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AILA Doc. No. 20020602 | Dated October 21, 2021
For years, legal organizations, including AILA, have opposed the use of video teleconference (VTC) to conduct in immigration merits hearings. 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 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.
AILA takes the position that virtual hearings should be used only at the Respondent’s request given the serious due process concerns at stake in removal proceedings. While we understand circumstances might require that some master calendar hearings be held virtually, if a respondent requests an in-person master calendar hearing, EOIR should generally grant that request. However, individual hearings should be scheduled as in person hearings unless a virtual hearing is specifically requested by the respondent. For more information, read AILA Position on the Use of Virtual Hearings in Immigration Removal Proceedings.
Cite as AILA Doc. No. 20020602.
In December 2018, CLINIC submitted a FOIA request to EOIR seeking statistics on immigration court adjudications of motions for telephonic and video appearances of attorneys, respondents, and witnesses. In April 2019, EOIR responded with a ten-tab spreadsheet breaking down adjudication of motions for telephonic appearance by court from fiscal year (FY) 2012 through FY2018 and adjudications of motions for video appearance by court for FY2018 only. From the FOIA results, CLINIC created a separate document, identical to the first, but incorporating percentages from the raw numbers to ease analysis.
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