ABA, NAIJ, Young Center, and LSPs speak out against VTC Houston Pilot Program for UC

Starting this coming Monday, March 9th, Houston will be part of a pilot program where unaccompanied children’s (UC) cases will be heard via video teleconference (VTC). The unaccompanied children will be at the Houston Immigration Court and Atlanta-based Immigration Judge Sirce Owen will preside over the cases via video. Atlanta is notoriously one of the toughest jurisdictions in the country for individuals seeking asylum in Immigration Court. [efn_note]See data regarding asylum approvals and denials on TRAC: https://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/judge2019/denialrates.html[/efn_note]

Hearing cases via VTC brings numerous problems that jeopardize due process for children or adults alike, including technological issues, difficulty with interpretation, challenges in assessing demeanor and credibility during testimony, frequent delays, to name a few. Having children’s cases heard via VTC layers on additional significant problems that will likely result in negative outcomes in children’s cases. Children have a difficult time understanding the court process as it is, and now with cases being heard via VTC, this will cause an additional layer of confusion and another barrier for children trying to talk about what has happened to them and their families and why they want to stay in the United States.

The Houston Chronicle published an article on Monday, March 3rdNew Trump administration policies fast-track some children’s immigration court hearings, including video pilot in Houston”, by Lomi Kriel, detailing the program’s problems. Significantly, the article includes statements from legal service provider leaders, as well as Jennifer Nagda from the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, which provides best interests statements in kids’ cases, and Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges. Many agree this pilot program is going in the wrong direction in terms of the court’s efficiency and creating an environment for children to fully participate in their hearings.

Here are a couple of highlighted quotes from the Houston Chronicle article:
[list type=icon extra=]
[list_item icon=”” type=”icon”]“‘This is deeply concerning, given what we know about how kids’ brains work,’ said Jennifer Nagda, policy director of the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights.”[/list_item]
[list_item icon=”” type=”icon”]“Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, called the pilot a ‘pretty big departure’ from standard practice. ‘It has generally been recognized that judges should see children in person.’”[/list_item]

The American Bar Association President Judy Perry Martinez has also spoken out against the pilot program. The ABA Journal’s article, “Video teleconference programs for immigrant children ‘is contrary to the American pursuit of justice,’ ABA says” by Amanda Robert accounts the ABA’s opposition to the policy. “Martinez explained that the ABA Commission on Immigration has extensive experience with children in immigrant courts and created standards of care and conduct based on its experience. She said that among those standards is a strong opposition to video teleconferencing in immigration proceedings involving children.” Amongst these standards are the ABA Standards for the Custody, Placement and Care; Legal Representation; and Adjudication of Unaccompanied Alien Children in the United States and ABA’s 2019 Update Report: Reforming the Immigration System which both discuss problems with VTC use. “Martinez contended that children may not understand the role of the people on the screen or that those people are making decisions that affect their lives. If they feel disconnected, she said they are less likely to talk and more likely to lose their cases.”

We encourage you to read these articles and object in writing to the use of VTC in UC’s cases.