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Down to the Wire: Vote for us in the next 3 hours for fairness in immigration

Picture 2We’re down to the wire and need your vote now! In the next three hours, you can vote to Restore Fairness to our broken immigration system on Change.org’s Ideas for Change in America and take us one step closer to an opportunity to have our voice heard in Washington.

Immigration reform has been proven to benefit the livelihood and stability of all of us, leading to a vibrant and viable future. So vote now! Here’s our idea.

Unite to pass immigration reform this year that “Restores Fairness” to our broken immigration system

Today, a broken immigration system denies basic human rights and due process to people who live here. In the aftermath of 9-11, immigrants have borne the brunt of harsh policies with the U.S. government allowing raids and arrests without warrants, holding thousands in inhumane detention conditions, and deporting people without a fair trial.

But there is hope. This year, people across America are coming together to ask for just and humane immigration reform, one of President Obama’s election promises. Right now, Senator Schumer is crafting a bill with Senator Graham to be introduced in the Senate after which it will move to the House. But there are divisive, nativist, voices out there that are trying to stop this.

Raise your voice for a just and humane immigration reform that:

1. Creates a fair path to citizenship for the millions of hardworking individuals and families who live here.
2. Creates fair enforcement practices that include -

- creating legally enforceable detention standards and implementing secure alternatives to detention so that we stop locking up harmless individuals, children and people with severe medical conditions
- stopping indiscriminate raids and the continued use of local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law
- restoring the ability of immigration judges to consider individual circumstances before they detain and deport people

Immigration reform must also address border security, workers rights, family reunification and future flows of workers.

Photo courtesy of Change.org

Start a conversation that says no to racial profiling

In a recent USA Today poll, 71% of people said that they were in favor of racial profiling at airports. It is time to face the truth; racial and ethnic profiling at airports does not work.  In fact it makes us less safe. And moving away from airports, racial profiling occurs all over the country, targeting a number of communities including the Native American, African American, Latino, Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities.

We think it is time to Face the Truth about racial profiling and speak out against it. Participate in a conversation against racial profiling and join the Rights Working Group for the launch of their campaign that seeks to drive home the message that racial profiling does not work. In fact, it makes our communities feel humiliated and degraded, in addition to making us feel less safe rather than more secure.

Racial profiling is an illegal, ineffective and degrading practice that violates constitutional protections and human rights.  While many have struggled with the consequences of being profiled, including being incarcerated and deported, communities rarely have the opportunity to deepen our understanding of the facts, stories and realities of these events.

In order to educate individuals and communities across the country about the faces of racial profiling, why it is ineffective and what can be done to put an end to it, join into the Night of a 1,000 Conversations from February 22nd-28th to spread awareness and inspire action.

Why is the simple act of conversation so important. Here is an example of a testimonial from a previous conversation,

“None of the participants who were not born in the U.S. would commit to doing anything remotely political – write letters, make phone calls, etc.  Their fear of deportation was too great.  They viewed the evening’s activity as a safe space and while they were comfortable enough to share their thoughts on political climate re: immigration/detention/deportation, anything beyond personal conversation was not realistic.”

To get started, host a conversation or find one near you and join in. Visit www.nightof1000conversations.org for a toolkit, conversation resources and more to kick you off!

Photo courtesy of Rights Working Group.

Be inspired and be inspiring. Human rights can start with YOU.

There’s nothing better than a real-life inspirational story. Last week we brought you the amazing story of New York’s favorite District Attorney, 90 year old Robert Morganthau, and his commitment to equal justice for all. Today, we are happy to bring you another story confirming that New York stalwarts of justice are on a roll.

A New York Times article tells the story of Ex-Judge Michael A. Corriero and his commitment to supporting Qing Hong Wu, a man who he sentenced as a juvenile 15 years ago, for misdemeanors on the “mean streets” of New York. Motivated by Wu’s reputation as a stellar student, and intent on creating a juvenile criminal system that promised a chance for reform, Corriero promised Wu that if he got educated, worked hard, and reformed his life, he would stand behind him if ever he needed it. Today Wu desperately needs Corriero’s help and Corriero, long-retired, is doing everything he can to ensure justice.

