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. 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's Position | AILA Resources | Advocacy Resources | Congressional Resources | Media Coverage

AILA’s Position

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.

AILA Resources

Advocacy Resources

Congressional Resources

  • The Joint Explanatory Report accompanying H.R. 1158, the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020,” that was signed into law on December 20, 2019, directed EOIR to collect real-time data indicating each time a master calendar or individual merits hearing is conducted via VTC. This information is to be provided in the quarterly reports submitted to the Committees and should include the number and type of hearings conducted by VTC, including data on appeals cases related to the use of VTC and the number of in-person hearing motions filed. The language also directed EOIR to make publicly available all policies and procedures related to its use of VTC, and to note and justify any deviations from EOIR’s VTC standard policy and procedures in EOIR’s quarterly report to the committees. To date, EOIR has published some VTC statistics to its website but EOIR has failed to publish its VTC policies and procedures (including those related to EOIR’s use of Immigration Adjudication Centers) to its website.
  • Forty-Two House Democrats Demand that DOJ Rescind New Plan to Eliminate In-Court Interpreters - July 26, 2019

Media Coverage

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 20020602.