Report finds Omaha federal immigration court compromising legal rights
A new report by the ACLU of Nebraska has found the federal immigration court in Omaha is routinely compromising immigrants’ legal rights.
The report was based on the observation of more than 500 pretrial hearings at the Omaha federal immigration court, one of 69 immigration courts in the country. It handles many cases of Iowa residents.
The report found concerns over the length of the hearings, which averaged less than four minutes, immigrants not being advised of their rights as well as inadequate interpretation and representation from immigration attorneys.
"These findings demonstrate that the court is failing to universally provide due process," Dylan Severino, a legal immigration fellow at the ACLU of Nebraska, said. "Immigration court judges make consequential decisions often with life or death consequences, and it's critical that they provide immigrants full and fair participation in their own hearings."
Federal immigration courts fall under the Department of Justice under the executive branch, not the judicial branch, so the federal government is generally not required by law to provide those facing proceedings in immigration court with legal counsel. Only 37 percent of immigrants have a lawyer when they go to court, according to the American Immigration Council.
Additionally, the nation's immigration court system is facing a growing backlog of cases that has exceeded 3 million with each judge assigned an average of 4,500 cases, according to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
Brian Blackford, an immigration attorney based in Omaha, acknowledged that the system has too few judges, which is problematic.
"That should be no excuse for not providing proper rights advisements to clients in removal proceedings especially those who do not have the luxury of having an attorney at that point in time," he said.
The report recommends a variety of changes on a smaller scale such as using telephone interpretation services and creating more government programs to support legal representation to a call on federal lawmakers to pass comprehensive immigration reform.