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Jason Dzubow, Sept. 21, 2022
"It is not easy to convey the magnitude of the ongoing disaster at EOIR, the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the office that oversees our nation’s Immigration Courts. Simply stated, the agency is rescheduling and advancing hundreds–maybe thousands–of cases without notifying attorneys, checking whether we are available to attend the hearings or checking whether we have the capacity to complete the cases.
On its face, this appears to be a mere scheduling problem. But in effect, it is a vicious and unprecedented assault on immigrants, their attorneys, and due process of law.
For me at least, the problem started small. A few cases were rescheduled and advanced without anyone at the Immigration Court bothering to inquire about my availability: Your case that was scheduled for two years in the future has been advanced and is now set for two months in the future. I was angry and upset, but I did not want to let my clients down. So I set other work obligations aside. I set family time aside. I put off doctors appointments. And I completed the cases, which were approved. I hoped that these cases were anomalies and that EOIR would stop this unfair and abusive practice. But that was not to be.
Instead, EOIR has dramatically expanded its effort to reschedule cases, often without providing sufficient notice–or any notice–to get the work done for our clients. As best as we can tell, the problem is occurring in California, Colorado, Maryland, and Virginia. I myself have had about a dozen cases rescheduled and advanced (so far). These cases had been scheduled for 2023 or 2024, and suddenly, they are now set for the fall of 2022. Other attorneys have had 20, 30 or more cases advanced, including some that were double booked. One lawyer reported having seven cases scheduled for the same week and 47 cases set for one month. Another lawyer purportedly told a judge that if she had one more case scheduled within the next six months, she would commit suicide.
Here, I want to break down what is happening, so noncitizens in Immigration Court can at least have some idea about EOIR’s disruptive practices.
First, when I say that EOIR is not providing notice of the hearings, that is not entirely accurate. They are not sending us a notice or contacting us in advance. Instead, they are posting the new hearing dates on our portal. What does this mean? Each attorney has access to a portal page with a calendar. We can scroll through the calendar one month at a time. Days with hearings are highlighted, and we can click on those days to see what is scheduled. When I review my calendar, I often find new hearings that were not previously on the schedule. The only way to know whether a new hearing has been scheduled is to scroll through our portals month-by-month and compare what’s there with our existing calendar–a burdensome process that leaves plenty of room to overlook a date. Needless to say, every time I sign on to the portal, I feel a nauseous sense of dread about what I might find.
Once we discover the new date, we need to review the file, contact the client, and determine whether we can complete the case. This all takes time. If we cannot complete the case, or we do not have an attorney available on the scheduled date, we need to ask for a continuance. Of course, clients who have been waiting years for a decision usually want to keep the earlier hearing date. They do not understand why we cannot complete the work or why we are not available that day. Their perspective is perfectly reasonable, but they only have one case, where lawyers have many and we are daily being ambushed by EOIR with additional work. All this can result in conflicts between clients (who want their cases heard) and lawyers (who need time to get the work done). It also makes it difficult to serve our other clients, who must be pushed aside to accommodate the new work randomly being dumped on us.
Even if the client agrees to request a continuance, that does not solve the problem. Motions to continue can be denied. Even when they are granted, the judges tend to reset the date for only a few weeks in the future, which is often not enough time to properly complete the work. Other times, judges simply do not rule on the motion, so we are left to prepare the case, not knowing whether it will go forward or not.
Also, while we sometimes discover a new date that is a few months in the future (and so in theory, we might have time to do the work), other times, the new date is only a few weeks in the future. Since the evidence, witness list, and legal brief are due at least 15 days before the hearing, and since even a “simple” asylum case takes 20 or 30 hours to prepare, this is not nearly enough time. Worse, some cases are randomly advanced and placed on the docket after the evidence is due, and so by the time we have “notice” of the case, our evidence is already late.
Adding insult to injury, another common problem is that cases are still being cancelled at the last minute. And so we drop everything to prepare a case, only to have it postponed once all the work is done. Since this is all utterly unpredictable, it is impossible to prioritize our work or advise our clients.
Again, if this were only a few cases, attorneys could set aside other work and get the job done. But lawyers who do immigration law tend to have many cases, and we are seeing dozens and dozens of cases advanced with no notice. This is such a blatant and obvious abuse of due process that it is impossible to believe it is accidental. I might have expected this policy from the Trump Administration, which was hell-bent on restricting immigration by any means necessary. But as it turns out, President Biden’s EOIR is far worse than President Trump’s. Indeed, the current level of callousness would make even Stephen Miller blush.
The solution to these problems is so basic that it should not need to be said, but here it is anyway: EOIR should stop advancing and rescheduling cases without notice and without consideration for whether we have time to complete the work. Unless something changes, we can expect many noncitizens to be unfairly denied protection, immigration attorneys will leave the profession (or worse), and EOIR will become illegitimate. Let us hope that sanity and decency will soon return to the Immigration Courts."