Technology is supposed to help an already overwhelmed immigration court system speed up the cases of the youths and families who crossed the border this year, but technical glitches and the location of some detention centers continue to bog down the process.
Heidy, a Honduran asylum seeker who was caught by the Border Patrol in South Texas in June, testified from Artesia, New Mexico, last week about the beatings and insults she received from her husband. But her answers were often interrupted so an interpreter nearly 2,000 miles away in Arlington, Virginia, could hear everything she said and repeat it in English.
The Star observed two asylum hearings and one bond hearing Sept. 4 and 5 in Artesia. Over a two-day period, the bond hearing was postponed because the pro-bono lawyer sent documents to the wrong address, respondents were often asked to repeat themselves because the audio was not working properly, and a judge had to be reminded to point the camera at herself instead of at the audience in Virginia.
As the number of immigration cases continues to soar, the Executive Office for Immigration Review has increasingly relied on video teleconference to conduct hearings.
It routinely uses the technology, said Kathryn Mattingly, an agency spokeswoman, to “improve the efficiency of the immigration court process and to more effectively manage its resources.”
About 230 immigration judges in 59 courtrooms have a backlog of 400,000 cases, according to the latest data from the Transactional Access Records Clearinghouse at Syracuse University in New York state.
Video teleconference, Mattingly said in an email, provides coverage to locations where the office doesn’t have a physical presence and gives judges more flexibility to assist with cases in busier courts.
The technology helps cut back on judges’ travel time, allowing them to hear more cases, said Dana Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges.
But there has to be a balance between efficiency and the quality of the hearing experience, she said, and it’s still a work in progress to figure out where that balance is.
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