Featured Issue: Use of Video Teleconferences During Immigration Hearings

For years, legal organizations, including AILA, have opposed the use of video teleconference (VTC) to conduct in immigration merits hearings, except in matters in which the noncitizen has given consent. An empirical study published in the Northwestern University Law Review revealed that detained respondents appearing via VTC were more likely to be deported than those with in-person hearings. In April of 2017, a separate EOIR-commissioned report explained that VTC technology does not provide for the ability to transmit nonverbal cues, which can impact an immigration judges’ assessment of an individual’s demeanor and credibility. The report concluded that proceedings by VTC should be limited to procedural matters because appearances by VTC may interfere with due process.”

Additionally, technological glitches such as weak connections and bad audio can make it difficult to communicate effectively via VTC. An EOIR-commissioned study revealed that 29 percent of EOIR staff reported that VTC caused meaningful delay, a finding that is supported by accounts from courts including Omaha, which reported that VTC technology works “sometimes,” Salt Lake City, where observers stated that “technical delays are common,” and New York City, where immigration attorneys describe a VTC connection that “often stops working.” While EOIR claims that few cases are continued due to VTC malfunction, in reality, judges are only allowed to record one reason for a case being continued even if VTC issues contribute to a delay, which means that EOIR’s data is far from precise. Despite these concerns, EOIR has expanded its use of VTC for substantive hearings, going as far as to create two immigration adjudication centers where IJs adjudicate cases from around the country from a remote setting.

On the EOIR website, the Office of the Chief Immigration Judge (OCIJ) is seeking feedback from those who are a part of immigration court proceedings conducted via video teleconferencing (VTC). Please tell us about your experience using video teleconferencing in our courts by sending your feedback by email to EOIR.VTCFeedback@usdoj.gov or by postal mail to the following address:

Office of the Chief Immigration Judge
Attn: VTC Feedback
5107 Leesburg Pike, Suite 2500
Falls Church, VA 22041

AILA’s Position

(as stated in AILA’s comments on the Administrative Conference of the United States’ Immigration Removal Adjudications Report, from May 2012)

AILA strongly opposes the use of video teleconference technology to conduct immigration merits hearings, unless the respondent has knowingly waived his or her right to an in-person hearing. The decisions made in immigration court are weighty—for example, whether a family can remain together or whether an individual will be sent back to violence or even death in her home country. No matter how good the technology, video hearings can never be equivalent to in-person hearings. As the Committee has noted, particular concerns about video hearings include the physical separation between a lawyer and the client, difficulties with translators—exacerbated by the fact that translators often appear via phone and the inability of a television screen to transmit nonverbal cues. AILA was disappointed by the Committee’s position that continued and expanded use of video hearings is a foregone conclusion and, therefore, does not warrant further, in-depth and comprehensive study. It is no secret that EOIR is underfunded and overburdened. However, the amount of savings that video hearings might garner does not outweigh the need to protect a respondent’s due process rights. The dissatisfaction expressed by a significant number of immigration judges over video hearings should raise alarm bells about the impact of video hearings on respondents’ rights. Better technology and electronic docketing and case files, while important, would not address the most significant concerns immigration judges expressed about video hearings. With the rapidly expanding use of video hearings, it is vital importance that a comprehensive and in-depth study be undertaken to look at the impact of video hearings on respondents’ due process rights.

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Cite as AILA Doc. No. 20020602.