After Growing Its Caseload, Attorneys Say Boston’s Immigration Court docket Is In ‘Disarray’

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"Chaos", "disorder", "a complete disaster" – this is how immigration lawyers describe the business before the Boston Immigration Court today.

Unlike local and state courts, the federal immigration court in Boston has remained open throughout the pandemic and has handled a limited number of cases.

And since the Docket was expanded to include more personal hearings three weeks ago, many immigration lawyers have said operations have gotten worse.

"We can't go on like this"

Boston is one of around a dozen courts across the country that have been hearing more personal cases since last month. It is still unclear what criteria Boston was chosen as one of the courts to hear further cases.

Immigration judges and lawyers say that the federal government's communication has practically not existed.

Eliana Nader, who heads the New England Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), says cases are often rescheduled much earlier without written notice.

"For example, we have AILA lawyers who had cases scheduled for 2022 that were suddenly brought forward to the next month," she says.

WBUR heard of more than a dozen immigration lawyers in New England who said they had preferred to delay or delay hearings without the federal government's written notice. In many cases, the lawyers only discovered the rescheduling by checking an online portal or by repeatedly calling the court.

And Nader says that sometimes they only find out when they get to the court.

"And that has caused many people who don't know their cases to get stuck because no information comes from the court that travels across state borders many times to show up in a busy courtroom case that doesn't go forward," says she.

Nearly 75 percent of people who have tried before the Boston Immigration Court have lawyers who can find their way around the system. However, according to Nader, those who are not represented are even less likely to be notified.

She fears that many people may live with deportation orders and may not even know after missing a hearing that has been postponed without written notice.

The Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees the country's immigration courts, has repeatedly ignored WBUR's requests

Carlos Estrada is a Boston-based immigration lawyer. He says he has never seen so much confusion in Boston's court in his 25-year practice. At this point, he is not sure how to advise a client who lives outside the state.

"He has to book a flight, he needs to take a break from work, we need to know in advance," says Estrada. "We can't go on if we get a tweet the day before the hearing or sometimes the night before the hearing that says, & # 39; Oh, the court is closed tomorrow. & # 39;"

"We don't know either"

In some cases, the confusion spreads to government law enforcement.

Kira Gagarin, a Framingham-based immigration lawyer, says her client's green card hearing is originally scheduled for April. It was canceled and postponed to June when the court postponed hearings for people who were not currently in federal custody.

A week before the hearing, Gagarin received an email from the prosecutor telling her that he needed more time.

"I received a request from the government to continue the case because they don't have the files," Gagarin said in a statement. "Can you imagine if I came to court to continue a case because I couldn't find a file? I would risk my license."

In the motion, the prosecutor said the court "did not give the Department of Homeland Security enough notice" to receive the file in time for the hearing, and as such "… the Department will file the respondent's alien file with the next hearing don't have. "

According to Gagarin, the inability of the prosecutor to find files on time has been a common problem in the past month.

"The department should be subject to the same level of care as all lawyers. My client has waited for his green card for years, and this unnecessary delay is a violation of his rights," said Gagarin's statement.

The lawyers are not alone in their frustration.

At a public forum hosted by the National Association of Immigration Judges earlier this week, Los Angeles-based immigration judge Ashley Tabaddor told the group of over 1,000 virtual attendees, including many lawyers, that the judges also felt they were in the dark to operate.

"One of the main issues we heard from the questions was: & # 39; well, we don't know what hearings are taking place with these plans to reopen the court. & # 39; I would say we don't know either" said Tabaddor.

Judges and lawyers from the Immigration Service agree that better communication by the federal government would make a major contribution to improving the situation and protecting the right to a fair trial.

But Nader says instead, the focus seems to be on overcoming the court's backlog.

"The court insists on participating in all of its hearings and is not as concerned with people's procedural rights," she says. "What seems to be the most important thing at the moment is to keep the train going and drive the cases forward."

On Tuesday evening, the Immigration Review Bureau tweeted that the Boston court would be closed the next day and gave no explanation as to why, but instructed people to check their website for updates. It seems Boston’s court is now open again.

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