The idea of court hearings done through a TV screen or monitor may have an Orwellian ring to it, but it’s how many undocumented immigrants are currently being processed for deportation, replacing conventional in-person court hearings. Understandably, this practice has drawn flak from immigration rights advocates and is now being challenged in court by the Legal Aid Society, the Brooklyn Defender Services, and Bronx Defenders.
The federal lawsuit, filed on behalf of seven undocumented immigrants, argues that in-person hearings had long helped ensure that detained immigrants were granted the opportunity to have fair and full access to the courts in order to participate in their deportation proceedings. The plaintiffs add that the ICE NY Field Office had never before broadly refused to produce individuals for in-person hearings.
Moreover, the switch to CCTV-only hearings at the Varick Street Immigration Court in New York City in June last year happened without warning.
The complaint further states that the CCTV-only hearings have been plagued by technical glitches, preventing detained immigrants from seeing, hearing, or even understanding what is happening. Unsurprisingly, these issues have resulted in constant delays that are made even more complicated with immigrants are unable to communicate in English and need the services of translator. This has also led to
The presence of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in the courtroom only adds to what the plaintiffs allege is a violation of due process.
One of the plaintiffs, who goes by the name of A.Q. and has been a permanent resident since he was a small child, claims that the video conference discouraged him from talking about facing persecution in his birth country because of his sexual orientation.
As such, the judge was unable to properly evaluate his fear of being deported to his birth country or consider the weight of the evidence he had presented. The court ultimately denied A.Q.’s petition for relief against removal under the Convention Against Torture, noting that his claims were speculative.
In the lawsuit, the civil rights groups allege violations of the First and Fifth Amendments. They named ICE, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, as well as seven agency officials and one immigration judge as defendants
Immigration rights advocates have also pointed out this sudden policy pivot by ICE came in the heels of the creation of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Program, an initiative that provides immigrant detainees with legal counsel. They add that NYIFUP had increased successful outcomes for immigrants in conflict with the law by 1,100 percent may have had something to do with the rise of video-only trials.
ICE has yet to respond to the lawsuit.
For more updates on this immigration issue, be sure to follow this blog. If you are facing an immigration case of a similar nature, the Lyttle Law Firm is ready to help. Schedule a consultation with immigration attorney Daniella Lyttle to discuss your rights and legal options.