Immigration court processing issues are upending New Yorkers’ cases, lawyers say

New York-based Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) attorneys say they are facing logistical, technical and communication issues with their cases, which are pending in the US immigration court system.

Adi Talwar

The line outside 26 Federal Plaza one morning in 2015. The building is one of two locations in the city where immigration hearings are held.

In recent months, immigration attorneys have had quite a few procedural issues in New York immigration courts. While they haven’t started collecting data on the frequency of these issues, they say they occur often enough to delay proceedings and impact clients’ cases, leaving them vulnerable to deportation. .vs

The reopening of immigration courts in July 2021 was chaotic after the pandemic shuttered them completely, lawyers say. Recently, court proceedings have been held in person while others are still taking place remotely – a decision made by the judges’ preferences which are communicated to lawyers via Excel spreadsheets and emails distributed by the Office of Justice. public information from the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). The system has been prone to misunderstandings and confusion, according to immigration lawyers, several of whom sent a letter to the immigration court on Dec. 27 asking it to intervene.

“Some of the information in these communications contradicts other standing orders from the New York City EOIR courts, which state that an attorney of record may appear by telephone for Master Schedule (MCH) hearings without the need for a motion requesting a remote appearance, and also state that the respondent’s appearance at the remote MCHs is waived,” the letter read.

In addition to issues with in-person and remote hearings, there have also been delays in obtaining motions for Individual Hearings (IH), a key part of a deportation case – in which an immigrant requesting to stay in the United States presents its case to stay – which, in some cases, has remained in abeyance for several months.

Technical problems were not lacking either, particularly with OpenVoice’s audio conferencing service used in remote hearings, and as a result lawyers were unable to hear most or all of the hearings and they had to be postponed.

Because of this series of problems, a group of lawyers part of the advocacy program for detained immigrants facing deportation called the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) complained to Deputy Chief Immigration Judges Khalilah Taylor, Anna C. Little and Ubaid ul-Haq.

City Limits has contacted EOIR and the North East Region spokesperson said that “EOIR is responding to official correspondence through the appropriate channels and continues to welcome feedback from practitioners, respondents and other stakeholders”.

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“These communication issues are extremely frustrating,” the attorneys state in the letter. “Furthermore, it is inefficient and unnecessary for our staff to prepare for hearings that end up being canceled or postponed, and to spend time verifying which hearings are taking place and in what format.”

Each of these technical, logistical or communication problems can permanently change the course of a case and transform the lives of immigrants, who in some cases find themselves vulnerable to deportation. Claudine-Annick Murphy, lawyer at the Legal Aid Society, handles the file of a minor who Special immigrant minors (IF I). SIJ protection is created for children who have been abused, abandoned or neglected by their parents. Under this classification, minors can qualify to become Lawful Permanent Residents (or LPRs) or apply for asylum and obtain a work permit.

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In August 2021, her client’s case was removed from the schedule. “I received the hearing cancellation notice, but I never received the scheduling order,” she said. Court administrators said they would send a copy of the cancellation notice and scheduling order, but they never arrived, she said. Between August and November, she exchanged emails explaining that she could not fulfill a programming order she had never received.

On November 30, 2021, an individual hearing was scheduled for January 5, but just two days earlier, on January 3, Murphy had received the notice of hearing. Lawyers are required to file all case materials more than 30 days before the individual hearing date, so last-minute notice is almost like missing the filing deadline, jeopardizing their case.

“The postage stamp on the envelope indicates that it was mailed on December 27, almost a full month after the Notice of Hearing was generated on November 30, and delivered to us on November 3 January, two days before the individual hearing,” she clarified via email.

“It was very scary to be notified two days before his final eviction hearing that he was going to have that hearing, and we had nothing, no case to present to the court,” Murphy explained.

Despite Murphy’s objections asking that the hearing be canceled as soon as possible, the court disagreed. Instead, the court administrator asked Murphy to be the one to file a motion to continue, a procedure that could have negative consequences in his client’s case since judges view delays and reschedulings as difficulties in pleading a case.

In the letter, the attorneys say that “constant last-minute schedule changes impair our ability to fully represent our clients and properly prepare for hearings.”

All of these delays and problems further delayed Murphy’s client’s ability to enter the already long queue to apply for asylum, with no possibility of applying for a work permit in the meantime.

The U.S. immigration court system is currently processing the largest number of pending cases in history: 1,596,193. According to data recently released by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC ) from Syracuse University, only New York immigration courts have 167,614 pending cases – the largest backlog in decades. The average wait for pending immigration cases in New York is 1,011 days, according to TRAC.

“Since the start of the Biden administration, the growth of the backlog has accelerated at a breakneck pace,” The TRAC report strong points. “These findings suggest that immigration courts are entering a worrying new era of even more overwhelming workloads – all the more worrying as no attempt at a solution has yet been able to reverse the avalanche of cases facing immigration judges today.”

So far, EOIR has not responded to the lawyers’ letter. On Friday, January 28, he postponed main and individual hearings for certain respondents until February 7, 2022, due to the continued rapid spread of COVID-19 nationwide.

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