While a new policy provides some immigrants with access to immigration court records, it leaves immigrants in detention in the dark. 

Washington, DC—On July 2, the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) announced the launch of the Respondent Access Portal, an online platform that allows people unrepresented by legal counsel to access their immigration court records, view their scheduled hearings, and file documents with the court. Unfortunately, the new system does not include immigrants held in detention. 

In the United States, there is no right to a public defender in immigration court for people facing deportation to help fight their case, including for those in detention. As a result, most people appearing in immigration courts face immigration judges alone or unrepresented, which is known as being “pro se.” While EOIR’s new Respondent Access Portal allows some pro se immigrants to access their immigration court records, its use requires an email address. Immigrants jailed in detention centers nationwide do not have access to email and often are not allowed to use digital tools or libraries to conduct basic legal research to fight their immigration cases. 

“While we commend the progress made by EOIR with this new system, we strongly urge the agency to ensure records access for pro se people who are detained as well,” said Adina Appelbaum, Director of the Immigration Impact Lab at Amica Center for Immigrant Rights (formerly known as CAIR Coalition). “Through the new system, tech-savvy people who are not subject to detention and who have email addresses will receive more improved access to their records. Despite this step forward, both those who are detained and all those facing mental health, cognitive, language, and technology literacy challenges will continue to need the help of legal counsel to navigate the complex immigration court system and obtain the records needed for a meaningful hearing.” 

The launch of the Respondent Access Portal comes after several years of advocacy from Amica Center and our partners, including legal service providers across the country and pro bono support from Arnold & Porter. After our first demand letter in December 2021, EOIR issued a new policy giving attorneys access to their clients’ records outside of submitting a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, but it failed to address the needs of pro se people. Now, after another round of advocacy that included a second demand letter in May 2022, a policy brief in April 2023, a congressional hearing in July 2023, a nationwide survey of legal service providers, and lobbying on the hill, EOIR has launched its portal, improving records access for pro se people but excluding those who are detained. 

Amica Center will continue to fight for people who are pro se and detained to be able to access their legal records so everyone can have their due process rights protected. 

Media Contact: Erin Barnaby at media@amicacenter.org