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Detainees "Dehumanized" by Video Conferencing in Immigration, Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago and Chicago Appleseed Fund Study Finds

Thursday, August 25, 2005

  • Organization: Brennan Center's Legal Services E-lert
The LSC-funded Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago and the Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice are calling for a moratorium on the use of videoconferencing in Chicago's immigration court after a joint study -- "Videoconferencing in Removal Proceedings" -- found widespread deficiencies in the system.

In 2002, the court began using videoconferencing to link downtown Chicago courtrooms with detainees, who take part in their immigration removal hearings from a remote detention center in the city's suburbs. The study shows that videoconferencing malfunctions in nearly 50 percent of the cases, interrupting language interpretation, evidence presentation, and client-counsel communication. Malcolm Rich, Executive Director of the Chicago Appleseed Fund, says that videoconferencing "marginalizes an already vulnerable group of people" and "dehumanizes the detainees, stripping away many of their substantive rights to a due process hearing."

The report explains that failures in the videoconferencing system jeopardize the fairness of immigration proceedings. For example, whereas 76 percent of non-English-speaking Latinos are ordered deported, less than one percent of English-speaking non-Latinos meet the same fate.

The report recommends improving the system by strengthening the videoconferencing technology, providing better training for court officials, and granting some categories of detainees an in-person hearing. Diana White, Deputy Director of Special Projects at the Legal Assistance Foundation, adds, "So much is at stake in these deportation proceedings. We are not opposed to technology in the courtroom. We are opposed to the poor use of this technology, and the horrible impact it can have on an immigrant's life."

The organizations now will look to politicians, including Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and advocacy groups to help implement the recommended reforms.

Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice, Press Release: Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice and the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago Publish Unprecedented Study on Videoconferencing in Immigration Hearings, August 2, 2005; Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice and the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, "Videoconferencing in Removal Hearings: A Case Study of the Chicago Immigration Court," August 2, 2005 (available at www.lafchicago.org); also based on original reporting by Brennan Center staff.

Reposted here with permission.
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