Lawyers slam ‘Wild West’ atmosphere in Texas immigration court

(CNN)Judges at an immigration court in El Paso, Texas, are undermining due process, making inappropriate comments and fostering a “culture of hostility” toward immigrants, according to a new complaint.

The administrative complaint, sent to the Justice Department on Wednesday and obtained by CNN, slams a number of allegedly recurring practices at the El Paso Service Processing Center court, which hears cases of immigrants detained at several locations near the border.

“El Paso feels like the Wild West in terms of the immigration system,” said Kathryn Shepherd, national advocacy counsel for the American Immigration Council’s Immigration Justice Campaign and one of the complaint’s authors. “There’s so little oversight.

No one is talking about how bad it is.”The complaint comes at a time of mounting criticism of the Justice Department-run courts that decide whether individual immigrants should be deported. And it comes as officials warn the number of cases those courts are tasked with handling is rapidly increasing with an influx of more undocumented immigrants crossing the border.

Among the allegations:

• Judges at the El Paso Service Processing Center court have “notably high rates of denial,” the complaint says, noting that the court granted less than 4% of asylum applications heard there between fiscal year 2013 and fiscal year 2017. Nationally, 35% of asylum cases in court are granted, according to the latest data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

• The complaint accuses judges in the court of making inappropriate comments that “undermine confidence in their impartiality” and are part of “a culture of hostility and contempt towards immigrants who appear” at the court. While hearing one case, a judge, according to the complaint, described the court as “the bye-bye place,” telling a lawyer, “You know your client is going bye-bye, right?” Another judge allegedly told court observers that “there’s really nothing going on right now in Latin America” that would provide grounds for asylum.

• Rules limiting evidence that can be presented at this court strip away due process, the complaint says. One judge’s standing order, for example, limits the length of exhibits that can be submitted to 100 pages. “This order is particularly harmful for individuals seeking protection whose cases are more complex or where country conditions are at issue,” the complaint says.

By Catherine E. Shoichet for CNN

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