National Immigrant Justice Center Calls for Increased Transparency, Timely Hearings
Newly available federal data shows a steady increase in the number of immigrants in administrative detention who have signed deportation orders waiving their right to see a judge. The National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), through a Freedom of Information Act request, collected data showing that 94 percent of the 80,844 stipulated orders of removal signed between April 1997 and February 2008 were by immigrants who spoke primarily Spanish, and most had not been charged with a crime.
“Given our work with this population, the data backs up our longstanding concern that immigrants in detention face language barriers and do not fully comprehend the implications of signing stipulated order of removal forms,” said NIJC Director Mary Meg McCarthy. “And while Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) suggests that increasing numbers of deportations make society safer, in reality most of the detained immigrants encouraged to sign away their rights and be deported had no criminal charges against them.”
Typically, when an immigrant is in administrative detention, he or she has the right to locate a lawyer and go to court to seek relief to stay in the United States. But when an immigrant signs a stipulated order of removal, he or she agrees to be deported immediately and waives the right to see a judge.
The National Immigrant Justice Center compiled the data received from the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the federal agency that adjudicates immigration cases.
- The use of stipulated orders has increased steadily since 2004.
In 2004, 5,000 orders were signed. That number increased to 15,000 in 2005 and 25,000 in 2006. Last year, 30,000 stipulated orders of removal were signed.
- More than half of the stipulated orders were signed in four cities.
Twenty percent were signed at the Eloy Detention Center located 70 miles southeast of Phoenix, Arizona; sixteen percent were signed by judges in Chicago; nine percent were signed by judges at the immigration court in Lancaster, California (near Los Angeles); and six percent were signed by judges in Seattle.
- The majority of deportees have no criminal background.
Eighty-five percent of detainees who signed stipulated orders of removal had no criminal charges. Nearly 68,478 were detained on a single civil charge because they entered the United States without proper inspection or overstayed a visa.
“This data helps demonstrate an immediate need for an increase in transparency and information available to both detainees and Immigration Judges,” said McCarthy. “It is our responsibility, as a nation of immigrants, to treat all people – regardless of their legal status – with fairness, dignity, and respect.”
Specifically, NIJC urges the Executive Office for Immigration Review and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to adopt the following four recommendations:
- Limit pro se (no attorney) stipulated orders of removal and develop guidelines regarding the use and distribution of stipulated orders of removal
- Ensure that the Immigration Judge has all of the relevant information about each case before signing off on the waiver of a hearing
- Educate detainees about their options – including any relief to which they might be eligible as well as the consequences of signing the order
- Provide immigrants without criminal records the option of “voluntary departure” so that they have an opportunity to later seek legal status in the United States
Colombian Woman Ordered Deported to Mexico
While some detainees choose to sign stipulated orders because they prefer deportation over detention, NIJC and other legal aid providers know of many cases in which detainees signed the forms unknowingly as a result of language barriers, disingenuous jail staff, or general misunderstanding of the deportation consequences, including a 10 year restriction on re-entering the United States. Many immigrants who sign the stipulated orders of removal are not aware of their legal rights or potential for eligibility to remain in the United States.
Last year, NIJC provided legal assistance to a Colombian woman who had unknowingly signed a stipulated order of removal indicating that she was deportable to Mexico. This woman did not understand and was too frightened to realize that she agreed to be deported – and to a country that was not her own. She realized the mistake and told an ICE officer but was ignored until a NIJC attorney intervened to have the order rescinded. The attorney soon realized that the woman was afraid to return to Colombia and had an asylum claim, which she is pursuing.