Immigration Law

US House should support bill establishing independent immigration courts, ABA president says

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ABA President Reginald Turner is calling on leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives to support the creation of an Article I immigration court system.

In a letter sent Tuesday, Turner urged House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and Ranking Member Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, to pass the Real Courts, Rule of Law Act of 2022. Introduced Feb. 3, it would establish an independent immigration court system with trial, appellate and administrative divisions.

“Currently housed within the Department of Justice, the immigration courts lack many of the basic structural and procedural safeguards necessary to ensure fair and impartial adjudications—to the detriment of both the government and those in the system,” wrote Turner, who also sent the letter to House Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship Chair Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and Ranking Member Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif.

Turner contended that immigration judges currently “serve as career attorneys with no statutory protection against removal without cause.” They are overseen by the attorney general, who he said essentially acts as the chief judge and has the ability to take and consider cases.

“Administrations of both parties have attempted to use the immigration courts as a tool to influence policy, resulting in frequent shifts in case prioritization,” Turner wrote. “This has not only undermined fairness but also created inefficiencies in the process that have helped contribute to a significant case backlog.”

Turner pointed out that the ABA has long supported the neutrality and independence of immigration judges. In 2010, the association called for the creation of an Article I immigration court system after releasing a multiyear study on the state of the system.

In January, Karen Grisez, a former chair of the ABA Commission on Immigration, testified on behalf of the ABA before the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship. She said then the recommendation to replace the current immigration court system with an Article I immigration court is not new. The House introduced legislation to change the system in 1999, as well as in several previous years.

Turner said the Real Courts, Rule of Law Act, which is co-sponsored by Lofgren, Nadler and Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia, would ensure that qualified people are appointed as judges. They would serve specific terms and face removal for incapacity, misconduct or neglect of duty. They would also manage their own dockets and assist in modernizing operations in their courtrooms.

“Ultimately, [the bill] would ensure that the court system and judges are, and are perceived to be, independent, and that cases are decided on their merits while still ensuring timely adjudications,” Turner wrote. “These are important hallmarks of any court system.”

See also: “ABA joins other legal organizations in calling for independent immigration courts”

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