Justice Department responds to ACLU of Nebraska report

Feb. 12, 2024, 4:36 p.m. ·

gavel resting on a wooden block
DOJ said there were flaws the ACLU's report on Omaha Immigration Court. ACLU observed more than 500 cases from April to August 2023. (Archived photo)

The United States Justice Department (DOJ) responded to a report citing due process violations in Omaha Immigration Court.

DOJ’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (DOJ-EOIR) said the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Nebraska report had “several issues”.

The DOJ-EOIR supervises all 69 immigration courts around the country.

The ACLU report said pretrial hearings in Omaha Immigration Court, officially called Master Calendar Hearings, only lasted 3.9 minutes. In the report and during a press conference, the ACLU said that’s not long enough to effectively go through all necessary proceedings of a pretrial hearing.

Pretrials in immigration court determine the immigrants’ plea to charges, upcoming deadlines and hearing dates, and much more.

The DOJ-EOIR said not all necessary actions occur during the first hearing.

In an email to Nebraska Public Media News, the DOJ-EOIR said, “Many advisal's are provided at a later hearing, especially if the immigrant is unrepresented at the first hearing and requests an opportunity to seek an attorney."

According to the report, which observed 534 pretrial hearings last year, immigrants weren’t represented by an attorney in 19 percent of cases observed.

The DOJ-EOIR said, “(t)he ACLU also does not indicate whether any immigrant who was not provided an interpreter in their preferred language at their initial hearing was provided an interpreter in their preferred language at a subsequent hearing.”

The executive office provided the following saying, “EOIR has several resources for immigrants navigating court proceedings, including self-help materials, Immigration Court Helpdesks where unrepresented immigrants can seek assistance, and the Immigration Court Online Resource (ICOR), which provides general information on what will happen during court hearings and how immigrants can prepare for their hearing,” a spokesperson said.

The DOJ-EOIR office also said immigrants may choose to waive a reading of their rights. That’s in response to a part of the report finding that judges only read rights to immigrants individually 18 percent of the time.

Additionally, the DOJ-EOIR said the ACLU didn’t indicate whether an immigrants’ attorney waived the right to interpretation. The ACLU of Nebraska found that only 19 percent of Central American Indigenous speakers received interpretation during pretrial.

At the press conference Friday, ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director, Rose Godinez, said “So what we have observed with this project is that the immigration system is not working for anyone,” Godinez said.

The DOJ-EOIR did not have a comment before the story was published on Nebraska Public Media's website on Friday.

Read previous coverage of this issue from Friday, Feb. 9: "Due process violated in Omaha Immigration Court, report says"