A Boston Court Makes Seeking Asylum Harder. Why Is That?

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In a recent report conducted by the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program (HIRCP), findings have emerged regarding the Boston Immigration Court’s “Dedicated Docket.” The report reveals that the Dedicated Docket is creating significant obstacles for immigrants seeking asylum, exacerbating an already challenging process.

The primary concern raised in the report is how the lack of legal representation in court has contributed to more asylum claims being denied. Thus, working with a Boston immigration attorney can make all the difference in the outcome of your asylum case. The fact that an individual is not a U.S. citizen does not mean they do not have rights – If you are on US soil, you have rights.

The Challenges to Seeking Asylum in the Boston Dedicated Docket

The Dedicated Docket initiative was implemented with the intention of expediting asylum claims. However, the HIRCP study suggests that this approach has several unintended consequences, making it increasingly difficult for individuals to seek asylum. While lack of legal representation is a major concern, the other consequences are made worse by not having counsel guide individuals through the process.

Lack of Legal Representation

One of the primary concerns raised by the report is the lack of legal aid for asylum seekers on the Dedicated Docket. The analysis reveals that having access to legal representation improved outcomes, yet many immigrants do not have legal counsel. Having legal counsel significantly improves an immigrant’s chances of receiving immigration relief on the Boston Dedicated Docket. Think about it, if you found yourself in a foreign country’s court, you’d want some kind of local representation, right? 

Out of the 205 cases that were granted relief as of August 2022, all had received legal representation at some point during their proceedings. However, despite the crucial role of legal representation, only 10,340 (50.8%) out of the 20,344 cases on the Boston Dedicated Docket as of August 2022 had received legal representation at some point during the proceedings.

Getting legal representation is difficult and expensive, with some cases costing up to $20,000. Families on the Boston Dedicated Docket often cannot afford private representation and cannot get pro bono representation because the organizations are already full. Additionally, the Docket’s fast-paced and unpredictable nature makes attorneys hesitant to accept cases.

As of March 2023, only five organizations on the EOIR pro bono list were accepting new cases for immigrants in need of representation. The remaining four organizations were not taking any new cases, and some of the five accepting organizations had restrictions based on location and age. Additionally, nine out of ten other organizations providing pro bono representation to individuals in removal proceedings at the Boston Immigration Court were at capacity and closed for intake, with the remaining organization only accepting a limited number of cases.

According to attorneys, the 300-day deadline is not enough time to adequately prepare an immigration case. Although some judges might allow more time in certain situations, the Docket’s unpredictability and timing limit the number of attorneys willing to handle such cases.

Individuals facing removal proceedings might not know if they have been added to the Boston Dedicated Docket until their initial master calendar hearing. As a result, attorneys tend to decline cases rather than risk accepting ones that might be on the Docket due to this lack of clarity.

Unpredictable Case Timing

Another detrimental factor is that the timing for many cases is unpredictable. Although initial data suggests that cases on the Boston Dedicated Docket are typically resolved within 300 days, it should not be assumed that cases are being processed more quickly. Many cases are still awaiting resolution, and the majority of completed cases have resulted in removal orders issued in the absence of the defendant or dismissals due to the Department of Homeland Security’s lack of prosecution.

The judges on the Boston Dedicated Docket typically give immigrants who do not have legal representation more time to find lawyers. This is done to ensure that families are not forced to handle their cases on their own, which is a fair and just practice that upholds due process and fairness.

During the period between November 2022 and March 2023, the judges on the Boston Dedicated Docket scheduled individual merits hearings for the years 2024 and 2025. The average duration between the scheduling hearing and the individual merits hearing for these cases was over 600 days. As mentioned, the chaotic nature of scheduling prevents individuals from obtaining an attorney who can represent their case adequately.

Disproportionately Negative Outcomes in the Boston Dedicated Docket

Asylum cases from the Boston Dedicated Docket have been found to have much more disproportionately negative outcomes, as many individuals are not represented by an immigration attorney. As of August 2022, 4,809 out of 20,344 cases (23.6%) on the Boston Dedicated Docket have been completed. Out of these completed cases, 33.7% (i.e., 1,621 cases) resulted in removal orders.

Among these removal orders, 1,177 were given in absentia (meaning that the immigrants did not show up for their hearings). Additionally, 4.2% (205 cases) resulted in a grant of asylum.

The overall grant rate for asylum on the Boston Dedicated Docket was around 39% (i.e., 205 out of 527 cases). In contrast, During the same time period, the Boston Immigration Court granted around 56% of asylum applications. Moreover, owing to DHS’s refusal to prosecute, 36.8% (1,772 cases) were dropped at a master calendar hearing, This occurs when DHS does not file the Notice to Appear (NTA).

Finally, among the 205 grants of asylum, at least 87 cases (42.4%) were related to children, and among the total removal orders, 653 cases (40.3%) were related to children. Furthermore, among the absentia removal orders, 1,177 cases (40.7%) were related to children. The report makes clear that the lack of representation can seriously impact your case and, consequently, your life.

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