Congressman José E. Serrano

Representing the 15th District of New York

Velázquez, Serrano Press ICE/EOIR on Cancellation of In-Person Hearings for Detained Immigrants

Jul 23, 2018
Press Release

Washington, DC – Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY), Rep. José E. Serrano (D-NY) and 13 additional New York bicameral members of Congress have written to top immigration enforcement officials demanding answers on the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) and ICE’s abrupt policy to substitute in-person hearings for video conference calls at its processing center in Lower Manhattan. In the letter, the lawmakers argue that forcing immigrants to resort to video conferencing during legal proceedings undermines one’s right to full and fair consideration of their case.

“This is the latest Trump Administration assault on immigrants’ rights and a clear effort to undermine our due process system,” said Velázquez. “By gutting in-person hearings, EOIR and ICE are making it harder for immigrants to exercise their constitutional rights.  We are demanding a full explanation of how ICE arrived at and is justifying this policy change.”

“The sudden replacement of in-person hearings for video conference calls in Lower Manhattan is baffling and unsubstantiated. In all likelihood, this change will only have an adverse impact on immigrants’ ability to use all the legal resources and options available to them – which in turn has a negative impact on the result of their removal proceedings. We need more details as to why it decided to get rid of in-person hearings in parts of NYC without notifying the public in advance and what the intended and unintended consequences will be.  These changes undermine constitutional due process without justification, and New Yorkers need answers as to why,” said Serrano.

On the heels of President Trump’s tweet saying immigrants at the border should be denied due process, officials in EOIR Lower Manhattan immigration court made a quiet decision to switch from in-person hearings to video conferences for immigrants seeking counsel. In the letter, the lawmakers are asking EOIR and ICE to provide justification and an explanation for the sudden policy change.

The full text of the letter is below. For a PDF, click here.


July 23, 2018


The Honorable Ronald D. Vitiello                              The Honorable James McHenry

Deputy Director and Acting Director                         Director

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement            Executive Office for Immigration Review

Washington, D.C. 20536                                            Washington, D.C. 20530


Dear Deputy Director and Acting Director Vitiello:

As Members of Congress, we write to express our concerns over the abrupt decision taken by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to substitute in-person hearings for video conference calls at its processing center in Lower Manhattan, New York.[1] This practice is likely to result in substantially negative consequences for immigrants who are attempting to exercise all their legal options prior to being potentially deported from the United States.

Under the announced video conference call policy, it is unlikely that an immigrant in deportation proceedings will be able to receive full and fair consideration of their petition and to meet with an attorney. It may also impact an immigrant’s ability to exercise their full rights to attorney-client confidentiality.[2]

Given the deeply concerning nature of this policy and its ability to impact full and fair consideration of petitions and requests, consistent with applicable rules, law and regulations, we ask that you provide answers to the following questions:

  1. Your agency has decided that “hearings [have] been canceled because of safety reasons.” Please specify what conditions, incidents or potentially harmful risk exists for judges, adjudicating officers, detainees, or officers of the court.
    1. How frequently have these conditions interfered with the duties of officers or judges?
      1. What steps were taken to remedy such conditions before deciding to cancel hearings?
    2. Have such conditions generated any processing backlogs?
    3. In your review, how does this policy impact the due process for immigrants?
      1. How does your agency intend to provide language interpreters or culturally sensitive solutions for immigrants whose cases will now be heard via a video conference?
  2. How many immigration courts in the EOIR system currently use video conference hearings in lieu of in person hearings?
    1. Excluding the Varick Street Immigration Court, what percentage of immigration proceedings currently taking place in other immigration courts use video conference technologies?
    2. What percentage of immigration proceedings for detained immigrants nationally current take place via video conference technologies?
    3. Please provide this information broken out by court location.
  3. Absent the alleged safety reasons discussion, under what circumstances is this change necessary?
    1. How are these circumstances, if at all, more important than providing immigrants the right to appropriate access to legal counsel that has been provided by the local jurisdiction in question?

Due to the nature of this policy change in New York and its sudden implementation, we request that you submit answers to these questions no later than 15 business days from the date of this letter. We look forward to your response.





Nydia M. Velázquez                                                   José E. Serrano

Member of Congress                                                  Member of Congress




Charles Schumer                                                         Kirsten Gillibrand

United States Senator                                                 United States Senator




Yvette D. Clarke                                                         Gregory W. Meeks

Member of Congress                                                  Member of Congress


Adriano Espaillat                                                        Hakeem S. Jeffries

Member of Congress                                                  Member of Congress




Thomas R. Suozzi                                                       Grace Meng

Member of Congress                                                  Member of Congress




Jerrold Nadler                                                             Carolyn B. Maloney

Member of Congress                                                  Member of Congress




Eliot L. Engel                                                             Joe Crowley

Member of Congress                                                  Member of Congress




Kathleen M. Rice

Member of Congress


[1] Robbins, L. New York immigrants facing deportation will get video hearings, lawyers say. June 27, 2018. The New York Times.

[2] Id.