CLINIC among plaintiffs to file major lawsuit challenging ‘weaponization’ of immigration court system

WASHINGTON — CLINIC joined other legal service organizations Dec. 18 filing a federal lawsuit challenging the “weaponization” of the U.S. immigration court system to serve the administration’s agenda of hostility to immigrants. 

The suit Las Americas v. Trump was filed in Portland-based U.S. District Court of Oregon on behalf of CLINIC, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Innovation Law Lab, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project and Santa Fe Dreamers Project. 
“Through the work of our affiliates and other nonprofits whom we train and mentor, we see more and more that justice is being cast aside in favor of speed,” said Michelle Mendez, director of CLINIC’s Defending Vulnerable Populations program. “Some of the most vulnerable people in the world come to the United States looking for safety and fairness. It is imperative that our court system provide this.”

The complaint outlines pervasive dysfunction and bias within the immigration court system, including:

  • Areas that have become known as “asylum-free zones,” where virtually no asylum claims have been granted for the past several years.
  • The nationwide backlog of pending immigration cases, which has now surpassed 1 million — meaning that thousands of asylum seekers must wait three or four years for a court date.
  • The Enforcement Metrics Policy, implemented last year, which gives judges a personal financial stake in every case they decide and pushes them to deny more cases more quickly.
  • The “family unit” court docket, which stigmatizes the cases of recently arrived families and rushes their court dates, often giving families inadequate time to find an attorney and prepare for their hearings.

“Under the leadership of President Donald Trump and the attorney general, the immigration court system has become fixated on the goal of producing deportations, not adjudications,” said Stephen Manning, executive director of Innovation Law Lab. “The system is riddled with policies that undermine the work of legal service providers and set asylum seekers up to lose without a fair hearing of their case.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of six legal service providers whose work for asylum seekers has been badly impaired as a result of the unjust immigration court system.

Innovation Law Lab also announced the full launch of an Immigration CourtWatch app, which enables court observers to record and upload information on the conduct of immigration judges. 

Advocates, attorneys and other court watchers are encouraged to download and use the app. 


The Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Alabama with offices in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Washington, D.C., is a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society. For more information, see and follow us on social media: Southern Poverty Law Center on Facebook and @splcenter on Twitter.

Innovation Law Lab, based in Portland, Oregon with projects around the country and in Mexico, is a nonprofit organization that harnesses technology, lawyers, and activists to advance immigrant justice. For more information, visit