BREAKING: Immigration Court System Makes Necessary Court Records Available Nationwide Following Letter By 35 Advocacy Organizations

Mar 30, 2022

March 29, 2022

The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) has issued a new, nationwide policy expanding access to legal records after 35 legal service providers, led by CAIR Coalition, petitioned for greater access to records for their clients and pro se individuals.

Media Contact: Bryn Cavin, development@caircoalition.org

Washington – March 29, 2022: On March 7, 2022, the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition and immigration legal service providers across the country secured a significant victory when EOIR issued a brand new national policy of making records available upon request to individuals in removal proceedings and their counsel. Access to these records, which are often necessary for immigrants to defend their cases against deportation, are crucial for fair immigration court proceedings.

Before this victory, in most immigration courts across the country, the only way to review the record of proceedings (ROPs), all previous filings and orders in a case, was to go in person to the court and parties were limited to copying 25 pages. Parties had to reserve an appointment to view the ROP or listen to audio recordings of past hearings weeks in advance. This made it downright impossible for detained, pro se immigrants without outside help and difficult for all others to see what helpful or harmful documents were in their records. Alternatively, noncitizens and their attorneys had to submit Freedom of Information Act requests for these records, which often arrived too late to be of use—sometimes one year or longer after an individual’s hearing—and were heavily redacted.

In response to this, on December 9, 2021, 35 organizations, led by CAIR Coalition, submitted a sign-on letter and petition to EOIR urging it to adopt a uniform records access policy and make records available upon request to protect the due process rights of individuals in removal proceedings. The letter highlighted and provided examples of the significant due process violations that resulted when noncitizens, especially those who are unrepresented by counsel (pro se) and detained in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), could not access their own records prior to being denied relief and ordered removed.

This new policy, which requires immigration courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals to provide access to both ROPs and digital audio recordings upon request, is the result of years of advocacy from legal service providers for timely and meaningful access to records. This is the first time such a nationwide policy has been in place.

In addition to CAIR Coalition, the following organizations signed on to the letter: Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Inc.; American Immigration Council; American Immigration Lawyers Association; Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta; Brooklyn Defender Services; Catholic Charities, Migration & Refugee Services Cleveland, OH; Catholic Legal Services, Archdiocese of Miami; Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center; Columbia Law School Immigrants’ Rights Clinic; Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto; Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project; Immigrant ARC; Immigrant Legal Defense; Law Office of Helen Lawrence; Legal Aid Justice Center; Legal Services of New Jersey; Mariposa Legal, program of COMMON Foundation; Migrant Center for Human Rights; National Immigrant Justice Center; National Immigration Litigation Alliance; New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG); Northeast Justice Center; Northwest Immigrant Rights Project; Open Immigration Legal Services; Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center; Public Defenders Coalition for Immigrant Justice (PDCIJ); RAICES; Rainbow Beginnings; Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network; Southern Poverty Law Center; Tahirih Justice Center; TASSC (Torture Abolition & Survivors’ Support Coalition) International; The Door’s Legal Services Center; and UnLocal. The organizations received pro bono support from Arnold & Porter in preparing the letter.

CAIR Coalition congratulates its partner organizations for their successful advocacy! We are grateful to EOIR for taking this important step forward to promote transparency and fairness in removal proceedings. CAIR Coalition will monitor the implementation of this new policy and continue to advocate for timely and meaningful access to records for all individuals in removal proceedings, particularly for individuals who are detained by ICE and unrepresented by counsel.

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The Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition strives to ensure equal justice for all immigrant adults and children at risk of detention and deportation in the Capital area and beyond through direct legal representation, know your rights presentations, impact litigation, advocacy, and the enlistment and training of attorneys to defend immigrants. More information can be found at http://www.caircoalition.org.