Sweeping Reforms are Needed for ‘broken’ Immigration System, ABA Report Finds

As national attention increasingly focuses on immigration, the ABA Commission on Immigration delivered a comprehensive report on how the immigration court system should be reformed.

“Our nation’s immigration system is broken,” said ABA President Bob Carlson, announcing the release of the report at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. “Tinkering around the edges will not fix it. We need fundamental reform in every aspect of the system.”

The commission’s new report is Reforming the Immigration System: Proposals to Promote Independence, Fairness, Efficiency, and Professionalism in the Adjudication of Removal Cases. It’s an update to a 2010 report by the same name. Like the prior report, it takes a comprehensive look at the American system for determining whether an immigrant should be deported or permitted to remain in the United States.

It is the commission’s first top-to-bottom look at the U.S. immigration adjudication system in nearly a decade. The update responds to changes over the past nine years, describes changes to the system, and adds some new recommendations. Just like the 2010 version, the 2019 update was created by the commission and the law firm Arnold & Porter. It was formally launched Wednesday afternoon at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

There are three broad recommendations in the report:

• Restructure the immigration court system. Long-standing ABA House of Delegates policy calls for independence for the immigration courts, which currently are part of the Department of Justice and subject to the control of a politically appointed attorney general. There is even more evidence now that political interference could threaten judges’ independence, such as the announcement last year of case completion quotas for immigration judges that are tied to their employee evaluations. The report also criticizes former Attorney General Jeff Sessions for referring a large number of immigration cases (such as Matter of A-B-) to himself and then “substantially rewriting immigration law” by deciding those cases.

• Overhaul how immigrants are represented. Currently, most immigrants have no right to court-appointed counsel. They have a right to counsel at their own expense, and those who can’t afford counsel must compete for a limited pool of public interest lawyers in most cities. Bad lawyers and even nonlawyers are stepping into the gap to provide ineffective legal services or outright cheat immigrants, according to the report.


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