The Biden administration on Friday announced the start of a new effort to speed up court proceedings for migrant families caught crossing the southern border illegally – a bid to manage the immigration court backlog and limit the time families spend waiting in the U.S. for their cases to be adjudicated.
Starting Friday, certain families apprehended crossing the border between ports of entry will be placed on so-called “dedicated dockets” in immigration courts in 10 cities chosen for their legal resources and capacity to handle the cases, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice said in a press release.
The families will not be detained but will rather be monitored by authorities through the government’s Alternatives to Detention program, which can include face-to-face check-ins, telephone monitoring and various GPS tracking methods.
The plan is similar but not identical to efforts under the previous two administrations. Former President Barack Obama and former President Donald Trump enacted plans to expedite the court cases of migrant families and children and reduce the immigration court backlog – both of which raised serious due process concerns and were sharply criticized by both experts and advocates.
The Biden administration’s dedicated docket process comes as the U.S. sees an increasing number of admissions of migrant families, many of whom are seeking asylum. A controversial public health-related order known as Title 42 remains in effect at the border, and the Biden administration has used the order to immediately expel single adults and migrant families, depriving them of the opportunity to seek asylum or go through the normal legal processes. But Mexico has refused to take back certain migrant families, forcing the administration to accept them into the country. The Biden administration has also begun processing 250 asylum-seekers per day as a result of negotiations with the American Civil Liberties Union, which is suing the administration over Title 42.
The creation and announcement of the docket program is a sign that the administration is looking toward the future and preparing for the repeal of Title 42 – an emergency order that deviates significantly from normal immigration law.
Administration officials said Friday that the new process will balance fairness with efficiency.
“Families arriving at the border who are placed in immigration proceedings should have their cases decided in an orderly, efficient, and fair manner,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement. “Families who have recently arrived should not languish in a multi-year backlog; today’s announcement is an important step for both justice and border security.”
Officials in the press release also underscored the ways in which the new program differs from efforts by the previous administrations, particularly the Trump administration.
The Obama administration in 2014 created what was known as “rocket dockets” to separate and expedite the cases of unaccompanied migrant children and migrant families. Those dockets raised serious concerns about due process. Court notices are sent in English and are often delivered to the wrong address – an issue compounded by the fact that migrants are often mobile after first entering the U.S or being released from detention.
The Trump administration similarly used expedited dockets, but unlike the Obama administration, it mandated that judges decide cases on the dockets within a year, severely limiting the ability of judges to continue cases and, therefore, slashing the amount of time immigrants had to prepare their cases, apply for immigration benefits, seek legal representation or even travel to the city where their case is to be adjudicated – in some cases, hundreds of miles away from where they are located.
By 2019, over 80% of families on expedited dockets received in absentia removal orders for failing to show up to proceedings, according to an analysis of immigration court data by the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.
Under the Biden administration’s new process, judges will aim – but will not be mandated – to decide cases within 300 days. The administration said in its statement that despite that guideline, “fairness will not be compromised.”
“Respondents whose cases are on these dockets have the opportunity to request continuances, as do all respondents in removal proceedings, and immigration judges retain discretion to determine whether a continuance should be granted for good cause,” Jean King, the acting director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review, said in a policy memo to the agency on Friday. “EOIR expects that its immigration judges will make these determinations with full consideration for a respondent’s statutory right to counsel and consistent with due process and fundamental fairness.”
The Biden administration also says it will “make available information services to help families understand the immigration system and refer families to pro bono legal service providers for possible representation.”
Legal representation is a significant factor in the outcome of immigration court cases, and particularly those on expedited dockets. Unlike criminal courts, the immigration court system does not provide a right to counsel, and immigrants are responsible for obtaining and paying for representation if they would like it.
During the Obama administration, 81% of immigrants on rocket dockets who did not have counsel did not show up to hearings and were ordered removed in absentia, compared to 8% with counsel, according to the Migration Policy Institute analysis. And immigrants with legal representation were also 10 times more likely to obtain some kind of relief than those without.
Initial reaction Friday from advocates and experts varied from cautious to sharply critical.
The immigration courts that will handle the dedicated dockets are: Denver, Detroit, El Paso, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New York City, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle.
Source : US News