Emory University Laws School students observed the Atlanta Immigration Court over a seven week period in 2016 to find out why the court has a reputation of being hostile toward immigrants.
The behavior they claim they observed in the courtroom appears to support the allegations of unfair treatment. Students documented several instances of judges making off-color remarks – one judge allegedly compared an immigrant to a stranger wearing a Halloween mask, waving a blood-soaked knife – and another judge allegedly accused immigrants of trying to claim asylum after coming to the U.S. for medical treatments.
These alleged wrongdoings and more were compiled in a report sent to the Executive Office of Immigration Review, which is in charge of America’s immigration courts. A spokesperson for EOIR said the letter has been received and the office will respond in writing.
“EOIR otherwise declines to comment,” the spokesperson said.
Among the report’s key findings:
– Judges allegedly made prejudicial statements and were hostile to people appearing in their courts. The report alleges one judge compared an immigrant to “a person coming to your home in a Halloween mask, waving a knife dripping with blood” and asked the attorney if he would allow the person inside their home. When the attorney disagreed, the judge allegedly replied that, “individuals before [him] were economic migrants and that they do not pay taxes.” The judge allegedly held a private conversation with one of the observers after the hearing, saying that individuals who appear in his court are trying to “scam the system.” He then allegedly said he thought the U.S. should be more like Russian President Vladimir Putin by requiring immigrants to speak the country’s native language. “If you come to
America, you must speak English,” the judge allegedly said.
Atlanta Loop reached out to the judge for a comment and the request has been forwarded to the court administrator.
– The judges were keenly aware of the observers actions, the report claims. At one point the judge who allegedly compared immigrants to maniacs in Halloween masks allegedly offered to “put in a good word” for the observer if they wanted to clerk for the court. The report alleges the judge, “expressed concern with how the observers would use the information and whether their observations would portray him in a negative fashion.”
– The report says judges created obstacles for immigrants and their attorneys. “Immigration Judges routinely canceled hearings at the last minute, with little notice to respondents and attorneys, creating a culture that denies respondents’ access to court,” the report alleges.
– It also says that judges tried to bock the observers from their courtrooms. “On occasion, Immigration Judges prohibited observers in their courtrooms, even though Immigration Courts are open to the public,” the report alleges.
– Judges were likely to deny bond to detainees, the report says. “In the overwhelming majority of cases witnessed, Immigration Judges denied bond to immigrant detainees, or set bonds at a prohibitively high amount that indicate a lack of consideration to required factors,” the report says.
– One immigration judge routinely called detainees “defendants,” when that is not the case, the report says. The judge called detention centers “jails” and at least once called a detainees “prisoners,” according to the report. “Although immigration proceedings are civil, not criminal in nature, detainees appearing in the Atlanta Immigration Court are required to wear colored jumpsuits, handcuffs, leg shackles, and chains around their waists during their hearings, creating a high potential for bias,” the report claims.
– Immigrants often did not receive adequate access to interpreters, the report says. “Court interpreters regularly failed to interpret all English language conversations during hearings for respondents, and often only interpreted the proceedings when an attorney or judge directly addressed a respondent,” the report says. It adds, “In some instances, the Atlanta Immigration Court did not have available interpreters who could speak the respondents’ language. In one observed instance where an interpreter was not available, an Immigration Judge continued to conduct a bond hearing without interpretation for the respondent.”
To read the full report, click here.
“These observations confirm the Atlanta Immigration Court’s reputation as a system where judges fail to respect the rule of law,” Emory Law Professor Hallie Ludsin said in a press release. “The practices that we observed suggest that these judges conduct their courts in a way that clearly discourage fair adjudications.”
The report says the Atlanta Immigration Court denies 98 percent of applications for asylum, giving it one of the highest denial rates in the United States.