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Immigration Law

A letter sent by the ABA and three other legal organizations Thursday urges Congress to establish an immigration court system outside the control of the U.S. Department of Justice.

The creation of an independent system would protect and advance America s core values of fairness and equality by safeguarding the independence and impartiality of the immigration court system, while ensuring the timely adjudication of cases, ABA President Bob Carlson, American Immigration Lawyers Association President Marketa Lindt, Federal Bar Association President Maria Vathis and National Association of Immigration Judges President A. Ashley Tabaddor write in the letter.

The joint letter to Congress follows the ABA Commission on Immigration s delivery of an updated report in March on how the immigration court system should be reformed. The report reiterated the importance of establishing independent immigration courts, a measure that was recommended in the commission s original report and also called for by the ABA s policy-making House of Delegates in 2010.

Wendy Wayne, chair of the ABA Commission on Immigration, affirmed in a press conference after the letter s submission that promoting and protecting the independence of judicial systems has been a long-standing priority of the ABA.

The immigration courts issue life-altering decisions each day that may deprive individuals of their freedoms, that separate families, including from U.S. citizen family members, and in the case of those seeking asylum may be literally a matter of life or death, Wayne said. Yet the system lacks the basic structural and procedural safeguards that we take for granted in other areas of our justice system.

In their letter, the four legal organization leaders cite structural issues in the current system, including that the DOJ houses immigration courts but also prosecutes immigrants in federal court. This inherent conflict of interest is exacerbated by immigration judges being considered government attorneys, a classification that fails to recognize the significance of their judicial duties and leaves them particularly vulnerable to political pressure and interference in case management, they say....