The Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review is turning to new technology to deal with a growing notario problem.
Notarios are people who represent immigrants before the court system but either aren’t lawyers or aren’t qualified to appeal the immigrant’s case.
Juan Osuna, the director of DoJ’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), said the office’s new eRegistry system will make it more difficult for notaries to commit fraud.
“It is our effort to create an electronic database of attorneys who are practicing before our immigration courts,” Osuna said in an exclusive interview with Federal News Radio. “That will enable us to capture that information and then be able to build on that toward the eventually electronic filing of forms, electronic filing of documents before our court system.”
EOIR launched the eRegistry system in June after several years of planning and development.
In just over two months, more than 5,600 attorneys registered have filed an electronic form, and the office is verifying their information, Osuna said. He also said attorneys who appear before the immigration or the appeals courts have until Dec. 10 to register with the system.
“We are focused on trying to get that done first and to make sure we are capturing as many practicing attorneys as we can and facilitating it for them,” Osuna said. “So far, it’s been very positive. Attorneys who practice before courts want to be able to file electronically. This is something that many of them are used to doing in other courts. This is something we’ve gotten repeated requests for over the years from private attorneys, especially those who have high volume practices before the immigration courts.”
Attorneys must take a two-step process to register. First, they must fill out an online form with some basic biographic information and create a password.
Second, attorneys must come to one of the immigration courts or board of immigration appeals and do an in-person identity verification that matches with the online form, and receive an agency identity number.
Osuna said the online registration system will make it harder for these notarios to take advantage of immigrants who are supposed to appear before the court system.
Each attorney is required to have a unique identifier, making registration more difficult, he said.
“I hope that will reap benefits in terms of reaching organizations and individuals who should not be practicing before immigration courts and make it easier to combat that type of fraud,” he said. “Nobody really knows the extent of fraud, but we know it’s significant. Every immigration agency — whether it’s here at DoJ or at the Homeland Security Department — deals with this on a daily basis. Whatever protection agencies can put in place to make that conduct harder would be very beneficial.”
Osuna said EOIR has an active and good attorney discipline and anti-fraud program, but eRegistry will add another layer of protection.
Less paper is a good thing
Beyond stopping fraudsters, the eRegistry system will provide several other benefits for the office. Osuna said the system will reduce huge amounts of paper EOIR takes in each week.
“We always have been a paper-based agency. Immigration law is very paper intensive. There are a lot of forms that people have to use in order to apply for things,” he said. “We do expect significant budget savings from this. For example, going to the electronic world is being able to send things back and forth between, for example, the Board of Immigration Appeals and the immigration courts. If we are able to do that electronically, we can save snail mail costs, FedEx costs, printing costs and many of those costs that are predictable with a paper-based operation.”
The system also will make it easier to share documents with other federal agencies.
EOIR works closely with DHS to exchange information. Osuna said the office already transmits records electronically to some courts, but that will likely expand in the coming years.
This initiative is separate from eRegistry, but related to the broader goal of moving out of paper and into an integrated document management system, he said.
Why not sooner?
Why didn’t EOIR make the move to electronic forms sooner? That’s the obvious question. The move harkens back to the early days of e-government when agencies put forms online and accepted applications via the Web.
The main reason was budget constraints, Osuna said.
“We’ve been creating an infrastructure slowly over a number of years. A large part of it was that we were trying to do it within existing budget constraints,” he said. “The second biggest challenge was trying to decide exactly how we were going to do this. This became a priority for me when I became director a couple of years ago.”
To prepare for eRegistry, the office modified its database to accept electronic filing of forms in order to create the capacity for the system.
The initial registration system for attorneys is one of several planned changes for EOIR.
Osuna said he hopes the eventual state of the office will move all of the paper forms online to let attorneys file briefs or other documents via the Web.
“I do hope we will move into the next phase pretty quickly after this initial effort to get attorneys registered. We haven’t quite determined exactly what that next phase will be, but I think that it will involve some sort of electronic filing of some sort of documents in the not too distant future, with an eye toward going full operational in the next few years.”