Vera Institute of Justice Voices Opposition to “Rocket Docket” Court Proceedings

In response to the Biden administration’s announcement on May 28 that they will accelerate dockets for asylum-seeking families, Kica Matos, vice president of initiatives at the Vera Institute of Justice, released the following statement:

“We strongly oppose this harsh new policy, which forces newly arriving, asylum-seeking families through rushed ‘rocket docket’ court proceedings without guaranteeing legal representation for all, depriving families of fairness and due process. The policy also unnecessarily places families who would otherwise be released on recognizance on electronic monitoring, advancing a large-scale surveillance apparatus targeting immigrant communities.

While the Biden-Harris administration has rightly stated it will prioritize access to justice for immigrants facing deportation, placing vulnerable families in rushed proceedings will have the opposite effect. As prior efforts to use expedited dockets demonstrated, this policy will create, not remove, barriers in our immigration legal system, speeding up the deportation machine while denying immigrant families due process. The threat is particularly acute given the administration’s failure to address the harm levied by Trump-era changes to asylum regulations and precedent overturning decisions by Attorneys General Barr and Sessions, which have made the path to success for unrepresented people seeking asylum in immigration court incredibly difficult. The fact that these accelerated dockets are being rolled out before the Biden administration has yet responded to the urgent call made by more than 40 former judges to address these Trump-era changes to asylum law belies the administration’s stated commitment to ‘fair hearings’ for these families.

The administration’s choice to invest in unnecessary and harmful surveillance instead of legal defense and community support for asylum seekers is especially concerning. There is clear evidence that most immigrants released from custody continue to appear in court when represented by counsel. These surveillance policies target Black and brown immigrants and are an attempt to short circuit due process and basic fairness.

We strongly urge the administration to move forward a vision of justice that instead centers people and fairness first and foremost by rescinding this harmful policy. More fundamentally, the administration must recognize and act on the central truth that nothing but legal representation in every case—for every adult, every child, every family—will counter the systemic injustice of our current immigration system. No immigrant should be forced to go through immigration court proceedings without legal defense.”

The Vera Institute of Justice is powered by hundreds of advocates, researchers, and activists working to transform the criminal legal and immigration systems until they’re fair for all. Founded in 1961 to advocate for alternatives to money bail in New York City, Vera is now a national organization that partners with impacted communities and government leaders for change. We develop just, antiracist solutions so that money doesn’t determine freedom; fewer people are in jails, prisons, and immigration detention; and everyone is treated with dignity. Vera’s headquarters is in Brooklyn, New York, with offices in Washington, DC, New Orleans, and Los Angeles.