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January 29, 2020

Human Rights First Statement for House Judiciary Hearing: Courts in Crisis

Statement for the Record

House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship

Courts in Crisis: The State of Judicial Independence and Due Process in U.S. Immigration Courts

January 29, 2020

 

Human Rights First applauds the House Judiciary Committee for holding a hearing on the Courts in Crisis: The State of Judicial Independence and Due Process in U.S. Immigration Courts.

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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 on the immigration courts, warning of the negative impact of delays and backlogs on asylum seekers and calling for fair and timely adjudications.

The Trump Administration has grossly mismanaged the immigration courts and weaponized them to deny asylum to refugees, thwart due process, and influence decision-making in individual cases.  The administration’s assault on the immigration courts has confirmed that the immigration court system itself is fatally flawed. 

Since January 2017, the administration has eliminated safeguards against politicized hiring, repeatedly encouraged immigration judges to deny asylum by falsely painting asylum cases as meritless and fraudulent, pushed immigration judges to rush through cases through the use of case quotas and other changes, and launched secret hearings at “immigration adjudication centers” where judges conduct hearings closed to the public by remote video-conferencing.     

In addition, former Attorney General (AG) Jeff Sessions and current Attorney General William Barr have used – and abused - the Attorney General’s “certification” power – which allows attorneys general to issue their own precedent-setting rulings in individual cases – to issue a barrage of decisions that attempt to deny asylum to many refugees and undermine due process in the immigration courts.  For example, through a highly flawed ruling in Matter of A-B-, former AG Sessions attempted to change U.S. asylum law to deny asylum to many victims of persecution perpetrated by violent criminal organizations or domestic violence abusers.  In Matter of L-E-A, AG Barr attempted to block members of persecuted family groups from receiving asylum protection. Through a decision in Matter of E-F-H-L-, the Attorney General opened the door for immigration judges to potentially deny asylum without full evidentiary hearings.

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