A report by the Immigrants’ Rights Policy Clinic at the UCLA School of Law has found that 99 percent of 449 asylum cases completed by the Los Angeles Immigration Court’s “Dedicated Docket” as of February 2022 resulted in deportation orders. That includes deportations of several hundred children who never got a day in court.
The report, which mirrors some previous national findings, depicts a system failing asylum-seekers—people who arrive in the United States saying they face persecution in the countries they left, and who, under US law, will have the right to remain if their request for asylum is granted. Seven in 10 people in the Los Angeles Dedicated Docket have no lawyer. And over 72 percent of all deportation orders were issued against people whose cases were never heard in court—nearly half of them against children, including some infants under a year old.
It was in May 2021 that the Biden administration introduced its “Dedicated Dockets” program—supposedly to help immigrant families. The program now operates in 11 cities. The LA court operates under the federal Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR).
Advocates predicted at the time that this would result in more asylum-seekers facing deportation proceedings without a lawyer.
A press release from the US Department of Justice announcing Dedicated Dockets claimed that the program would “more expeditiously and fairly” resolve asylum cases, with the idea of reducing wait times from an average of 4.5 years to just 300 days. “Families who have recently arrived should not languish in a multi-year backlog,” it said. “Today’s announcement is an important step for both justice and border security.”
Immigrant advocates immediately condemned the plan—but the adminstration ignored them.
“We urge you to abandon this proposal before its implementation begins,” read a June 2021 open letter from over 80 immigrant legal service providers, representing 10 different cities targeted by the program. The advocates protested Biden’s plan to ask them to process more cases faster and mostly for free—while providing no extra funding to support legal services. They predicted at the time that this would result in more asylum-seekers facing deportation proceedings without a lawyer. Later that year, elected officials including the New York City mayor and Los Angeles County chair also pleaded with the Biden admin to suspend Dedicated Dockets, to no avail.
The UCLA Law report details how the Los Angeles court essentially sets up asylum-seekers to fail. Courts issue a “Notice to Appear,” telling you when and where your court date will be. But all notices are issued only in English. Hearing dates are also suddenly changed. And families are given conflicting information from different sources—some are showing up to offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), instead of their courts, unsure of their hearing locations.
One man, William, reported to a government building where both ICE check-ins and court hearings are held. He was instructed to wait in the lobby for seven hours, unaware that his hearing was on the fourth floor. He was then told he had missed his hearing—and both he and his son were ordered to be deported.
UCLA Law analysts observed other problems with how the court and even attorneys worked. Asylum-seekers were frequently not asked questions, not allowed to ask their own questions, or were asked questions in a language they don’t speak. Judges failed to properly confirm asylum-seekers’ addresses, to give them accurate dates for their hearings, or to read them their rights.
In order to be granted asylum, all applicants must provide documented proof that they are being persecuted and would be unsafe returning to their countries of origin. This would be difficult for any person to do, even if they were not in vulnerable or desperate circumstances. Few child asylum-seekers are making claims independently from their parents, which is their legal right. That’s unsurprising given the high barriers and the fact that so few asylum-seekers are receiving legal aid.
“The single most effective way to achieve the Biden administration’s goal … is by ensuring everyone has access to quality legal representation.”
The UCLA Law report isn’t the first to reveal how Biden’s Dedicated Dockets are failing to protect immigrant families. Back in January, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University released its analysis of the first seven months of the program.
It found that of 72,000 cases assigned to Dedicated Dockets nationally by December 2021, over 84 percent of asylum-seekers had no lawyer. Of over 1,550 asylum seekers who received deportation orders, over 95 percent had no lawyer.
“When cases are rushed, asylum-seekers may not have the time to obtain an attorney and prepare documents that would allow the court to make a fully-informed decision, and judges may be forced into making rushed decisions,” the report said.
All this makes clear that far from helping people in great need, the system as it stands has merely expedited their deportations—back to countries where violence may await.
“The single most effective way to achieve the Biden administration’s goal of a fair and efficient Dedicated Docket is by ensuring everyone has access to quality legal representation,” wrote the UCLA Law researchers. “Attorneys can ensure both that families can attend their hearings and that families’ confusion about the Docket does not hamper their ability to present their case.”
Image from the Executive Office of Immigration Review Facebook page.