Videoconferencing in Immigration Court

As the backlog of immigration cases continues to swell, some federal authorities have proposed a high-tech solution for tackling the surge of legal proceedings. Last year, New York immigration officials began videoconferencing with individuals in detainment facilities. While this may seem like a practical solution to move cases along more efficiently, not everyone agrees with this method.

In a lawsuit filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan recently, several immigrant advocacy agencies claim videoconferencing accelerates the complex immigration process at the expense of immigrants’ constitutional rights and increases their chances of deportation.

A Closer Look at the Argument Against Videoconferencing

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit site several specific cases where videoconferencing had a negative impact on an individual’s outcome. They mention one man who spent three additional months in detention because of the simple fact that the videoconferencing line connecting his facility to immigration court was double-booked. In another case, a man who was testifying personal details about his sexual orientation became emotional. Because he was sobbing, his interpreter had difficulty understanding his testimony.

While the use of videoconferencing is the focus of the lawsuit, the plaintiffs argue the procedure is a “pretext for the true reasoning behind the policy – limiting due process, access to the courts, and counsel for immigrants in an effort to rush deportations.”

Videoconferencing prohibits personal interaction between detainees and their immigration lawyers, preventing them from working together to clarify the details of their case or discuss strategies for their pressing legal matter. As with all forms of modern technology, the potential for system and equipment failures always exists. Videoconferencing makes the translation process more challenging for situations where in-person, real-time translation is preferred.

Videoconferencing and the Judicial Process

The New York field office of the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced plans to start implementing videoconferencing in June 2018, just three days after the President suggested undocumented immigrants could be removed without due process. Before videoconferencing was used in immigration legal proceedings, most business was conducted in person.

ICE officials say the practice was initially introduced for security reasons in response to protesters gathered outside the court to demonstrate against the administration’s anti-immigration policies. While the demonstrations have since stopped, the use of video hearings continues.

Videoconferencing has been used in other legal scenarios – in rural areas where the distance between inmates and judges is prohibitive, or to handle routine administrative actions like scheduling hearings or submitting documents. The research on the impact of videoconferencing on immigrant outcomes is conflicting. A 2015 study concluded that while video hearings moved the legal process along much more quickly, detained immigrants working through videoconferencing were more likely to be deported.

Undocumented individuals have legal rights under United States law. They have the right to due process of law in deportation proceedings. As some recent cases suggest, videoconferencing may interfere with this right and increase the likelihood of deportation. The dedicated Philadelphia immigration lawyers at Surin & Griffin, P.C. protect the rights of foreign-born individuals facing a wide range of immigration matters.

Philadelphia Immigration Lawyers at Surin & Griffin, P.C. Protect Detainees Right to Due Process

Whether you have questions about visas, appeals, asylum, sponsorship, or deportation, we can help. The knowledgeable and compassionate attorneys at Surin & Griffin, P.C. will advocate on your behalf and provide sound legal guidance for whatever you may be facing. To schedule a confidential consultation with a skilled Philadelphia immigration lawyer regarding your immigration issue, call 215-925-4435 or contact us online. Based in Center City Philadelphia, we assist clients throughout the state of Pennsylvania and across the country.