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Immigration Court Observation Project Publishes New Report on Due Process Crisis

May 5, 2011

Release Date: May 3, 2011 – For Immediate Release

Contact: Conor Gleason, NewYorkCityICOP at gmail.com

Students from five New York City law schools today released a report that documents glaring lapses in the procedural rights afforded to immigrants facing deportation.  Fundamental Fairness: A Report on the Due Process Crisis in New York City Immigration Courts (2011) presents findings based on observations from 414 immigration hearings held in 2009 and 2010. The law students who authored the report are part of the National Lawyers Guild’s Immigration Court Observation Project (ICOP), a citywide initiative aimed at bringing greater transparency and accountability to Immigration Courts.

Through statistics and anecdotal evidence gathered during observations of individual immigrants’ public removal proceedings, the report documents the harsh reality faced by immigrants in New York City’s Immigration Courts.  One of its key findings is a persistent lack of access to adequate counsel in deportation hearings—a critical issue that will be highlighted tomorrow in a colloquium convened by Judge Robert A. Katzmann’s Study Group on Immigrant Representation.  Participants will include former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens and a wide range of government actors, advocates, and private attorneys.

The new report also reveals the detrimental impact detention has on individuals and the overall fairness of the Immigration Court system for immigrants facing deportation. Detainees who appeared in NYC Immigration Courts recounted harrowing stories of inadequate medical care in detention, difficulties accessing counsel, and incompetent attorneys prolonging their detention or inadvertently precipitating their deportation. ICOP data indicate that many of these detained individuals were denied release on bond or offered bonds as high as $35,000.

The report also documents routine deficiencies in language access that compromised the ability of non-native English speakers to participate in their immigration cases.  Examples include one individual in removal proceedings who unknowingly waived a potential form of relief because of inadequate and incorrect interpretation.

Based on findings from the hundreds of hearings observed, the report recommends that Immigration Judges, the Department of Homeland Security, and legislators, take action to cure the due process deficiencies documented in the report. These include:

  • Guaranteeing detainees access to counsel
  • Minimizing the detention of immigrants by exercising discretion in taking individuals into custody and employing alternatives to physical incarceration
  • Setting affordable bond for all eligible detainees
  • Improving conditions of detention, including access to adequate medical care
  • Ensuring adequate language access and promoting transparency and professionalism in the courtroom
  • Enforcing immigrants’ rights to adequate, effective representation.

ICOP continues to observe immigration hearings at Varick Street Immigration Court and 26 Federal Plaza, and is actively working with similar groups outside of New York City to promote greater transparency and accountability in the nation’s Immigration Court system.

Notes to editors

A small group of law students founded ICOP in 2006 under the name “Detainee Working Group” as a response to chronic due process lapses in the Immigration Courts. Inspired in part by the National Lawyers Guild Legal Observers, ICOP’s mission is to promote transparency and accountability in the Immigration Courts through its observations and documentation. Currently, ICOP has expanded to include student organizers and observers from Brooklyn Law School, Cardozo School of Law, Columbia School of Law, CUNY School of Law, and New York University School of Law. Since its founding, ICOP has organized hundreds of New York-area law students to observe over one thousand hearings. In 2008, ICOP published its first report, Broken Justice: A Report on the Failures of the Court System for Immigration Detainees in New York City, documenting nearly 400 hearings observed between 2006 and 2007. For more information on ICOP, including copies of reports, visit www.NYCicop.wordpress.com.

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