Given that the immigration courts currently are failing to provide a fair, efficient, and effective system of justice, one would have anticipated that the “Immigration Court” subtitle of an 844-page bill would span more than 11 pages. But the Gang of 8 took a minimalist approach when it comes to immigration court reform. Nonetheless, the bill offers several measures that could have a significant impact on the administration of justice.
To address the crushing backlogs at the immigration courts, the bill proposes to increase the number of immigration judges by 225 over the course of three years. That would represent about an 87% increase. Moreover, the bill would provide immigration judges with additional resources—law clerks, legal assistants, improved training (including continuing legal education), and updated recording technology. The bill also makes it clear that noncitizens ordered deported have the right to appeal their decision to a three-member panel of the Board of Immigration Appeals, and that the Board must issue a written opinion responding to the appeal arguments. Moreover, in a separate sub-title, the bill amends the stipulated removal process (whereby a person gives up his or her right to contest removal) to require an in-person hearing to determine that the stipulation is voluntary, knowing, and intelligent.
Most notably, the bill proposes important steps toward ensuring access to legal advice and representation. It mandates that all detained individuals be provided a legal orientation program within five days of arrival in custody, authorizes the Attorney General to appoint counsel at government expense as a matter of discretion, and directs the Attorney General to appoint counsel to “unaccompanied alien children,” individuals with serious mental disabilities, and other particularly vulnerable noncitizens.
Are these steps toward a fair, efficient, and effective system of justice?
What additional procedural reforms are needed? Should we have some that address video hearings, access to the government’s evidence, and judicial independence?