Pramila Jayapal leads lawmakers seeking reversal of Trump-era anti-immigrant policies

Pramila Jayapal
Rep. Pramila Jayapal; American Bazaar file photo

Demand swift action to address the growing backlog of a record 1.5 million immigration cases

Forty US lawmakers led by Indian American House member Pramila Jayapal have called upon the Biden administration to reverse “cruel Trump-era anti-immigrant policies” and swiftly address the over 1.5 million immigration case backlogs.

In a March 29 letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, they urged the Department of Justice to restore due process in the immigration system and improve immigration court docket management protocols.

The lawmakers asked Garland to “undo harmful and anti-immigrant Trump-era policies that were both ineffective to address the growing backlog of cases – which has ballooned to more than 1.5 million – and compromised due process in our immigration system.”

Read: Pramila Jayapal introduces bill to extend healthcare to immigrants (May 12, 2021)

“As you know, the prior (Trump) administration adopted a number of so-called ‘fast-tracking’ policies, purportedly designed to increase court efficiencies,” they wrote.

“However, policies designed to speed cases through the system have proven to be ineffective in reducing the case backlog—which now stands at a record 1.5 million cases—while seriously compromising due process,” the lawmakers noted.

“For example, hearing dates for cases designated for expedited adjudication are often accelerated by months and even years, without providing adequate notice to respondents or their attorneys.”

“This is especially difficult for pro se respondents, who are less likely to be aware that their hearing date could change at any time, and who are more likely to be ordered removed in absentia if notice is not timely received or received at all.”

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“It is also not uncommon for hearing dates to be rescheduled or cancelled at the last minute,” the lawmakers wrote. “This can result in great hardship to respondents and witnesses who have spent months preparing for court, took time off work to attend the hearing, and may have traveled great distances in the early morning hours to arrive at court on time.”

While they fully supported the need to protect public health, the lawmakers said they are concerned about over-reliance on virtual hearings and their impact on due process. “Virtual hearings can adversely impact credibility findings, the quality of interpreting, and the presentation of evidence.”

The lawmakers cited a 2017 report commissioned by the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) which concluded that virtual proceedings should be limited to procedural matters precisely because of their propensity to interfere with due process.

“Given the negative impact of policies such as this on due process and the integrity of the immigration court system, we urge you to commit the necessary resources to address systemic problems,” they wrote.

The lawmakers asked DOJ to take two specific actions to restore due process and transparency by terminating or modifying Trump-era policies, including the Executive Office of Immigration Review’s (EOIR) “no dark court rooms” policy, which is ineffective at addressing the immigration case backlog.

Read: Pramila Jayapal seeks path to citizenship for essential immigrant workers (January 29, 2021)

The lawmakers also recommend limiting virtual hearings to the extent possible given their negative impact on due process.

The letter suggested improving docket management protocols to address the “unsustainable backlog” by removing cases from the docket that could be addressed using tools administrative closure, deferred adjudication, and re-calendaring.

The letter was sent as a follow-up to a June 8, 2021 letter to DOJ urging Garland to immediately implement a set of reforms against the “Trump administration’s cruel and harmful anti-immigration policies.”

Read: Pramila Jayapal vows to fight back Trump challenge to verdict (November 10, 2020)

Besides Jayapal, the letter was signed by Jerry Nadler, Alma S. Adams, Jamaal Bowman, Julia Brownley, Joaquin Castro, Judy Chu, Jason Crow, Adriano Espaillat, Jesús G. “Chuy” García, Sylvia R. Garcia, Jimmy Gomez, Raúl M. Grijalva, Jahana Hayes, Marcy Kaptur, Barbara Lee, Ted Lieu, Alan Lowenthal, Carolyn B. Maloney, James P. McGovern, Grace Meng, Grace F. Napolitano, Marie Newman, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Frank Pallone, Jr., Jimmy Panetta, Mark Pocan, Ayanna Pressley, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Linda T. Sánchez, Jan Schakowsky, Adam Smith, Dina Titus, Rashida Tlaib, Norma Torres, Juan Vargas, Nydia M. Velázquez, Bonnie Watson Coleman, and Frederica S. Wilson.

A copy of the letter can be viewed here.

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