AOC continues work to address immigration and human trafficking issues in the courts

The Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) continues work this year with the Center for Public Policy Studies (CPPS) on the Immigration and the State Courts Initiative.  Since the project’s inception in September 2011, CPPS project consultants Dr. John Martin and Dr. Steven Weller have made seven site visits to Georgia, and have met with a diverse group of judges, clerks, policy advocates, and other criminal justice stakeholders.  Earlier this year, we expanded this partnership to serve as a site for the newly-launched Human Trafficking and the State Courts Collaborative. 
 
The objective of the Immigration and the State Courts initiative is to address the impacts of Federal and state immigration law, policy, and practice on state court case process.  This objective has taken shape in two primary ways:  judicial training and the newly-developed State Courts Record Exchange Project.
 
A number of training programs have taken place in 2013.  In January, Dr. Martin and Dr. Weller visited Georgia to present a training program to juvenile court practitioners in Gwinnett County.  The agenda included a module on Special Immigrant Juvenile status and the types of issues that may affect immigration status in deprivation and delinquency cases.  Probate court judges with traffic jurisdiction were trained during the Council of Probate Court Judges Spring Seminar on April 19, and Juvenile Court judges were trained at their Spring Conference in Jekyll Island on May 7.  Dr. Martin and Dr. Weller presented a session at the Municipal Court Judges Law and Practice Update on June 20 in Jekyll Island, and will ultimately complete the “judicial training checklist” with judges of the Magistrate Court this October.  A one-day training seminar for Superior and State Court judges was held in October 2012.
 
Early in the development of this project, we established dialogue with representatives from the Atlanta Field Office of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).  Starting as a conversation about how the naturalization process through USCIS works and how state courts might assist the federal agency (such as through meetings and exchange of information) with requests for court records, the work has expanded to form a dedicated “State Court Records Exchange Project” in Georgia as well as in Iowa courts.  This partnership seeks to inform the development of joint training efforts designed for stakeholders at both the federal and state levels, as application requirements for naturalization routinely require information from state court records.  On April 18, meetings were held with USCIS staff to narrow the agency’s most common records needs and identify challenges they encounter when directing applicants to secure state court records.  Following that meeting, CPPS met with court clerks from each level of court to discuss USCIS needs, as well as challenges faced by clerks’ offices when attempting to fulfill such requests. Although conducted as a separate project, this work will support the strategic goals of the Immigration and the State Courts Initiative.
 
The partnership with CPPS will continue, as Georgia has been selected to participate as one of three pilot sites in the new Human Trafficking and the State Courts Collaborative.  This collaborative, made up of CPPS, the Center for Court Innovation, and the National Judicial College, is designed to assess the scope of the human trafficking-related challenges faced by state courts and to develop resources and capacity to address those challenges. 
 
The large refugee and immigrant populations in Georgia have contributed to the state’s leading rankings in regards to sex and labor trafficking; for example, Atlanta is among the top five cities for human trafficking, and has the highest number of trafficked Hispanic females in the nation[1].  This is a priority issue for all three branches of our state government, and the Collaborative provides an opportunity for the judicial branch to engage our partners and learn about existing initiatives in the state.  A kick-off meeting was held at the AOC on April 17, and attendees included representatives from executive branch agencies, policy and advocacy organizations, and legal services.  On June 18, separate meetings were held with judges and prosecutors.  Using the feedback and information learned from these meetings, we are working to define the project plan.
 
For more information about this project, please contact Tracy Mason ( tracy.mason@gaaoc.us) or Erin Oakley ( erin.oakley@gaaoc.us).




[1]Thomas, Sara R. and Renea Anderson. Human Trafficking: Modern Day Slavery. Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Human Trafficking Unit.  Retrieved from: http://dfcs.dhs.georgia.gov/sites/dfcs.dhs.georgia.gov/files/related_files/site_page/BST%20Human%20Trafficking%20Workshop.pdf

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