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ICE Attorneys in Manhattan Use Video to 'Appear' in Immigration Court 20 Blocks Away

April 19, 2019 (1 min read)

Beth Fertig, WNYC, Apr. 18, 2019

"The trip from Federal Plaza to the intersection of Varick and Houston Streets can be done in less than 30 minutes when walking west and taking the uptown 1 train. But for the government’s immigration trial attorneys, who work out of Federal Plaza, the trip is considered so unwieldy that they’re now showing up by video at the new immigration courtrooms that recently opened on Varick Street.

There are five additional courtrooms at this SoHo location. Just like at Federal Plaza, they are used for immigrants who travel from throughout the metro region for regular in-person court appearances. (These immigrants are not held in detention.) The new courtrooms were built to alleviate the pressure at Federal Plaza, where 36 judges had a backlog of more than 100,000 cases. Some of those judges were transferred to the new courtrooms and a few more were hired to work at Varick Street.

The Department of Homeland Security employs the trial attorneys who represent the government in immigration court proceedings. On April 10th, it filed a motion stating there’s no office space at Varick Street “to accommodate the attorneys or the administrative files necessary.” It also noted that new office space isn’t slated for completion until late 2020.

To avoid traveling from Federal Plaza with their voluminous files, the government attorneys now appear in the new courtrooms by video. The government said this is allowed because video is already a widely-accepted practice for court authorized by the Immigration and Nationality Act, and that it’s efficient and can save money.

... The Executive Office for Immigration Review, which runs the immigration courts, did not respond to a question from WNYC about why it complied so readily with DHS’s request to allow its trial attorneys to appear by video.

Cory Forman, treasurer of the New York chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said his group is exploring potential actions to take, and whether this new use of video violates due process."