Last month, several detained immigrants in New York City sued Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) over their new policy of holding immigration hearings over videoconferencing. The ICE policy began last June after ICE’s New York office refused to bring jailed immigrants to the immigration court located on Varick Street. Instead, ICE cited safety concerns concerning protests outside of the Varick Street courthouse as a reason for holding the hearings by videoconferencing. ICE officials have previously stated that videoconferencing is more efficient, provides economic savings to taxpayers, and ensures the safety of ICE employees, the court and the detainees.
However, the complaint filed in the lawsuit alleges that the immigrants’ constitutional rights are violated by videoconferencing, and further argues that their lawyers are unable to represent them effectively. The initial concerns can be seen by a review of the current immigration statistics in New York and New Jersey. For example, the Bergen County jail in New Jersey has one monitor to conduct hearings. That same jail holds approximately 330 detained immigrants each day on average. Even with ICE’s promise to install two more monitors in the jail, the backlog is still exponential.
Furthermore, the attorneys of the detained immigrants argue that the hearings by videoconferencing remove the emotional element of in-court proceedings. Elements such as the detainee’s tone of voice, body language, and emotional state do not have the same effect over videoconferencing. Additionally, some detainees have reported having a difficult time hearing and understanding the proceedings through videoconferencing.
The lawsuit also highlights how the policy affects the attorney-client relationship. The attorneys argue that the policy impacts their ability to effectively represent their clients. For instance, the attorneys state that the videoconferencing calls restrict their ability to have confidential conversations with their clients during the hearing. Also, by having the videoconferencing calls being held at the jailhouse, the detainees will often not have the ability to contact an attorney prior to the hearing.
Although the lawsuit was filed in regards to New York and New Jersey plaintiffs, the issue with videoconferencing has been seen across the country. Over the last year, ICE has created two “Immigration Adjudication Centers” in Falls Church, Virginia and Fort Worth, Texas, composed of 15 immigration judges who sit in the two centers. The judges in these centers exclusively conduct hearings via videoconferencing. Many times, the judges, the lawyers, and the detainees are all in separate buildings at the time of the hearing.
While ICE claims that their policy makes the process more efficient, any gained efficiency should not come at the expense of a violation of the detainees’ due process. While reducing the backlog should be the foremost concern of ICE, each detainee deserves their day in court.
The law office of Bretz & Coven, LLP has over 20 years of experience filing mandamus requests with federal District Courts in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, compelling the USCIS to take action on cases that have been delayed or stuck in the docket. In most cases, our immigration attorneys will get an adjudication within 120 days of filing. For more information or to schedule a consultation with our New York immigration lawyers or our New Jersey immigration lawyers, call (212) 267-2555 today.