Qing Hong Wu moved to the U.S. with his parents when he was 5 years old. With his parents working long hours to make ends meet, he got mixed-up in some bad company at the age of 15. At his trial, the teenager pleaded guilty, saying, “I’m sorry and I really hope that you will forgive me for all the pain and trouble I made them go through.” Court transcripts show that Judge Corriero called the case a tragedy and gave Wu the following advice,

This is not the end, this is really the beginning of a new period for you. I want you to educate yourself. Continue to read, follow the rules. You will want to get a job and become a meaningful, constructive member of society to help your family. I will be there to make sure that you can.

A model inmate, Wu took Judge Corriero’s advice very seriously. He was released from his nine year reformatory sentence in three years and worked towards turning his life around; he studied hard and supported his mother by working his way up to the position of Vice-President of IT at a management company, and is now engaged to be married. Inspired by the example of his mother, sister and fiance becoming U.S. citizens, he applied for citizenship last November, 15 years after having served his time. Immediately, Wu became subject to 1996 laws that make no allowance for those who have rehabilitated their lives and earned a place in society. He was locked up by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement in a detention center in New Jersey and is facing deportation to China, a country that he has not lived in for 25 years.

At the time that Mr. Wu pleaded guilty, he was not made aware of the consequences to his immigration future that could be a direct result of his sentence. Currently, the only way that Mr. Wu’s deportation can be stayed is if he is granted a pardon that erases his criminal record. While in detention, Wu wrote a letter to Judge Corriero, reminding him about the promises that they had made to each other 15 years ago. Amongst the many appeals for his release from employers, friends and family is the strong appeal that Judge Corriero, now 67 and retired, has made to Governor David Paterson, saying that Mr. Wu has earned his second chance and should be allowed to remain in the country.

Judge Corriero is of the strong opinion that while on the one hand the justice system aims to rehabilitate those accused of crimes, especially juveniles, so as to prevent against the trap of them repeatedly re-entering the criminal system, a parallel law enforcement system is working directly against this by ignoring the details of individual cases and blindly enforcing old laws. In his book, “Judging Children as Children: A Proposal for a Juvenile Justice System”, Judge Corriero envisages a more flexible justice system that supports and nurtures those who have committed mistakes and learnt from them, allowing them to change their lives rather than perpetuating a vicious cycle.

Now the Executive Director of Big Brothers, Big Sisters of New York City, the judge is going to great lengths to do something for Mr. Wu. We always believe that human rights begins with an individual. Judge Corriero has made a personal effort, and we really hope that this, combined with all the support that Mr. Wu has received, will make a difference.

In the mean time, if you want to be an inspiration, join SAALT’s new video project, “Say it Loud: Share Your Story for Immigration Reform”, As Congress and the Administration debate immigration reform this Spring, SAALT is collecting video testimonials from individuals who have a personal story to tell about how they might have been affected by the broken immigration system and what immigration reform would mean to them. These stories of personal experience will serve as powerful and inspiring tools in the mobilization towards immigration reform, so if you have something to say, then create a video with your personal take on this question, “Why do you believe the U.S. immigration system needs to change”. Send it to SAALT and join the likes of Morgenthau and Judge Corriero by taking a step for human rights!

UPDATE: We are very pleased to tell you that this story has a happy ending. As a result of Judge Corriero’s personal appeal for justice and all the support that Mr. Wu has received since he was detained in November, Governor Patterson announced his pardon on Saturday. Gov. Patterson said that based on the exemplary way the Qing Wu served time, and rose from his mistakes by turning his life around, he has been pardoned for the misdemeanors he was charged with in his youth. The full and unconditional pardon that Mr. Wu received should prevent the Federal Government from deporting him, but should also allow him to be eligible for citizenship, the application that got this entire process started in the first place. A statement released by the Governor said that in his mind, Wu’s case was a chance to draw attention to “the harsh inequity and rigidity of the immigration laws.” We are with Judge Corriero in hoping that this does not remain one family’s happy ending, and is, instead, a signal of change for the criminal justice system and the immigration system so that they work together to allow people to recover from their mistakes and reclaim their lives.

Photo courtesy of www.nytimes.com

POLL: Do you think that Qing Hong Wu should be deported?

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How far will the GOP go for the Latino vote?

