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February 3, 2010

New Report Commissioned by ABA Addresses Crisis in Immigration Removal System

Referring to the current immigration adjudication removal system, Andrew Schoenholtz — Georgetown Law professor and a member of the _ Commission on Immigration — stated that it was a “system we cannot accept.”  Schoenholtz was part of an expert panel unveiling “Reforming the Immigration System: Proposals to Promote Independence, Fairness, Efficiency, and Professionalism in the Adjudication of Removal Cases” at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 2.

The new report was prepared pro bono by the law firm of Arnold & Porter LLP.  The nearly 500-page report examines each stage of the immigration removal adjudication system and makes some 60 recommendations for incremental and systemic reform.  Designed as a tool for policymakers considering legislative and administrative changes to the immigration system, the study identifies concerns ranging from internal Department of Homeland Security practices to systemic weaknesses within the court’s current structure.

The panel briefers included, in addition to Schoenholtz, ABA President Carolyn B. Lamm, ABA Commission on Immigration Chair Karen Grisez and co-authors from Arnold & Porter LLP, Lawrence Schneider and Michael Lee.

As Grisez explained in introducing the lead authors of the report, Arnold & Porter LLP was the logical choice to complete the project because of its extensive and lengthy history with immigration issues, and its willingness to commit time and resources to the project.

The report was a comprehensive study of the system and covered six major areas of concern including:  Department of Homeland Security, immigration courts, Board of Immigration Appeals, circuit court judicial review, representation and system restructuring.  Among the recommendations, as Lamm mentioned during the event, is the creation of an independent body responsible for adjudicating immigration removal issues.  Lee explained that recent years have seen politicized hiring and removal of BIA lawyers sympathetic to immigrants as reasons that necessitated an independent body.  People need to be able to do their jobs without fear of retribution, he said.

Schneider in part spoke to the need for change in the overburdened system, including addressing the needs of immigration judges who have caseloads that far exceed judges in other areas, as well as lawyers and law clerks.  Schneider also spoke to the study’s recommendation that Department of Homeland Security lawyers have greater prosecutorial discretion, as well as the need to amend the definition of “aggravated felony,” which has expanded in recent years.

As Schoenholtz noted earlier, we need a system that is fair and is perceived as such, that operates efficiently without sacrificing quality.

The report represents the opinions of the authors and editors and should not be construed to be those of either the _ or the ABA Commission on Immigration unless and until adopted pursuant to the bylaws of the association. The recommendations are set to come to a vote before the ABA House of Delegates the week of Feb. 8.

You may find the executive summary of the report here.

Learn More About:  Immigration