Your ABA

Immigration System 'Broken'

  • Print

A sweeping report by the ABA Commission on Immigration proposes creation of an independent structure for hearing cases involving immigrants facing removal from the United States to replace the Justice Department’s current system.

The ABA House of Delegates approved a series of recommendations at its midyear meeting calling for implementation of key proposals set forth in the report.

ABA President Carolyn B. Lamm presented the report, Reforming the Immigration System (PDF), at a Washington, D.C., news briefing with commission chair Karen T. Grisez and representatives of Arnold & Porter. More than 50 lawyers and staff members at the firm’s offices in Washington, New York City, Denver, Los Angeles and San Francisco spent more than a year researching and writing the report on a pro bono basis.

“The ABA commissioned this study as our country considers how to overhaul our broken immigration system,” said Lamm. “This thoughtful analysis of the adjudication system’s problems will help frame the debate as our nation’s leaders move forward.”

Under the current system, 231 judges sit in 57 immigration courts maintained by the Executive Office for Immigration Review in the Department of Justice. The Board of Immigration Appeals also is based in the DOJ. These courts decide administrative removals, asylum applications, immigration detention cases and other matters involving noncitizens seeking to stay in the U.S.

The Department of Homeland Security is charged with prosecuting removal proceedings, managing the immigration detention system and other aspects of enforcing U.S. immigration law. Decisions of the Board of Immigration Appeals may be reviewed by the U.S. Court of Appeals.

In recent years, “the pressures on the system have grown exponentially as the number of people trying to enter and stay in the United States has increased, and as political forces and security concerns have resulted in heightened efforts to stem the flow and remove undocumented noncitizens from the country,” states the report’s executive summary.

In considering alternatives to the current system, the ABA commission voiced a preference for creation of independent tribunals by Congress under its Article I powers. Another viable alternative would be to create an independent adjudicative agency in the executive branch. The commission slightly favors the tribunals because they would be most likely to be viewed as independent and credible.

In addition to proposing a new adjudication structure, the report sets forth a detailed series of recommendations for improving various elements of the existing system.

“The study’s recommendations identify priorities to ensure that our immigration adjudication system is far more modern, transparent, functional and fair,” said Grisez, public service counsel at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson in D.C.


In other action, the ABA House urged Congress to implement programs to help law students and graduates deal with financial hardships caused by the recession.

A key provision of the recommendation (PDF) calls on commercial lenders to offer law students the same repayment terms that are available under federal student loan programs. That means students would be able to suspend payments on commercial loans for up to three years.

“Because of the recession, a lot of students are facing debt they can’t pay,” Lamm said. “We’ve been urging the White House, the Department of Education and Congress to persuade lenders to create the suspended payment period. This resolution will give that effort the full policy backing of the ABA.”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.