In the 2008 Presidential Election, Republicans won only 31% of the Latino vote, down from 40% of Latino votes they had four years earlier when George Bush took office for the second time. And based on exit polls, it seems apparent that the Hispanic vote played a large part in President Obama’s Electoral College victory and win over John McCain. Add to this the fact that from 1998 to 2008 the number of Latinos eligible to vote rose by 21% (from 16.1 million to 19.5 million), and factor in estimates that say that by 2050 the Hispanic population is expected to increase by 200% and you get a reasonable explanation why Republicans are beginning to panic about how to ensure support from the Latino community. Now that Republicans have woken up to the fact that they desperately need to secure Hispanic support, the question is how they intend to go about doing this, and whether they have it in them to go beyond the surface and address issues that resonate deeply with the Latino community.

Earlier this month, America’s Voice brought out a report that spotlights the growing power of the Latino electorate and suggests that candidates in all political races should keep a close eye on the issues that influence the Latino vote if they intend to remain viable in the House and Senate elections for 2010. The report, The Power of the Latino Vote in America, gives a detailed account of Latino voting trends, identifies 40 Congressional races across 11 states where Latinos are likely to made a huge impact in the November elections, and makes a strong argument for how deeply the issue of immigration reform will affect the Hispanic vote.

While it rates the economy as the top-most issue for the Hispanic population, the report makes it clear that immigration reform has played a key role in how the Latino voters made their choices in 2008, and will continue to do so. The report says,

Polling of Latino voters shows that the Republican Party’s image has been severely damaged by GOP lawmakers’ demagoguery on the issue, and that the vast majority of Latinos simply will not vote for a candidate who advocates mass deportation instead of comprehensive immigration reform…Politicians of both parties also need to approach the issue responsibly during their election campaigns. Heated rhetoric coupled with unrealistic policy solutions like mass deportation will turn off both the crucial Latino voting bloc and other swing voters, who are tired of Washington policymakers talking tough, but delivering little.

But life isn’t hunky dory for Democrats either. Moving forward, the report tells us that while Hispanics have been tending towards the Democrats for years, taking the Latino vote for granted would be a huge fallacy on the part of Democrat candidates. The recent victory of GOP candidate Scott Brown over Democrat Martha Coakley in Massachusetts was attributed to the fact that Coakley failed to reach out to the Latino vote base, and works as a good warning to Democrats who must show leadership and work towards ensuring that their campaign promises be kept in order to keep the support of the powerful Hispanic voter base. Moreover, the Latino-swing constituency, comprising of foreign born, naturalized U.S. citizens of Latino descent who represent about 40% of the Latino population, tend to be favorable to some of the Republican ideals such as the emphasis on “family values.”

On the day of it’s release, Janet Murguia, President and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, wrote an article in the Huffington Post in which she prescribed that this report should be bedside reading for any politician in America today. And looking at the activities within a segment of the Republican party in the past few weeks, it looks like many have taken her advice quite seriously. Tea Party extremism aside, a number of Republican candidates in states such as California and Texas, seem to have adopted a more favorable attitude towards immigration reform in order to gain the support of the large Hispanic voter bases. In Texas, George P. Bush, an attorney of Mexican descent and son of Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has founded a political action committee, The Hispanic Republicans of Texas, aimed to promote Hispanics running for office. A number of Republican party strategists are researching social and economic issues that affect the Latino community. And in order to bridge the gap between the Hispanic community and Republican ideals, the Christian group, The Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, plans to spend $500,000 on helping pro-immigration Republican candidates and promote conservative values in the Latino community.

Running a focus group that is researching economic and social issues that face the Latino community, Former Republican National Committee Chairman, Ed Gillespie wants to reach out to Hispanic voters on issues that are important to them. Gillespie blames the loss of Latino support on past “Republican rhetoric,” and says that the key lies in changing the “tone and body language” when addressing the issue of immigration.

We have to make clear to Latino voters that we care as much about welcoming legal immigrants into our country as we do about keeping illegal ones out.

Actions speak louder than words. So while the new GOP language on immigration is evident when Sarah Palin said on Fox News that conservatives needed to be “welcoming and inviting to immigrants” and recognize that “immigrants built this great country,” a lot more than that is necessary before the tides turn. When Republicans stop blocking all immigration reform bills introduced in the Senate and the House, then we will talk.

