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  Legal and Scholarly
January 29, 2020

GAO To Probe Missing DOJ Immigration Records
By Andrew Kragie

A congressional watchdog is investigating the Trump administration's record-keeping after an academic report found nearly 1 million immigration court case records were quietly deleted, a lawmaker revealed Wednesday during a House hearing about how to address packed immigration courts. Rep. Veronica Escobar, a Texas Democrat, said the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office has agreed to look into data handling at the Executive Office of Immigration Review following a Syracuse University research center's report that said "garbled" and "inconsistent" statistics resulted from the U.S. Department of Justice's practice of "silently but systematically deleting records." "Several of my colleagues and I wrote a letter to GAO requesting that they investigate data management practices at EOIR. Fortunately, GAO agreed to review these practices," said Escobar, a first-term representative from the El Paso area who has emerged as a prominent Democratic voice on immigration. Party leaders recently picked her to deliver the Democrats' Spanish-language response to President Donald Trump's State of the Union address in February. "The data is important," Escobar added. "It's used sometimes by the administration or supporters of these policies to claim that asylum seekers aren't adequately winning cases or showing up." News of the watchdog investigation came near the end of a 90-minute hearing before the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship. Lawmakers and expert witnesses mostly discussed possible changes to the immigration court system, especially a long-standing proposal to move the unique courts from an executive-branch agency to an independent system under Article I of the U.S. Constitution, which deals with Congress. Article I legislative courts currently include bankruptcy courts, U.S. Tax Court and the Court of Federal Claims. That change was endorsed in a major American Bar Association report last year and also backed by the Federal Bar Association, the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the National Association of Immigration Judges, the immigration judges' union. They say it would guarantee the judges' independence and insulate them from political pressure as they tackle a backlog that last year topped 1 million cases.

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, Syracuse University
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