Immigrant Court Observer Project

A message from Lisa Wielunski, Team Leader, ACLU Charlotte Immigrant Rights Team.

The ACLU’s Charlotte chapter is looking for volunteers to serve as local court observers in Charlotte’s Immigration Court.  In a jurisdiction with some of the lowest asylum grant rates in the nation, the presence of volunteers would foster fairness and consistency in the courtroom.

Volunteers will:

  • Receive hands-on training about immigration court proceedings
  • Experience our justice system in action
  • Gain perspective on the needs of our local immigrant communities
  • Help immigrants in the Charlotte and surrounding area have a more consistent court experience.

Observers provide much-needed oversight in cases involving unrepresented respondents, particularly minors and non-English speakers.  Make a difference in your community: the first training for people interested in this project is this Friday, June 9th at 5:30pm.

Go to now to register for Friday’s training and/or to receive information about subsequent training events and times.

Please note that due to space limitations, Friday’s training will be capped at the first 35 people to sign up.

More information on the Immigrant Court Observer Project:

Those of you who participated in the Define American Film Festival know how enlightening the films were.  The undocumented immigrants we learned about have had to persist, to engage, and because of their perseverance, they survive and thrive.  The experience certainly left us wanting to make a difference.

You can make a difference right here in Charlotte. 

Part of our intent within the Charlotte Women’s March is to intersect with the work that others are doing.  The Charlotte branch of the ACLU is getting ready to take a big step that I believe we should be a part of.

I hope you will read about the following opportunity and then let me know of your interest:  

Lisa Wielunski, Chair of the Charlotte ACLU Immigrant Rights Team, is beginning an Immigrant Court Observer Project.  For those who do not know, Immigration Court is not your typical court and is presided over by 4 judges who are appointed by the US Attorney General.  Often people must go to court without representation and there is no recording of the events allowed from what I understand.

The Court Observer Program is seeking people who would simply:

  1. attend a training session, and then
  2. spend a morning or afternoon sitting in court observing the proceedings

You determine how many cases you observe.  The hope is to find volunteers who will go once or twice a month.  You will not be participating in the court case – you will only observe and record brief notes about what happens.  The training will be held this month or next.  Charlotte Immigration Court has a very high deportation rate.  Only about 5% of the cases get to stay in the US.  This is much lower rate than in other courts across the US.  There is only one court that has a worse record.

The following is from the Immigrants’ Rights Team minutes last meeting.  I was not able to attend because I was at the NC-NAACP Immigration Coordination meeting.

Immigration Court Observer Project

Brent Johnson described his experience witnessing a session of the immigration court.  Brent felt that his presence had a positive effect on the proceedings.  Access continues to be of concern as the on-site security is not used to outside visitors.

Going forward, the intention is to do the following:

  • Develop a training program for observers.
  • Work with the court to ease physical access through security for the observers
  • Develop checklists to allow observers to easily document what is being done correctly and what may not.  This will be particularly helpful for the non-lawyer observers.
  • Setup a scheduling tool such as SignUpGenius for the training sessions and the actual court sessions to be observed.

Please contact me (click here) if you would like to learn more about the Immigration Court Observer Project and attend the training session.  You can make a final decision about your participation in the project after attending the training. 

The next ACLU Immigrant Rights Team meeting will be:

  • Tuesday, June 20
  • 6:00-7:30 PM
  • Park Road Baptist Church, 3900 Park Road, Charlotte

Please join us.  Remember, you are not defending anyone, just watching what is going on and taking notes so there is documentation of the procedures.  Becoming an Immigration Court Observer is a way we can be involved and make a difference.  If no one sees what is going on, it is not going to change.

Hope to see you on June 20th at the next ACLU meeting.

Emily Stephenson-Green

If you want to read more about the Immigration Court system, prior to deciding about getting involved as an observer, below are some links.

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