Legal and Medical Professionals Call on Biden to End Dedicated Dockets
“The Dedicated Docket undermines fairness, prioritizing expediency with no other perceptible benefit, and ultimately results in families being ordered removed to the very dangers they fled.”
October 11, 2022, San Francisco—Legal service providers, court observers, medical professionals, and allied organizations from across the country are calling on the Biden administration to end the fast-track court process for families seeking asylum, known as Dedicated Dockets. In letters sent on October 5, 2022, to the White House, the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), legal and medical professionals raised urgent concerns and demanded an immediate end to the program.
“Our collective experience reveals a process rife with unfairness: lack of legal representation, expedited and arbitrary timelines, removal orders against pro se respondents (including young children), as well as courts marked by confusion and in some cases hostility,” stated the letter, which included 106 signatories from across the country. The letter reviews how the accelerated docket often motivates judges to set unreasonable deadlines. According to a nationwide survey, the docket has also contributed to the prevalence of notario fraud in at least seven of the eleven cities in which the Docket is being held.
The letter highlights specific cases from San Francisco, which demonstrates the undue burden that has been placed on families appearing on the docket. In one case, a respondent who was unable to seek the assistance of counsel had to spend eight hours using Google Translate to fill out an asylum application for himself and his family. In another local case, an immigration judge moved a respondent to tears, accusing her of lying about not having her Notice to Appear. The respondent broke down crying while speaking to a representative of the Justice & Diversity Center’s (JDC) Attorney of the Day. She insisted that the documents in her hands were the only ones given to her at the border. Many of the stories shared in the letter express the reality that respondents are facing—having to again undergo a traumatizing process, where many fled to the United States to seek protection.
As a complement to the letter drafted and supported by legal professionals, a group of medical professionals have also contributed a letter explaining how the expedited pace of the Dedicated Docket can be harmful for families who may have experienced trauma in their home countries. According to the letter, “Insufficient language access, unpredictable procedures, and the accelerated timeline—undermine the trauma-informed principles of transparency; collaboration; and empowerment, voice, and choice.” Indeed, some of the respondents on the Dedicated Docket are robbed of their right to thoroughly understand the allegations and charges against them when there is a misuse of interpreters in the courtroom, or where speakers of indigenous languages are misidentified as Spanish speakers. The letter goes on to state that the Dedicated Docket procedures can lead to, “Experiences of emotional dysregulation, cognitive overload, and general disorganization, all of which are hallmark characteristics of posttraumatic stress.”
Among the findings detailed in the letters:
- Data released in January 2022 by the Transactional Research Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), found only 15.5% of asylum seekers assigned to the Dedicated Docket nationwide had counsel. More recent data from the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) suggests a representation rate of 51% for pending Dedicated Docket cases by July of this year. This number still means that more than 20,000 parents and children continue to face court alone.
- As of December 2021, 99.3% of the cases on the Dedicated Docket that had been completed resulted in removal orders. As in Los Angeles, the majority of these removal orders were most likely issued in absentia, meaning that families were ordered removed for failing to appear at their hearing.
- Practitioners in at least six of the 11 Dedicated Docket cities have reported hostile treatment on the part of immigration judges. In July 2022, an El Paso immigration judge ordered a family removed after they misunderstood the judge’s question: “Are you afraid of returning to your home country?”
- From October 2021 through February 2022, DHS issued nearly 9,000 NTAs to babies and toddlers between the ages of 0-4 on the Dedicated Docket. These children are part of a growing trend: recent data shows one third of all new immigration court cases involve children - including 100% of Dedicated Docket cases, which, by definition, target families with children.
- The Docket procedures are likely to contribute to emotional dysregulation or re-traumatization for children and families that have already experienced significant trauma.
“Our staff attorneys at JDC prioritize coverage of the Dedicated Docket, alongside the Juvenile Dockets at the San Francisco Immigration Court,” said Monica Oca Howell, the Supervising Attorney of the Attorney of the Day Program. “We do our best to answer respondents’ questions and provide them with an explanation of their rights, as well as referrals to legal service providers. However, we have found that the accelerated and arbitrary deadlines set by some of the judges on the docket unfortunately encourage respondents to seek services from either notarios or unscrupulous attorneys. ”
“In light of these grave concerns, we strongly urge the administration to terminate the Dedicated Docket,” the legal letter concludes. “At base, the Docket has failed to achieve the administration’s stated goals, ‘to more expeditiously and fairly make decisions’ for certain asylum seeking families.’” The letter also outlines immediate steps the administration can take to mitigate harm to families and children on the Docket.
The full letter from legal service providers, court observers, and allied organizations is here.
The full letter from medical professionals is here.
The Bar Association of San Francisco (BASF) is a nonprofit voluntary membership organization of attorneys, law students, and legal professionals in the San Francisco Bay Area. Founded in 1872, BASF enjoys the support of more than 7,500 individuals, law firms, corporate legal departments, and law schools. BASF provides a collective voice for public advocacy, advances professional growth and education, and attempts to elevate the standards of integrity, honor, and respect in the practice of law.