The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) has recently opened up two “Adjudication Centers” to hear detained migrants’ cases over teleconferencing. These remote centers, which function as courts though with less transparency, were meant to ease the swelling backlog of cases in immigration courts. While more efficient court proceedings may benefit detained people by lessening the time they have to spend in detention, the threats to their constitutional rights may be greater.
Specifically, these new centers in Virginia and Texas house 15 judges, and some immigrant rights advocates fear that they may be more focused on getting through cases quickly rather than thoroughly. These centers will use teleconferencing to perform hearings, and studies show that detained migrants with teleconferencing hearings are more likely to be deported than detained migrants who receive in-person hearings. Technical problems, challenges in interacting with lawyers and interpreters, and the exclusion of a public audience all contribute to these adverse outcomes. Furthermore, for detained migrants, sped up court proceedings could mean that they do not have sufficient time to find a lawyer, or to prepare materials needed for their case.
Citizens and non-citizens alike have the right to legal counsel. Migrants, however, have the burden of obtaining their own lawyer because they are in civil, rather than criminal, proceedings. Detained migrants face the most barriers to obtaining counsel, with only 14% being represented by a lawyer. Migrants with representation are far more likely to be released from detention, to avoid deportation, and to seek immigration relief, but far too few are able to utilize this assistance. When people are transferred between detention centers, and their cases are transferred between courts, they are less likely to retain counsel. These Adjudication Centers are yet another component of the ongoing project to separate migrants geographically from their support networks and from those who could hold the government accountable for their treatment of these people and cases.
Our lawyers have been working firsthand with the new Adjudication Center in Fort Worth, Texas, because all of the cases of the transgender women held at Cibola County Correctional Facility in Milan, New Mexico have been transferred there.
We are watching carefully for infringements on our client’s rights, and every week perform legal orientations to newly detained migrants. Though the government may be trending toward removed and impersonal processing without transparent accountability to the public, we are working to engage migrants in the legal process and ensure they exercise their rights. Consider supporting our work to help protect immigrants here in New Mexico.