Abstract: (see Poster Gallery) 'it's like Painting a Car without an Engine': Exploring Barriers to Change in Immigration Court through the Frameworks of Institutional Betrayal and Courage (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

All in-person and virtual presentations are in Mountain Standard Time Zone (MST).

SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

367P (see Poster Gallery) 'it's like Painting a Car without an Engine': Exploring Barriers to Change in Immigration Court through the Frameworks of Institutional Betrayal and Courage

Friday, January 13, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Hannah Boyke, MSW, Doctoral Student, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Jamie Kynn, MSW, Doctoral Student, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Pilar Horner, PhD, Associate Professor, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Background: This paper explores institutional courage and institutional betrayal in immigration court from the perspectives of lawyers representing migrants in removal proceedings. Per Smith and Freyd, institutional betrayal is institutional action or inaction that harm those who depend on the institution for help or survival; institutional courage is a dedication to helping or protecting those individuals. The institution of focus is the Detroit, Michigan Immigration Court which is composed of organizational actors from Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Migrants depend on EOIR to ensure a fair trial that upholds their constitutional protections regardless of migrants’ ability to afford a lawyer. One research question guides this paper: How do institutional courage and betrayal emerge in immigration removal proceedings? This study is supported by a grant from the Center for Institutional Courage.

Methods: Twelve semi-structured interviews were conducted with Michigan lawyers who represent adult migrants in removal proceedings. Purposive sampling strategies included maximum variation and snowball sampling. Interview topics concerned participants’ perceptions of EOIR and DHS’s priorities, the resources available for migrants in court, and the institutional changes necessary to support migrants. Interviews were recorded and fully transcribed. Data analysis began with open coding full transcripts. First-level codes were abstracted to themes, using sensitizing constructs associated with institutional courage and institutional betrayal. Included codes required inter-coder agreement greater than .80.

Results: Findings indicate that institutional betrayal appears within immigration court as structural barriers to change and court priorities. Each participant identified the United States’ history of racialized immigration policies and enforcement practices as structural barriers to change that which have normalized the trauma migrants experience in immigration court. Findings indicate limited opportunities for institutional courage outside of individual actions. Participants described court processes as complex, overwhelming, confusing, and opaque, which often engendered secondary victimization. All respondents discussed the immigration court’s structure: EOIR judges and DHS attorneys fall under the purview of the executive branch, so the policies guiding EOIR judges and DHS attorneys change with each presidential administration. Respondents felt this structure prioritizes political party affiliations over migrants’ rights in court. Per participants, executive mandates to correct court backlogs have accelerated case adjudication timelines, frustrating migrants’ ability to prepare their defense. Participants felt such mandates prioritized efficiency over migrants’ due process. Participants expressed that a national government-funded public defender program for migrants is necessary to begin addressing the constitutional violations occurring in immigration court.

Conclusions and Implications: Institutional betrayal appears to be systemic to the immigration court in Michigan. Insufficient funding for free legal representation programs, the insurmountable number of migrants requiring free or low-cost representation, and court backlogs have converged to obscure the breadth of the constitutional violations in immigration court. Our findings demonstrate the need for social workers to advocate for political change that would prioritize the well-being of migrants facing removal proceedings. This study demonstrates a need for social workers in non-profits serving migrant communities who can connect migrants with services that support their health and wellbeing as they undergo deportation proceedings.