‘Removal Process’ For Immigrants Riddled With Staggering Problems

By Beth Werlin

A new study by the American Bar Association confirms what many advocates already feared: Our country’s removal process fails to offer even a glimmer of due process.

For over a year, the American Bar Association’s Commission on Immigration and the law firm of Arnold & Porter LLP engaged in a comprehensive review of the current removal process. The law firm poured over hundreds of articles, reports, legislative materials, and other documents, and interviewed scores of participants in the system, including lawyers, judges, advocacy groups, and academics. This study led them to conclude what many immigrants, their families, and immigration lawyers and advocates already knew and what many others suspected: the removal system is severely flawed and fails to afford fair process to all noncitizens facing deportation from the United States. The study details many of the deficiencies in the current system and makes a strong case for systemic reform.

The 71-page executive summary reveals staggering numbers and facts. For example:

  • Between 1996 and 2008, the number of people removed per year grew from just over 69,000 to over 356,000. This tremendous increase, however, has not been met with commensurate resources.
  • Immigration judges completed on average 1,243 cases per year. (In comparison, Veterans Law Judges decide about 729 cases per year (of which only 178 involve hearings) and Social Security Administration administrative law judges decide about 544 cases per year.) Given the overwhelming case load and the lack of adequate support staff, immigration judges primarily issue oral decisions, meaning that decisions are made without sufficient time to conduct legal research and analyze complex legal and factual issues.
  • Although “[t]here is strong evidence that representation affects the outcome of immigration proceedings,” in 2008, 57% of people in removal proceedings were not represented. Of those in detention, 84% were forced to proceed without lawyers. Not only are many people unable to afford counsel, but remote detention facilities, short visiting hours, restrictive phone access, and transfers all have a devastating effect on a noncitizen’s ability to retain counsel and maintain an attorney-client relationship. READ MORE…
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