For the Rule of Law, An Independent Immigration Court
Statement for the Record of Human Rights First
U.S. House, Committee on the Judiciary
Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship
January 20, 2022
Human Rights First thanks the House Judiciary Committee for holding a hearing on the “Rule of Law, An Independent Immigration Court.” Since 1978, Human Rights First has worked to protect and promote fundamental human rights.
We have long advocated for fair and timely asylum procedures and U.S. compliance with international refugee and human rights law, in addition to providing pro bono legal representation—in partnership with many of the nation’s leading law firms—to asylum seekers in U.S. asylum and immigration court proceedings. Over the years, we have issued a series of reports and sets of recommendations on the immigration courts, warning of the systemic due process challenges caused by the lack of independence in the immigration court system, including its negative impact on asylum seekers and calling for fair and timely adjudications.
The Trump Administration’s gross mismanagement and weaponization of the immigration courts to deny asylum to refugees, thwart due process, and influence decision-making in individual cases confirmed the urgent need for an independent immigration court system. Those policies not only rigged immigration court hearings against asylum seekers but added to the court’s backlogs and resulting delays that leave refugees in limbo often separated from family members who may be stranded in danger abroad.
It is crucial that Congress act to address the longstanding need to remake the immigration court system. Years of flawed and harmful policies have impeded immigration courts from effectively, efficiently, and fairly managing its docket, unlawfully designated refugees as ineligible for asylum, and layered new and confusing legal standards and evidentiary burdens on already complex adjudications, making asylum hearings unnecessarily long and difficult.
Human Rights First joins with the American Bar Association (ABA), the National Association of Immigration Judges, the Federal Bar Association, the American Immigration Lawyers Association and dozens of other immigrant and refugee rights organizations to respectfully call on Congress to establish an immigration court system that is independent of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). In addition to creating an independent immigration court system, Human Rights First recommends, as discussed below, that Congress: adopt a Refugee Protection Act to restore fair access to asylum; launch a major legal representation and legal information initiative; increase funding for immediate immigration court staffing needs; and carry out vigorous oversight of the current immigration court system.