Center for Gender & Refugee Studies Files “Rocket Docket” FOIA Lawsuit

The Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS) @ UC Hastings is one of several immigration organizations who filed a lawsuit today in San Francisco to force the Obama Administration to release policy documents about its practice of fast-tracking the cases of recent Central American women and children.

The lawsuit, filed under the Freedom of Information Act, demands that the Department of Justice immediately release records describing its practice of placing vulnerable women and children in expedited deportation proceedings-known as “rocket dockets”-in the nation’s immigration courts.

We caught up with CGRS Senior Staff Attorney Christine Lin for the story behind this lawsuit, and what she hopes will come of it.

Q: How did CGRS become involved with this lawsuit?

Shortly after the government’s announcement to place immigrant families and unaccompanied children on rocket dockets, CGRS collaborated with other immigrants’ rights organizations to request that the federal government release information on fast-track policies and procedures under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Despite repeated requests, we did not receive a single record from the federal government, and we filed a second request a year later. The government responded with only two charts listing the locations of immigration courts with rocket dockets, but failed to produce any documents related to its policies and procedures. Their failure to respond forces us to seek the intervention of the federal courts.

Q: Why did CGRS and other organizations file the FOIA in the first place?

CGRS has expertise in examining the root causes of violence in Central America where most of these women and children originate, and has been at the forefront of obtaining recognition for gender-based violence as a basis for asylum in the United States. We train and advise attorneys nationwide on asylum law. Since the rocket dockets began, we have witnessed increasing challenges facing attorneys representing clients who are rushed through proceedings and the devastating impact on women and children. Because of the importance that the requested information has for women and children to have fair hearings and receive proper protection in the U.S., we filed the FOIA to compel government transparency on the issue of the rocket dockets.

Q: What is at stake here?

Over 18,000 women and children placed on rocket dockets-mostly trauma survivors and bona fide asylum seekers fleeing violence in Central America-have been ordered removed from the United States and forced to return home to face life-threatening situations. Mostly without legal representation, many of these women and children are not afforded fair hearings before facing removal from the U.S. For many of these women and children, being ordered to return to their home countries is the same as receiving a death sentence. This is an intolerable and heartbreaking outcome to say the least.

Q: Can you share how rocket dockets have hindered attorneys’ ability to advocate effectively for their clients?

To establish trust and rapport with a client takes time, and can be especially difficult when working with children and traumatized individuals. Fast-track proceedings impede attorneys’ ability to obtain accurate information from the client, procure evidence, and conduct thorough research. In many cases, expert witnesses, such as mental health professionals or individuals with country or subject matter expertise, may be useful for a case, but it takes time to secure experts, particularly on a pro bono or low cost basis.

Q: What does winning look like?

The government should be compelled to hand over government policies and procedures on the rocket dockets. We need the government to produce this information immediately so that advocates like us at CGRS can review the legality of these deportations and take appropriate actions to secure protection for these women and children. Attorneys cannot properly defend women and children and ensure that they have fair hearings without transparency and clarity on the Administration’s policies and procedures. Most importantly, this information could be the difference between life and death for many Central American women and children.

Media Contact
Christine Lin
Managing Attorney, Center for Gender & Refugee Studies – California
Senior Staff Attorney, Center for Gender & Refugee Studies
UC Hastings College of the Law