Lawyers Blast ‘Hostility’ in Texas Immigration Court

(CN) – El Paso is ground zero for the record numbers of Central American families seeking asylum in the U.S. It’s also home to an immigration court that grants asylum less often than any other in the country, with judges who are making a mockery of due process, immigration attorneys say in an administrative complaint.

(AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)

The American Immigration Council and American Immigration Lawyers Association filed their complaint Wednesday with the U.S. Justice Department and its Executive Office of Immigration Review, calling out judges at the El Paso Servicing Center immigration prison for alleged bias they say prevents their clients from getting a fair shake.

The bias shows in the numbers, the attorneys say.

In fiscal year 2017, the court’s judges approved just four of the 92 asylum cases they heard, a rate of 4.5%. In fiscal year 2016, they approved three out of 133, just 2.6%, while the nationwide average for all immigration courts that year was 40 percent.

Some of the court’s judges treat immigrants with contempt and are habitually rude, the complainants say, alleging a “culture of hostility.”

Judge William J. Abbott, in open court, allegedly called an immigrant who had suffered a breakdown in detention “crazy.” According to the complaint, Judge Stephen Ruhle, before even reviewing the merits of an asylum applicant’s case, told their attorney, “You know your client is going bye-bye, right?”

Worse, the attorneys say, Abbott imposes standing orders placing an arbitrary 100-page limit on evidence in asylum applications and requiring applicants to submit all their evidence before scheduling their merits hearings.

They say Abbott’s order that bans supplementing asylum applications is particularly problematic because getting evidence mailed from their clients’ home countries takes time.

“Respondents may wait weeks to obtain evidence necessary for their case,” the complaint states. “Respondents who have been detained for lengthy periods of time may be forced to choose between submitting an application for relief and receiving a trial date or asking for a continuance to wait for more evidence, thus unnecessarily prolonging detention.”

Abbott’s preference not to grant bonds also hurts immigrants’ prospects of finding pro bono counsel, the attorney groups say.

“According to a national study released in 2016, a mere 14 percent of detained individuals were represented by counsel, compared to approximately 66 percent of non-detained individuals, demonstrating how high the stakes are in bond hearings,” the 30-page administrative complaint states.

Abbott also allegedly bases bond decisions on whether he thinks applicants have strong asylum cases, not the criteria he’s supposed to go by: If they are a danger to the community or a flight risk.

The judge’s orders often undermine applicants’ cases so much they choose to return to their home countries, attorneys say in the complaint.

The complaint says some attorneys decide it is too difficult to practice in the court due to Abbott’s standing orders, some of which are used by two of his colleagues.

The attorney groups recommend the Department of Justice repeal all Abbott’s standing orders, and train all four judges in the court on proper courtroom decorum.

The Executive Office of Immigration Review declined to comment on the complaint Thursday.  

The number of immigrants seeking asylum in the El Paso court is certain to spike as Central American families continue coming north.

Immigration officials said in April alone they expect more than 100,000 immigrants to be apprehended at the border, adding to the nearly 100,000 arrested in March.

Most of these immigrants are entering the U.S. illegally and turning themselves in to Border Patrol agents to seek asylum.

The surge shows no signs of letting up despite President Donald Trump’s threats that he will close the border, and measures already in place to make the process harder and dissuade Central Americans from coming to the U.S.

Immigrant officials are limiting the number of people who can apply for asylum each day at ports of entry, and forcing some applicants to wait in Mexico while their cases are adjudicated.

Immigration detention centers are also filling up with people arrested in the country’s interior.

On Wednesday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided an electronics repair business 30 miles north of Dallas and arrested 280 employees, the most immigrants arrested in an ICE workplace raid in a decade.

The agency said in a statement it had received multiple tips that CVE Technology Group Inc. was employing immigrants it hired after they presented fraudulent IDs and Social Security numbers.

“Unauthorized workers often use stolen identities of legal U.S. workers, which can profoundly damage for years the identity-theft victim’s credit, medical records and other aspects of their everyday life,” ICE said.

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