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Immigration Advocates File Major Lawsuit Challenging Weaponization of the Nation’s Immigration Court System

Advocates Launch Immigration Court Watch App to Ensure Greater Accountability, Transparency in Courts

WASHINGTON, DC – The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Innovation Law Lab (Law Lab),  Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP), Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) and Santa Fe Dreamers Project (SFDP) have filed a federal lawsuit challenging the weaponization of the nation’s immigration court system to serve the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda.
“Under the leadership of President Trump and the attorney general, the immigration court system has become fixated on the goal of producing deportations, not adjudications,” said Stephen Manning, executive director of Innovation Law Lab. “The system is riddled with policies that undermine the work of legal service providers and set asylum seekers up to lose without a fair hearing of their case.”
The complaint outlines pervasive dysfunction and bias within the immigration court system, including:

  • Areas that have become known as “asylum-free zones,” where virtually no asylum claims have been granted for the past several years.
  • The nationwide backlog of pending immigration cases, which has now surpassed 1 million — meaning that thousands of asylum seekers must wait three or four years for a court date.
  • The Enforcement Metrics Policy, implemented last year, which gives judges a personal financial stake in every case they decide and pushes them to deny more cases more quickly.
  • The “family unit” court docket, which stigmatizes the cases of recently arrived families and rushes their court dates, often giving families inadequate time to find an attorney and prepare for their hearings. 

“The immigration courts make life-and-death decisions every day for vulnerable people seeking asylum – people who depend on a functioning court system to protect them from persecution, torture, and death,” said Melissa Crow, senior supervising attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project. “While prior administrations have turned a blind eye to the dysfunction, the Trump administration has actively weaponized the courts, with devastating results for asylum seekers and the organizations that represent them.”
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of six legal service providers whose work for asylum seekers has been badly impaired as a result of the unjust immigration court system.
“As the political rhetoric surrounding immigrants has become sharper, we’ve noticed a decline in the treatment our clients receive in immigration court,” said Linda Corchado, Director of Legal Services, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center. “While asylum seekers are entitled to a full and fair hearing, their proceedings are too often rushed, and judges deny our requests for time to properly prepare their cases and collect and translate crucial evidence from across the world.”
In addition to filing on behalf of their own organizations, plaintiffs include Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP), Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) and Santa Fe Dreamers Project (SFDP).
The complaint can be viewed here and here:
In an effort to ensure greater transparency and accountability in the nation’s immigration courts, Innovation Law Lab also announced the full launch of an Immigration CourtWatch app, which enables court observers to record and upload information on the conduct of immigration judges.
The new tool allows data on immigration judge conduct to be gathered and stored in both individual and aggregate forms. This will provide advocates with valuable information to fight systemic bias and other unlawful court practices. This data can be used to bolster policy recommendations, along with advocacy and legal strategies.
Advocates, attorneys and other court watchers are encouraged to download and access the app available here:
In June, Law Lab and SPLC released a report, based on over two years of research and focus group interviews with attorneys and former immigration judges from around the country, on the failure of the immigration court system to fulfill the constitutional and statutory promise of fair and impartial case-by-case review. The report can be accessed here: The Attorney General’s Judges:  How the U.S. Immigration Courts Became a Deportation Tool.