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Complaint: El Paso immigration judges violate due process

  EL PASO, Texas (AP) — An immigration court in El Paso, Texas, that only approves a handful of the asylum cases it considers each year routinely violates due process, attorneys contend in an administrative complaint filed Wednesday.

The American Immigration Council and the American Immigration Lawyers Association claim in their joint complaint that the court at the El Paso Service Processing Center has arbitrary and unjust rules that decrease asylum-seekers' chances of staying in the country.

In 2017, the most recent year for which data was available, the El Paso court approved only 4 of the 88 asylum cases it considered, or about 4.5%. The previous year, it approved just 3 out of 130 applications, or 2.3%.

Nationwide, about 40% of asylum seekers are approved, and their cases largely depend on which judge they go before. In New York, some judges grant asylum to 60% of applicants.

Kathryn Shepherd, an attorney for the American Immigration Council, said the court is dysfunctional and abusive.

For example, the court limits the amount of evidence that asylum seekers can submit in their cases. For those seeking to avoid deportation, the court requires them to submit all of their evidence before it will schedule a merits hearing, which forces such migrants to proceed without necessary evidence or stay locked up while waiting to receive such evidence. The court also doesn't allow lawyers to represent their clients by phone, which reduces immigrants' access to representation, the complaint states.

"This is just barely scratching the surface of the devastating impact of this toxic court because we will never know how many lives have been ruined or harmed as the result of this court's practices," Shepherd said.

A spokeswoman for The Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees immigration courts, said it would not comment on the complaint, which was filed administratively and is not a lawsuit. The groups are asking the agency's oversight body to investigate the court.

The allegations come as the number of immigrants who are crossing the border near El Paso has skyrocketed.

Most are Central American families fleeing extreme violence and poverty, and many seek asylum.

In El Paso on Wednesday, border authorities were holding immigrants in a tent on the northeast side of the city following the closure of a temporary holding facility under a bridge that drew outrage after families staying there said they had to sleep on gravel in cold temperatures.

It's unclear how many people were in the new facility or how long they had be there.