SPLC: Atlanta court judges prejudice, unfair in immigration case - CBS46 News

SPLC: Atlanta court judges prejudice, unfair in immigration cases

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The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and Emory University’s School of Law found that Atlanta Immigration Court judges have been consistently failing to uphold ethical and legal standards for immigrant detainees.

The information released on Thursday, which was also forwarded to the Director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) at the U.S. Department of Justice, Juan P. Osuna, was compiled through observing courts throughout the fall of 2016.

According to the study, Atlanta’s Immigration Judges (IJs) have been accused of bullying children, victims of domestic abuse and asylum seekers. Immigration attorneys also complained that judges imposed standards impossible for an immigrant to meet. (The Atlanta Immigration Court has the lowest approval rate for asylum seekers in the nation--roughly 2 percent, compared to 84 percent in New York City.)

Key areas of concern

The study outlined seven areas of observed ethical misconduct and concluded with recommendations to “promote public confidence and avoid impropriety” throughout proceedings.

Observers found that Atlanta IJs made prejudicial statements and expressed disinterest toward respondents. They often denied bond to immigration detainees and set bonds at unreasonably high amounts. (The national average for immigration bonds in 2015 was $8200, while the average at a detention center whose bonds are set by the Atlanta Immigration Court was about $11,600—41 percent higher.)

Atlanta IJs routinely canceled hearings with little notice to respondents, occasionally prohibited observers in their courtrooms—immigration courts are open to the public—and often referred to detainees as “prisoners.” Most detention facilities require detainees to wear jumpsuits, and the U.S. Supreme Court treats restraints as a measure of last resort in criminal hearings. (The study suggested that the appearance of immigrants wearing unnecessary physical restraints creates a bias, and that some who were shackled could not move enough to sign their names on documents.)

Court interpreters regularly failed to interpret all English language conversations during hearings, and in some instances, the Atlanta Immigration Court continued proceedings without having available interpreters who could speak a respondent’s language. (Immigration Courts are required to provide interpreters—free of charge—for respondents unable to “fully understand and participate in removal proceedings,” according to the Immigration Court Practice Manual.)

The study also noted incidents where Atlanta IJs actively disregarded legal arguments presented in hearings.

Recommendations for immigration judiciaries

The study listed six general recommendations for how the EOIR could address observed misconduct. It requested monitoring Atlanta IJs during immigration court proceedings and recording them whenever they’re present in the courtroom.

It also called for an investigation of the frequent cancellation of Atlanta immigration hearings. (The study noted that the unexpected cancellation of hearings delays proceedings and often increases the cost of representation for respondents and paid attorneys.)

High-quality interpretation in the Atlanta Immigration Court—and an investigation into their failure to provide adequate interpretation in non-Spanish foreign languages—was also requested.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) states that it’s currently awaiting a response from the Executive Office for Immigration Review.

The SPLC also publishes general information and profiles of people who have been affected by immigration raids and detained throughout the southeast.

Story written by CBS46 Digital Content Producer Chris Price.

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