Hundreds of new immigrants detained in Essex County, N.J., will have cases heard by video
They'll talk to camera, not judge
Sunday, November 6 2011, 5:04 PM
Hundreds of new immigrant detainees coming to New Jersey as part of a $50 million federal contract won’t be pleading their case directly to a judge — they’ll talk to a camera instead.
Attorneys with clients in facilities that are adding 750 more immigrants — Newark’s Delaney Hall and Essex County Jail — say they were frustrated to learn most new detainees will get video teleconference hearings.
Lawyers have to decide whether to be with their clients or with the judge.
“It’s easier to ignore a TV than it is a person,” said Elissa Steglich, a managing attorney at American Friends Service Committee.
“These are life-altering decisions that are being made and you want the judge to know your client as much as can be. Having it be an artificial knowledge through technology is uncomfortable and I don’t think accomplishes justice.”
An Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman said some of the new detainees in Essex County will get in-person hearings — but he said video teleconferences are more efficient.
“It also lessens the workload of staff regarding the tracking and accountability of aliens out of the facility,” said ICE spokesman Khaalid Walls.
Video teleconferencing is increasingly used by immigration courts across the country — and has been framed as a cost-cutting measure in areas where judges are hundreds of miles from detention centers.
At some New York-area detention centers — like Varick St. in Manhattan and Elizabeth in New Jersey — judges have a permanent courtroom. But Delaney Hall, which is set to house up to 450 immigrants, will not get its own judge. Detainees there will be seen over video by judges in the Elizabeth detention center 7.1 miles away.
A Georgetown Immigration Law Journal study of 2004 and 2005 asylum hearings found that immigrants with in-person hearings were nearly twice as likely to get asylum than those who had a hearing by video.
“The video conference presents tremendous due process concerns,” said Ruthie Epstein of Human Rights First, which outlined video worries in an October report on the detention system.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, which runs immigration courts, maintains the process is fair.
Video teleconferencing isn’t the only issue advocates are upset about as New Jersey moves to house hundreds more immigrants.
While ICE has touted Delaney Hall as an example of a more “civil” facility — with windows that let in natural light and where detainees have access to email — the county’s plan to open up space for immigrants in the rehab center building has been plagued with troubles.
In August, Essex County officials came under scrutiny for awarding a single-bid immigration detention contract to Community Education Centers, the company with political ties to Gov. Chris Christie that was already running a rehab program in Delaney Hall.
County officials later scrapped the plan and called for more bidders, saying they hope to select a new contractor by December.
Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/hundreds-immigrants-detained-essex-county-n-cases-heard-video-article-1.973035#ixzz1dAAPjzhI