Complaint alleges ‘culture of hostility’ toward migrants in El Paso immigration court

Judges use a small wooden mallet to signal for attention or order.

An El Paso immigration court is the site of a “culture of hostility and contempt” toward immigrants, according to a complaint filed Wednesday by a group of immigration attorneys.

The American Immigration Council and the American Immigration Lawyers Association filed a joint complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice alleging that judges at the El Paso Service Processing Center court have “notably high rates of denial” and a pattern of abuse and hostility toward immigrants whose cases come before them.

{mosads}According to the complaint, the court granted fewer than 4 percent of asylum cases between fiscal years 2013 and 2017, a fraction of the 35 percent that are approved nationally.

The attorneys claim in the complaint that the court has a number of rules that violate immigrants’ rights to due process, including limits on evidence that can be presented.

The complaint also alleges that judges have repeatedly made inappropriate comments toward immigrants, including one example of a judge referring to the court as “the bye-bye place.”

“You know your client is going bye-bye, right?” the judge told a lawyer, according to the complaint.

Kathryn Shepherd, national advocacy counsel for the American Immigration Council’s Immigration Justice Campaign, is one of the complaint’s authors. Shepherd told CNN that the court “feels like the Wild West in terms of the immigration system.”

“There’s so little oversight,” she said. “No one is talking about how bad it is.”

Shepherd told the Associated Press that the court also bars lawyers from representing their clients by phone.

“This is just barely scratching the surface of the devastating impact of this toxic court because we will never know how many lives have been ruined or harmed as the result of this court’s practices,” she told the AP.

The Hill has reached out to the Justice Department, the DOJ Executive Office for Immigration Review, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the American Immigration Council. The Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees immigration courts, declined to comment on the allegations to both the AP and CNN.

The complaint is not a lawsuit, and the authors are asking the Justice Department’s oversight body to investigate the court, according to the Associated Press.

The complaint comes amid short-staffing in immigration courts and a massive backlog of cases nationwide. It was also reported earlier this year that immigration judges are leaving their roles because of President Trump’s policies.

Trump has recently backtracked on threats to shut down the southern border amid what officials are calling a “breaking point” of illegal border crossings, with an “unprecedented” number of migrants, many of whom are seeking asylum, crossing the border in El Paso and at other locations.

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