In a report that suggested its findings have wider application, the IG of the Justice Department has found both advantages and disadvantages in conducting immigration hearings by teleconference.
It said that while the department has conducted some such hearings virtually for years, the rate increased due to the pandemic. “Remote hearing options can offer certain advantages in accessibility for participants, mitigation of health risks, and flexibility in docket management. However, remote hearings can also raise fairness concerns if the technology and processes are inadequate,” it said.
During one site visit, for example, it found that while video and audio quality were adequate for two-way connections, that was not always the case where there was a participant from a third location. In that case, the connection was “frequently interrupted and often of poor quality.” Background noise from air conditioners, vehicles and other sources also often was a problem, it said, causing one hearing auditors observed to be suspended and moved.
That made it “potentially difficult at times for respondents at to follow the hearing process and clearly differentiate the distinct roles of certain participants.”
Similarly, it said that in a survey of immigration judges, many “expressed support for remote hearings; however, they also noted a need for enhanced technology and certain improvements to equipment and software, and some cited experiences where connectivity has occasionally been a problem.”