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.