Academic journal article The Journal of Gender, Race and Justice

The Expansion of Video Conferencing Technology in Immigration Proceedings and Its Impact on Venue Provisions, Interpretation Rights, and the Mexican Immigrant Community

Academic journal article The Journal of Gender, Race and Justice

The Expansion of Video Conferencing Technology in Immigration Proceedings and Its Impact on Venue Provisions, Interpretation Rights, and the Mexican Immigrant Community

Article excerpt

I. BACKGROUND AND RECENT DEVELOPMENTS PROMOTING USE OF VIDEO CONFERENCING TECHNOLOGY

Concern in the 1980s regarding technology and courtrooms focused on me use of videotaping trials. Back then, most lawmakers believed that technology should be subordinate to the rights of an individual to receive a fair trial.1 They emphasized that cameras in the courtroom present "particular hazards" that are inconsistent with our rule of law.2 In recent years, however, the video camera has taken a new form that has eliminated direct face-to-face contact between the party and the judge. In our legal system today, the video camera is now the stage for a trial that will determine the fate of many immigrants.

Our society is obsessed with television. As a mass, we are constantly entertained and educated through our television sets. It is the mainstream of our culture.3 Scholars have argued for decades that the television medium "has a pervasive influence on the way persons process information and the perceptions they develop of the external world."4 When we convert the word "television" into "video conference," these societal perceptions-and misperceptions-do not magically dissipate. Therefore, the arena that the video camera provides cannot be an equal substitute for a courtroom.

We, as a society, are accustomed to looking at screens everywhere-"in our bedrooms and living rooms, our offices, the train station, [and] in restaurants."5 In a courtroom, the judge has the opportunity to see the immigrant face to face. On the television screen, however, the judge sees a "person on a small, jumpy, screen . . . wearing an orange jump suit, handcuffed and shackled, with dogs occasionally barking in the background."6 The image can be tinkered and distorted-by lighting, the size of the image, and the camera perspective.7 The impersonal, cold, unfriendly, and remote nature of a camera simply cannot be compared to personal face-to-face interaction.

"Video Conferencing (VC) is an electronic form of communication that permits two or more people in different locations to engage in audio and visual exchanges."8 According to the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), the administrative body of federal immigration laws,9 use of "VC technology allows court proceedings ... to be conducted efficiently and effectively[,]" despite the fact the participants are not together in one room.10 The earlier applications of video use in the courtroom were applied more extensively to civil-not criminal-matters.11 Still, videoconferencing technology has found its way into immigrant hearings.

Two sources, one legislative and one regulatory, authorize an immigration judge to conduct hearings through VC.12 The first is the Immigration and Nationality Act,13 which states that an immigration proceeding may take place in any of these four forms: (1) in person; (2) where agreed to by the parties, in the absence of the alien;14 (3) through video conference; or (4) through telephone conference, but only with the "consent of the alien after the alien has been advised of the right to proceed in person or through video conference."15 The second source is the Code of Federal Regulations, which states that "[a]n Immigration Judge may conduct hearings through video conference to the same extent as he or she may conduct hearings in person."16

The use of VC in immigration proceedings is becoming increasingly popular to keep up with the influx of immigration hearings.17 The EOIR is calling for the expanded use of video and telephonic hearings to increase the accessibility of the courtroom.18 As of September 21, 2004, VC units have been installed at the EOIR Headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia, and at forty (of fifty-three) Immigration Courts, as well as at seventy-seven other sites such as detention centers and correctional facilities where immigration hearings are conducted throughout the country.19

Some individuals believe that the expanded use of VC creates benefits to the courts and the respondent. …

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