Human Rights First Applauds Senate Appropriations Committee for Addressing Resource Deficiency in Immigration Courts
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today commends the Senate Appropriations Committee for taking a step forward to help address the urgent humanitarian crisis on the southern border of the United States. Today, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to fully fund the Department of Justice’s Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR), a move which would address a growing immigration court backlog of over 360,000 pending cases. In its Blueprint titled, “How to Protect Refugees and Prevent Abuse at the Border,” Human Rights First recommended that Congress appropriate funds to address the multi-year immigration court delays and reduce the vulnerability of the system to abuse.
“The crisis at the border makes it more clear than ever that there is a pressing need to properly fund the immigration courts so that people in removal proceedings do not wait years for a hearing,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “Timely immigration court hearings protect the integrity of the system, and they protect the many legitimate asylum seekers and immigrants who should not have to wait in limbo for years to have their cases resolved.”
“The funding increase will allow EOIR to better coordinate with DHS enforcement efforts and to help adjudicate up to 39,000 more cases annually,” the Committee said in its report, noting that court dockets are scheduled “unacceptably” far into the future. The funding will add 35 new immigration judge teams.
The Committee also increased funding for the Legal Orientation Program (LOP), which informs non-citizens of their legal rights and responsibilities in immigration court. In its visit to the border in April 2014, Human Rights First found that misinformation about the asylum process among those arriving at the border creates inefficiencies and protection concerns, a problem which could be addressed by the expansion of LOP and facilitating access to counsel. The Committee also emphasized the benefit to taxpayers as LOP increases the efficiency of immigration proceedings and reduces costs related to immigration detention.
While the House Appropriations Committee voted to increase funding for EOIR above FY 2014 levels, the amount fell below President Obama’s budget proposal. As it continues its work toward a FY 2015 appropriations bill, Congress has the opportunity to improve the fairness and integrity of our immigration court removal system by maintaining full funding for EOIR when the bills are conferenced or in any appropriations package.