LOS ANGELES – Legal service providers, court observers, medical professionals, and allied organizations from across the country are calling on the Biden administration to end the fast-track court process for families seeking asylum, known as Dedicated Dockets. In letters to the White House, the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), legal and medical professionals raise urgent concerns and demand an immediate end to the program.
“Our collective experience reveals a process rife with unfairness: lack of legal representation, expedited and arbitrary timelines, removal orders against pro se respondents (including young children), as well as courts marked by confusion and in some cases hostility,” legal organizations and professionals state in their letter, which included 106 signatories from across the country. “As health care providers and researchers, we have expertise in the physical and psychological effects of traumatic stress and health inequities experienced by immigrants. Guided by this expertise and the current evidence base regarding child and family trauma, we write to insist that the Dedicated Docket be terminated in its current form and replaced with child-centered, trauma-informed procedures that ensure humane and equitable access to due process for all asylum-seeking families,” the medical professionals explain.
The gross miscarriages of justice on Biden’s Dedicated Dockets were laid bare last May in a first of its kind report from the Center for Immigration Law and Policy (CILP) at the UCLA School of Law. The report showed that 99% of the cases completed on the Los Angeles Docket as of February 2022 resulted in removal orders, of which 72% were ordered removed in absentia for missing their court date - including the case of William and his son who were ordered deported in absentia while they were in the right building, but on the wrong floor. Nearly half of those in absentia removal orders were for children, many of whom were under age seven.
“When we published our findings in May, I immediately began hearing from advocates and legal service providers from across the country who were seeing the same situations play out in their own local Dedicated Docket programs,” said Talia Inlender, Deputy Director at the Center for Immigration Law and Policy (CILP) and co-instructor of the Immigrants’ Rights Policy Clinic at the UCLA School of Law. “It’s clear that the problems we uncovered–low rates of legal representation, high rates of removal (most often in absentia), and disproportionate harm to children–were not unique to Los Angeles. Put simply, the Dedicated Docket is not delivering the efficient or fair results the administration promised, and should be ended. At minimum, the administration must take immediate steps to mitigate the harm to families, including putting a stop to ordering children deported without a fair day in court.”
Among the findings detailed in the letters:
- Data released in January 2022 by the Transactional Research Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), found only 15.5% of asylum seekers assigned to the Dedicated Docket nationwide had counsel. More recent data from the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) suggests a representation rate of 51% for pending Dedicated Docket cases by July of this year. This number still means that more than 20,000 parents and children continue to face court alone.
- As of December 2021, 99.3% of the cases on the Dedicated Docket that had been completed resulted in removal orders. As in Los Angeles, the majority of these removal orders were most likely issued in absentia, meaning that families were ordered removed for failing to appear at their hearing.
- Practitioners in at least six of the 11 Dedicated Docket cities have reported hostile treatment on the part of immigration judges. In July 2022, an El Paso immigration judge ordered a family removed after they misunderstood the judge’s question: “Are you afraid of returning to your home country?”
- From October 2021 through February 2022, DHS issued nearly 9,000 NTAs to babies and toddlers between the ages of 0-4 on the Dedicated Docket. These children are part of a growing trend: recent data shows one third of all new immigration court cases involve children - including 100% of Dedicated Docket cases, which, by definition, target families with children.
- The Docket procedures are likely to contribute to emotional dysregulation or re-traumatization for children and families that have already experienced significant trauma.
“Our legal clinic continues to hear from families, desperately anxious before upcoming hearings on the dedicated docket,” said Nina Rabin, Director of the Immigrant Family Legal Clinic in Los Angeles. “These parents describe trying every pro bono legal service provider on the list the court gives them. They want to do everything they can to proceed with their cases. But the reality is that there are extremely few high quality legal representatives able and willing to take an asylum case on the rapid timeframe demanded by the Dedicated Docket.”
“In light of these grave concerns, we strongly urge the administration to terminate the Dedicated Docket,” the legal letter concludes. “At base, the Docket has failed to achieve the administration’s stated goals ‘to more expeditiously and fairly make decisions’ for certain asylum seeking families.” The letter also outlines immediate steps the administration can take to mitigate harm to families and children on the Docket.
The full letter from legal service providers, court observers, and allied organizations is here.
The full letter from medical professionals is here.
CILP’s The Biden Administration's Dedicated Docket: Inside Los Angeles’ Accelerated Court Hearings for Families Seeking Asylum report is here.
Founded in 2020, the Center for Immigration Law and Policy (CILP) at the UCLA School of Law expands the law school's role as a national leader in immigration law and policy, generating innovative ideas at the intersection of immigration scholarship and practice and serving as a hub for transforming those ideas into meaningful changes in immigration policy.