Why expedited dockets and video-teleconferences are harmful to kids’ cases

Video courts were already proliferating before COVID-19 struck the United States. Since then, they have become EOIR’s solution to the problem of hearing cases during a pandemic that demands social distancing. Advocates throughout the country urged EOIR to suspend children’s hearings rather than expand videoconference hearings, but courts declined. Attorneys have expressed concern that a policy that protected public health during the pandemic could be normalized, hurting children’s ability to put their best cases forward.

The expanded use of video teleconferencing (VTC) and expedited dockets erodes what little protections currently exist for children in the immigration court system. As explained in a report by the Young Center, VTCs inhibit children’s ability to understand proceedings and to communicate their fears, interests, and desires to the judge. As a result, they’re more likely to be returned to danger because of confusion and misunderstanding. VTC hearings also rob children of one of their most important tools: their ability to tell their unique stories in their own words in the same room as the judges who make decisions about their cases. The remote, impersonal nature of VTC hearings means that children’s humanity is no longer front and center.

Videoconferencing also forces attorneys to choose between being in court—where they can participate in important exchanges with the judge and the government attorney and, when possible, correct or lodge objections to inaccurate interpretation—and being with their young clients, who desperately need support during frightening immigration hearings that will determine their futures.