influence,” Martinez told the subcommittee. 

Martinez also enumerated problems with the new Remain in Mexico program, which forces many asylum-seekers to stay in Mexico while their cases are pending in the United States. Problems, she said, include lack of access to attorneys, notices that are routinely misdelivered and hearings conducted by video with no public access.

“This does not look like justice,” Martinez told the subcommittee. “These are fundamental violations of due process rights and we urge you to take action now.”

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