(CN) – Legal advocates brought a federal complaint Wednesday that says the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda makes courts focus more on deportations than ensuring fair legal proceedings.
Immigration courts, and the judges that lead them, are mandated under U.S. law to operate fairly, swiftly and impartially. But the 63-page federal complaint filed in Portland, Oregon, says courts have been “weaponized” against immigrants under the direction of President Donald Trump and the U.S. Justice Department.
In the Trump administration’s “asylum-free zones,” courts act in concert with immigration police and federal prosecutors to impede fair adjudication of immigrants’ asylum claims, the immigrant advocates, led by Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, say in their complaint.
Immigration judges meanwhile operate under federal “performance metrics” that push them to review and decide many cases each day rather than ensuring a fair review of claims.
“While asylum seekers are entitled to a full and fair hearing, their proceedings are too often rushed, and judges deny our requests for time to properly prepare their cases and collect and translate crucial evidence from across the world,” Linda Corchado, legal services director with Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, said in a statement.
The plaintiffs say judges act unlawfully, too, by following the directives of the U.S. attorney general to prejudge cases by considering factors unrelated to the facts and merits of matters before them.
Stephen Manning, executive director of plaintiff Innovation Law Lab, said immigration courts function in the service of Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda.
“Under the leadership of President Trump and the attorney general, the immigration court system has become fixated on the goal of producing deportations, not adjudications,” Manning said in a statement. “The system is riddled with policies that undermine the work of legal service providers and set asylum seekers up to lose without a fair hearing of their case.”
The other plaintiffs in the suit are the Southern Poverty Law Center, Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project, Catholic Legal Immigration Network and Santa Fe Dreamers Project. They are represented by the firm Perkins Coie in Portland.
They say the Trump administration directives are leading courts to violate federal laws enshrining the rights of immigrants in legal proceedings, such as the Immigration and Nationality Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.
The courts’ actions lead to seemingly insurmountable backlogs, delayed proceedings and fear among immigrant communities that they’ll be ensnared in the web of incarceration and deportation, advocates claim.
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Melissa Crow that prior administrations have allowed court dysfunction to swell into a system that is dangerous for immigrants.
“The immigration courts make life-and-death decisions every day for vulnerable people seeking asylum – people who depend on a functioning court system to protect them from persecution, torture, and death,” Crow said in a statement Wednesday. “While prior administrations have turned a blind eye to the dysfunction, the Trump administration has actively weaponized the courts, with devastating results for asylum seekers and the organizations that represent them.”
Advocates propose wresting control of immigration courts away from the executive branch by creating an independent immigration court system under the purview of the U.S. Congress.
The legal groups want a federal judge to declare that Trump administration directives issued to immigration courts violate federal law and that the court proceedings are illegal.
The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment by press time.