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ABA Urges Congress to Help Overburdened Immigration Court System

Association Calls for More Resources to Handle Record Immigration Enforcement Efforts

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 18, 2011 — In testimony delivered to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Karen Grisez, chair of the _ Commission on Immigration, expressed serious concerns with the growing burden on immigration courts to keep up with expanded immigration enforcement activity.

“Our immigration system is in crisis, overburdened and under-resourced, leading to the frustration of those responsible for its administration and endangering due process for those who appear before it,” said Grisez in her written testimony.

The number of noncitizens removed from the United States has increased more than 450 percent in the past dozen years — from 69,680 removed in fiscal year 1996 to 393,289 removed in fiscal year 2009. In recent years, immigration detainees have represented the fastest growing segment of the U.S. incarcerated population.

Grisez, who is Special Counsel for Public Service at the law firm of Fried, Frank, Harris, Schriver and Jacobson LLP, offered several recommendations from the ABA to alleviate pressure on immigration courts and enhance confidence in the outcome of adjudications:

  • Hire additional immigration judges to bring caseloads down to around 700 cases per judge annually (down from approximately 1,145 cases recently) and more law clerks to allow for one per judge (on average there is only one law clerk per four immigration judges).
  • Expand noncitizen access to legal counsel, which would avoid procedural snags and excessive appeals that arise when people represent themselves instead of hiring a lawyer.  Legal representation ensures cases are decided on their merits instead of how well an individual can navigate the complicated legal process.
  • The ABA urges the Department of Homeland Security to focus on noncitizens that pose a risk to our national security and public safety.  DHS should prioritize cases where noncitizens are likely to be removed, and use prosecutorial discretion when individuals are not likely to be removed.
  • Immigration courts should hold pre-hearing conferences to speed subsequent proceedings.  Pre-hearing conferences are also a good opportunity to dispose of cases where an individual would clearly be removed or released.
  • Allow asylum officers, rather than courts, to handle claims raised as a defense to expedited removal, and also remove the requirement that asylum seekers file their claim within one year of arrival in the U.S.  Both recommendations would reduce immigration court caseloads.

These and additional recommendations are found in the Commission on Immigration’s comprehensive analysis of the immigration court system, Reforming the Immigration System: Proposals to Promote Independence, Fairness, Efficiency, and Professionalism in the Adjudication of Removal Cases.

A copy of the testimony is available here.

With nearly 400,000 members, the _ is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world.  As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.

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Media Contact: Rob Boisseau ( -1093/Robert.Boisseau@americanbar.org)

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