The Immigration Court is an administrative court run by the Department of Justice (DOJ).  This court only hears cases involving immigration. Most of these cases involve very important issues, such as deportation and asylum.  However, the U.S. Immigration Court has recently been the subject of severe criticism regarding its performance.

What Problems Do Immigration Courts Face?

One problem is that the Immigration Court is simply overwhelmed with cases.  There are about 200 Immigration Court judges hearing over 300,000 cases per year.  This can sometimes leave judges with less than 15 minutes to make a decision on a case.

Another criticism of the Immigration Court is that there is a lack of uniform procedures in place.  This can lead to wildly inconsistent rulings.  In New York’s Immigration Court, one judge is noted for granting asylum in over 90% of cases, while another judge grants asylum in less than 10% of cases.

These inconsistent rulings have led to a number of appealed cases.  However, the Immigration Court’s appellate board, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), until recently only had 15 members, and was ill equipped to deal with the workload.  This leads to further appeals (this time to the federal appellate court system), which delays completion of the case.

The Immigration Court system is also criticized for its lack of transparency. Many Immigration courts are housed in prisons, where the public cannot access them, including attorneys who may wish to assist those threatened with deportation. Immigration Court also releases less documentation than other courts, making appeals more difficult. However, many Immigration Court officials will say that document releases are restricted in order to respect immigrant privacy.

Does The Immigration Court Use Interpreters?

The Immigration Court does provide interpreters, but these interpreters are not lawyers and the interpreters are only present for the hearings. If the immigrant requires interpretation outside the courtroom, there is often no assistance. 

What Is Being Done About These Issues?

The good news is that progress is being made. The DOJ started a comprehensive review of the Immigration Court in 2006. At the same time, it agreed to hire more Board of Immigration Appeals members.  Also, uniform procedures and requirements went into effect in 2008.  These changes should help make the Immigration Court both quicker and fairer.

Do I Need A Lawyer If I Go Before the Immigration Court System?

Immigration Court decisions can have a big impact on the immigrant’s life, including deportation. It is very important that you have an experienced immigration attorney at your side to help you navigate the Immigration Court System.