ABA commission finds room for improvement in immigration courts
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ABA commission finds room for improvement in immigration courts

The American Bar Association Commission on Immigration on Wednesday published an update to their 2010 report that made recommendations on reforming the immigration system.

The 2019 update focused on recommendations for improvement in six key areas involved in the immigration adjudication process: the Department of Homeland Security (DHS); Immigration Judges and Immigration Courts; the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA); Judicial Review; Representation; and System Restructuring.

The Commission had four stated goals for the update report:

Goal 1: Make immigration judges at both the trial level and the appellate level sufficiently independent, with adequate resources, to make high-quality, impartial decisions free from any improper influence.
Goal 2: Ensure fairness and due process and the perception of fairness by participants in the system.
Goal 3: Promote efficient and timely decision making without sacrificing quality.
Goal 4: Increase the professionalism of the immigration judiciary.

The update report offers 100 recommendations on how to improve the immigration system, ranging from prosecutorial discretion to changes to the Immigration and Nationality Act. Many of the recommendations “reaffirm” those made in the original 2010 report. In fact, the Commission emphasizes that few changes have been made since the original report.

Unfortunately, most of the reform efforts never came to fruition. As explained in the Update Report, which chronicles changes to the system from 2010 through 2018, there have been virtually no new immigration laws addressing issues covered by the 2010 Report. At the same time, certain policies that were in place at the time of the 2010 Report and that promoted the fairness, efficiency and due process in the immigration system have been undermined during intervening years.

The update report did highlight one area of success since the original report was published:

[Representation] highlights one of the few truly positive developments in the adjudication removal system: the growth of representation for vulnerable populations. However, most of this has come as a result of local or private initiatives or as the result of litigation, and still only ensures representation for the lucky few.

The Commission contends that without further progress, immigration courts will succumb to overwhelming case loads and Congressional inaction.