UPDATE From Immigration Impact: While some high-profile Republicans are looking for ways to increase their support among Latino voters, a new report from the Center for Immigration Studies calls for the Republican Party to basically give up on Latinos for the time being, while sticking to its anti-immigrant guns.

Photo courtesy of immigration.change.org

POLL: Do you think the GOP is doing enough to win over the Latino vote?

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Religious leaders of all faiths come together in the “immigrant capital of America”

A few days ago we told you about the many events taking place across New York City to mobilize support for immigration reform, building up to the nationwide march in DC on March 21st. Today we attended one of these events – an inter-faith convocation in which religious leaders of all faiths came together to talk about the pressing need for  just and human immigration reform in 2010.

The minute I walked in to the hall at the majestic Riverside Church, I could feel the energy in the room. There was a feeling of community, emerging from people united with the same purpose with a sense of hope and excitement as they look forward to change on the immediate horizon. Hosted by the Riverside Church and organized by the New York State Interfaith Network for Immigration Reform and the New York Immigration Coalition, the line-up of speakers was impressive in its variety and scope. In addition to a Member of Congress and representatives from the different immigration activist groups, the speakers represented various Christian denominations, and Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Buddhist faiths.

Kicking off the event, Rev. Robert Coleman welcomed everyone, alluding to the strength and responsibility of New Yorkers as citizens of the “immigrant capital of America.” He established concepts of equality of all before God, access to human rights for all, and the principle of hospitality as intrinsic to the Christian faith. These ideas were echoed by all the speakers from the different faiths as they referenced their scriptures and called for comprehensive immigration reform that respects due process and ensures the safety and unity of immigrants and their families. Referring to sections from the Torah, Rabbi Noam Marans spoke about the duty of people to look after those who were less privileged and stated that the greatness of a nation is judged not on how its most privileged are treated, but on how it supports its “weakest links.”

Rep. Charles Rangel, the New York Congressman who was instrumental in initially deferring the deportation of Jean Montrevil and eventually contributing to reuniting him with his family, gave his support to the convocation and praised the faith-based groups for uniting on the issue of immigration reform, one that he said was crucial to the growth, stability, and moral integrity of the country.  Rep. Rangel said that he believed that immigration reform would benefit the economy as well as national security, and assured the group that he was committed to ensuring that the reform bill introduced by Rep. Gutierrez and Sen. Schumer would be passed in the Senate and the House this year.

In addition to the idea that all humans must treat each other with respect and dignity irrespective of their language, nationality or status, there was a second trope that ran through the speeches that jumped out at me; the notion of the United States as a nation that was built on the hard work and contribution of immigrants from all over the world. A number of the speakers mentioned the ways in which a path to legalization for the nation’s 12 million immigrants would benefit the economy, as well as the ways in which the current situation was allowing for immigrant workers to be exploited and paid less than minimum wage. Anindita Chatterjee Bhaumik, the Hindu Clergy Liason for the NYPD, for example, quoted from the Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita, and spoke of how the country cannot progress without access to human rights for all. Bishop Jeremiah Park of the United Methodist Church told his own story as a first generation immigrant from South Korea in search of the American dream, and invoking the values inherent in the Statue of Liberty, urged President Obama and Congress to build bridges and allow immigrants to be productive and healthy members of the country that they were already a part of. “We, as people of faith, cannot be passive,” he urged.

As communities across the country have been coming out in support of immigration reform, the faith community has remained one of the strongest forces in this fight for immigration reform. We hope that their united front, combined with their commitment to the cause and dedication to their faiths will encourage more people to join the movement and see that this issue affects everyone in one way or another.

Raging Grannies sing for immigration Reform

“Singing for the rights of immigrants, Singing strong and proud.”

That’s the Raging Grannies for you singing on the New York Road Trip for Our Future, a multi-city caravan across the state of New York to spread the message of immigration reform in every corner of the state.

Enjoy….

Legendary NY District Attorney calls the way we treat immigrants “a national disgrace”

90 year old Robert Morgenthau, New York’s legendary District Attorney for 35 years is recently retired, and has already dived into his new role at law firm Wachtall, Lipton, Rosen and Katz where he has committed to fighting for the rights of all immigrants in the United States.

