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Key Observations from Attorney Focus Groups

Much of this report draws directly from the experiences of attorneys currently practicing in immigration courts across the country. In April 2019, the authors held focus groups with immigration attorneys in El Paso and San Antonio, Texas; Atlanta, Georgia; Kansas City, Missouri; Charlotte, North Carolina; and San Francisco, California. We also circulated an online survey to elicit experiences from attorneys working in Lumpkin and Ocilla, Georgia, and Alexandria, Louisiana.

The 46 attorneys in our discussions had experience representing both detained and non-detained clients in asylum cases before a wide range of judges. Some attorneys had been practicing for over a decade; others had only recently begun to appear in immigration courts.

In each focus group, we asked attorneys for their experiences, impressions, beliefs, and stories from immigration court. Their feedback was invaluable to crafting this report. Attorneys highlighted not only the extreme dysfunction of the immigration court system, but also the abusive and unlawful behavior of many judges. They also described how the Trump administration’s weaponization of the immigration courts has impeded attorneys’ ability to zealously represent their clients, with devastating impacts on their clients’ lives.

What was clear from our focus groups is that “rogue” immigration judges have become the norm—and the integrity of the current immigration court system has been irreparably damaged by the attorney general’s unitary control.