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The Sinking Immigration Court: Change Course, Save the Ship

August 03, 2021 (2 min read)

Dean Stacy Caplow, Aug. 1, 2021

"Immigration Court, where hundreds of judges daily preside over wrenching decisions, including matters of family separation, detention, and even life and death, is structurally and functionally unsound. Closures during the pandemic, coupled with unprecedented backlogs, low morale, and both procedural and substantive damage inflicted by the Trump Administration, have created a full-fledged crisis. The Court’s critics call for radical reforms. That is unlikely to happen. Instead, the Biden Administration is returning to a go-to, cure-all solution: adding 100 Immigration Court judges and support personnel to help address the backlog that now approaches 1.3 million cases.

No one could oppose effective reform or additional resources. Nor could anyone oppose practical case management changes that do not require legislation and that could expedite and professionalize the practice in Immigration Court. Linked with a more transparent and more inclusive process for selecting Immigration Judges, these changes would make the Immigration Courts more efficient, more accurate and fairer but not at the expense of the compelling humanitarian stakes in the daily work of the Court. Immediate changes that do not require legislation but do require the will to transform the practice and culture of the Court would be a major step forward in improving the experiences and the outcomes in Immigration Court. ... [more] ..."

* A leader in the field of clinical legal education, Professor Caplow is the law school's first dean overseeing all aspects of clinical and experiential education. She teaches criminal law and several immigration courses, and co-directs the Safe Harbor Project. She assisted Hong Kong University in developing a clinical program, and spent a semester as a Fulbright Scholar at University College Cork, Ireland. In 2014, she taught at the Center for Law and Business in Tel Aviv, Israel. She has been the president of the Clinical Legal Education Association and served on the board of editors of the Clinical Legal Review. She is a member of the Judge Robert A. Katzmann New York Immigrant Representation Study Group, has served as a Peer Reviewer for the U.S. Fulbright Commission, Law Discipline group, and is in the Board of the Refugee Reunification Project.  As a member of a project to promote sustainable reforms in higher legal education, she spent time consulting at law schools in Armenia and Georgia. She is the co-author of Multidefendant Criminal Cases: Federal Law and Procedure, and writes about criminal law, immigration law, and clinical education topics.  Her most recent article about expanding pardons to immigrants was published in the Boston University Public Interest Law Journal. Professor Caplow served as Special Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Civil Division in the Eastern District of New York, and as Director of Training and Chief of the Criminal Court Bureau in the Kings County District Attorney's Office. She was also a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society.