Considered the inspiration for Law & Order, New York’s highest prosecuting office was presided over by Morgenthau, and was responsible for tens of  thousands of cases, including many high-profile trials. That’s why, when he speaks of the need to ensure the basic constitutional rights of every single person, particularly those at the margins, we need to pay attention.

In an interview with WNYC, Morganthau did not mince words on expressing his views on the current system.

Brian Lehrer: You’ve also been thinking about immigration law and the interface between criminal courts and immigration courts and immigration detention. This is something you said you were going to work on after your retirement and now you are. What have you been thinking about?

Robert Morgenthau: I think, the way we treat immigrants is a national disgrace and I’m ashamed of what we do. I think anybody who’s here in the United States, legal or illegal, is entitled to the full protection of the law and they’re not getting that. I set up an immigration program in the D.A.’s office and I publicly announced, over half a dozen times, that we would turn nobody over to the Federal authorities, as long as they continued to deprive these undocumented immigrants of their constitutional rights. And it’s a very, very serious problem, and again its a stain on our reputation. There are 2 problems one is the problems with laws themselves, and second is the way they are applied.

Morgenthau also spoke passionately about the need for a fair trial, whether in relation to the trial of 9/11 suspect Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, or to a “friend of the court” brief by the Brennan Center for Justice he recently signed backed by 62 prosecutors who are calling for more funding for indigent defendants. While this particularly applies to the criminal justice system, it is also an acute problem with the immigration system. More than half of of the people in deportation proceedings and 84% of people in detention do not have representation.

Brian Lehrer: Why is a prosecutor arguing for more defense attorneys?

Robert Morgenthau: As a prosecutor, I always slept better at night if i knew the defendant was well represented. I mean, our criminal justice system is an adversary system but for it to work you’ve got to have competent lawyers on both sides of the table… it’s critical to our system of justice.

When those fully immersed in the legal system speak out on the injustice of immigration law, we need to pay attention.

POLL: Do you agree with Robert Morgenthau's statement on the way we treat immigrants?

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Photo courtesy of www.nytimes.com

Be a road tripper for our future

New York City is gearing up for immigration reform so make sure you don’t get left behind. Starting this week, calendars are marked with events to mobilize our elected officials behind immigration reform in 2010.

As we speak, a group of dedicated advocates, students and volunteers are kicking off a five day multi-city caravan across the State of New York organized by the New York Immigration Coalition and Reform Immigration for America. The 12 hopefuls set out on President’s Day, sleeping bags and all, and will travel to ten cities, taking advantage of the Congressional Recess to rally support for immigration reform in every corner of the state. Osmán Canales, 21, of Long Island, a green card holder who is on the trip said,

We want to send a message to our government that we cannot wait any longer. There is too much suffering, too many families torn apart, too many kids who can’t get an education. I have the opportunity to go to college, and I want other students to have the same right.

Check out WNYC’s interview with one of the ‘road trippers’, Kevin Kwok. If you can’t join the road trip, follow it virtually on the Road Trip for Our Future blog.

And while you keep up on Facebook, take some time out of your week this Ash Wednesday to join Pax Christi NJ and people of faith as they walk from Ellis Island to the Elizabeth Detention Center to draw attention to the moral failings of the U.S.’s immigration and detention policies. The organizer for the event, Kathy O’Leary said,

Today’s immigrants are no different from my great-grandparents in that they come here to work and make a better life for their families. However, for them the ‘golden door’ has been nailed shut.  There is no ‘line’ for unskilled workers.”

Fired up by the 10 mile walk through Jersey? Join the New York State Interfaith Network for Immigration Reform at a convocation taking place at the historic Riverside Church. Religious leaders, elected officials, and community leaders, including people from the Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Hindu and Sikh faiths will come together to raise the moral call for immigration reform to move forward this year.

Together, the events of this week and next mark a nationwide escalation towards a March 21st mobilization in Washington D.C. Hundreds of thousands of people will gather in D.C. in the March for Freedom/March for America to drive home the message to the President and Congress to ACT NOW. We need YOU to join us there. Sign up here for updates.

POLL: Will you be participating in any events for immigration reform?

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It’s that time again to talk about racial profiling

There can be victories in the fight to stop racial profiling. But we need communities to come together and speak out against it.

For starters, you can have a conversation along with thousands of others on February 22 and Face the Truth about racial profiling.

While traditionally thought of as targeting the African American community, profiling affects a broad range of communities, including Native American, African American, Latino, Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities. More and more, it is being practiced in the name of national security. Not only is racial and religious profiling humiliating and degrading for the people subjected to it, it is unconstitutional, it is an ineffective law enforcement practice, and it continues largely unchecked, violating the human and civil rights of those targeted.

That’s why some of these latest victories are that much more exciting.

In East Haven, Connecticut, stories abound of police abuse against racial minorities, particularly against the Latino community that now comprises 6% of the town’s population. This is only an extension of long history of violence that began with the African American community. So everyone welcomed the decision of of the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the East Haven Police Department after concerned citizens filed complaints about the Department’s profiling and harassment of Latinos.

In a similar victory, a Maryland court ordered the Maryland State Police to turn over records on how they responded to complaints of racial profiling, scoring a victory for the NAACP and ACLU. The ruling has been a long time coming in the battle against the racial profiling practices of the Maryland State Police, often referred to as the “Driving while Black” litigation. Triggered by a phonecall from Robert Wilkins, an African-American attorney who had been stopped, searched and detained by the Maryland police for no specific reason, the NAACP and ACLU filed a complaint which was finally settled in 2003, where they were assured greater training of officers, an easier system to report racial profiling,  and greater transparency. Five years later, with very little improvement on the ground, the groups filed a request to see records of investigations conducted around the complains of racial profiling. The state police refused to make some of the records public, a refusal finally overruled this month by the States second highest court.

Last but not least is a bill introduced in the Georgia Senate prohibiting racial profiling introduced by Senator Gloria Butler. 26 states currently prevent racial profiling of motorists. The bill has come on the heels of extensive advocacy by local organizations like the ACLU of Georgia and their partners who have held town halls and released reports calling attention to the pervasive problem of racial profiling in their state. The story of how Mark Bell, an African American man, was continually harassed by a police car during a simple trip to the grocery store one evening, is but one in a number of cases in which communities of color are harassed and detained by the Cobb County police, resulting in a mistrust of local law enforcement within the community.

So what are you waiting for. These may be success stories but much more needs to be done. Tune in to host a conversation now.

Photo courtesy of NewBlackMan Blog

POLL: Does racial profiling exist in your community?

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An overwhelmed immigration court system takes away due process

That’s Judge Dana Marks, President of the National Association of Immigration Judges, and someone who is an immigration judge day in and day out, speaking out  for an Article I Court or an independent court system for immigration cases.

Few disagree with her. Based on a detailed and researched report, this week the American Bar Association urgently called for Congress to radically reform an overwhelmed immigration court system choked by an exploding caseload and outside pressures.

Many people assume that immigration courts are within the judiciary but immigration courts are actually administrative units housed with the Department of Justice. Besides being completely overwhelmed with cases because of ever increasing enforcement (instead of an overall immigration reform strategy), many people challenge the neutrality of the courts because of their lack of independence from their overseer.

Immigration courts must be fair. Especially since deportation is like life or death sentence for many.

In 2008, the Department of Homeland Security which enforces immigration laws detained 378,582 noncitizens and deported 358,886 noncitizens (compare that to 69,000 removals in 1996).  This worked out to an average of 1,243 proceedings per year for each immigration judge, three times the load of federal district judges. Of these more than 10,000 appeals ultimately reach federal circuit courts, overwhelming many of these courts, and in immigration heavy areas comprising 35% to 40% of the entire caseload.

Besides the clear lack of resources, courts face public skepticism and a low level of respect for the process due in part to their lack of independence.

The answer according to a report with the ABA lies in the establishment of an Article I court that would offer vast improvements over the current system, including greater independence and perceptions of fairness. It would also allow greater flexibility in seeking resources directly from Congress, leading to more efficiency and professionalism.

It’s an important step forward to restoring fairness to a broken court system.

POLL: Should an immigration court system independent of the Department of Justice be set up?

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