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New Immigration Court seen as Band-Aid solution to big problem

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New Immigration Court seen as Band-Aid solution to big problem

Pat Murphy//March 8, 2024

Though news that the Department of Justice plans to open a second Immigration Court in Massachusetts this spring is being viewed as a positive, lawyers fear the additional court may not have a huge impact on the issues dogging their immigration clients.

The DOJ’s Executive Office for Immigration Review has announced plans to open Lowell Immigration Court in early April at 150 Apollo Drive in Chelmsford.

Thomas Stylianos Jr.

Lowell immigration attorney Thomas Stylianos Jr. welcomes the new court for admittedly selfish reasons.

“It is seven minutes from my office,” Stylianos says. “It’s hard for me to think negatively at all about it.”

When Stylianos has to appear at the Boston Immigration Court, he typically allocates half-a-day for the roundtrip.

But Stylianos acknowledges that the location of the Chelmsford court may be problematic for clients with limited transportation options since it’s not near any of the MBTA rail lines.

“When I look at the new court, I don’t think you can get there,” he says. “It’s in a suburban, hi-tech industrial park. There may be sporadic bus service, but the industrial park was designed for professionals with cars.”

In the end, Stylianos says he doesn’t see the opening of the Chelmsford court as being much of a “game-changer.”

Matthew J. Maiona

Matthew J. Maiona, managing partner of Maiona & Ward Immigration Law in Boston and West Roxbury, says he would prefer to keep his practice mainly in the Boston Immigration Court. But he may not have a say in the matter.

“We really don’t have much of an option,” Maiona says. “The Boston Immigration Court is sending out emails saying, ‘Hey, your case has just been transferred to the new court in Chelmsford.’”

There were 151,219 immigration cases pending in Massachusetts as of the end of January, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, which pegged the commonwealth as having the seventh largest backlog of any state. The nation as a whole faces a backlog of nearly 3.4 million immigration cases of all types in the latest count.

Stylianos says that, over the years, he’s seen the amount of time it takes to get an immigration case heard increase dramatically from the six months it used to take.

“I do some defense work in Immigration Court — both asylum and family cases,” Stylianos says. “I have a client who has had a case in Immigration Court for nearly 10 years now. We just heard it got bumped again.”

Stylianos is skeptical that the opening of the Chelmsford court will have an appreciable impact on the timeframe for clients to get before a judge.

“I would like to think it will,” he says. “But that remains to be seen. It’s like emptying the ocean with a bucket.”

Maiona likewise foresees the opening of the Chelmsford court as having only a marginal impact on the backlog of cases.

“Until we actually address the root causes, this is all just Band-Aids,” he says. “There are a lot of issues driving immigration. There needs to be more pathways to legal immigration. We have at least three failed nation states in our hemisphere: Haiti, Venezuela and Ecuador. In Haiti, we have gangs taking over the airport. The people who are coming [to the U.S.] are coming for fear of their lives and safety.”

A spokesperson for EOIR says the agency will release information on its website regarding the court’s staffing when the court opens.

Meanwhile, the Boston court, located in the JFK Federal Building, lists 20 “internet-based” judges plus Theresa Holmes-Simmons, who was named acting assistant chief immigration judge in 2019.

Maiona counts about eight courtrooms in the Boston court.

“Some judges do sit in person, but the majority of hearings are virtual,” he says. “The attorneys for the government in general appear virtually. But a number of judges that you see on the website don’t actually have courtrooms. Obviously, opening up a new court could change that, but we’ll have to wait and see.”

Stylianos says space is clearly an issue for the Boston court.

Last May, the EOIR announced the appointment of 19 new immigration judges to courts in seven states. Four of the appointments were for Boston.

“They don’t have space to hold hearings, either live or over the internet,” Stylianos says.

Underlining the issue of stretched resources, Holmes-Simmons’ online biography shows she is also the acting assistant chief judge for the Philadelphia Immigration Court and a “backup” judge in five other courts, including those in Buffalo, Detroit and Hartford.

Maiona says there’s clearly a need for more judges and court staff, but given the numbers of people crossing the border, an expansion of the Immigration Court system alone won’t resolve the backlog

“I’m not sure the government is going to be able to hire its way out of this one,” he says. “The [new court will] hopefully help get speedier hearings and reduce the backlog. But will it solve the problem? No.”


By Members in the News



New England AILA Members Joined Community and Government in Helping Newcomers

Each interior community experiencing the impact of both regional migration shifts and state bussing initiatives has responded differently.  In Massachusetts, which has a right to shelter law, Governor Maura Healey declared a state of emergency as the Commonwealth’s shelter system was nearing capacity. However, rather than turn these people away, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts pivoted to implement work permit clinics to speed up access to work authorization – and in turn ensure these migrants are quickly integrated into our community.

From November 13, 2023 to December 1, 2023, the AILA New England chapter partnered with the Mabel Center for Immigrant Justice, the Governor’s Office for Refugees & Immigrants, the Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), the Boston Bar Association, and other government agencies to run a nine-day long clinic to help these newly arriving migrants residing in shelters apply for work authorization. With United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) on site to offer biometrics, receipt notices, and a simplified fee waiver process, the immigrants who passed through this clinic are expected to receive work authorization just weeks after applying, not months.

These clinics serve as a reminder of the welcoming spirit of New England, but also the United States. Over the course of the clinic, approximately 1,200 work permit applications were filed with biometrics completed on-site, and roughly an additional 800 biometrics were completed for those who had previously applied, but not yet completed the biometrics stage. This means roughly 2,000 immigrants residing in shelters will soon have employment authorization. While recognizing the long and arduous road ahead for these immigrants, the speedy issuance of these work authorizations is a critical step along the way.

My key takeaway as an attorney serving the EAD clinic was the realization that these families with young children had trekked through perilous conditions with no real knowledge or guarantee of what awaited them at the end of their journey. I am also heartened by the equally obvious (but easy to forget) fact that USCIS employees saw our common humanity in those moments as well. We all entered these fields because we were interested in helping people who did not have the blind fortune to be born in the U.S.

The success of these clinics would not have been possible without the close collaboration between federal and state offices. It is easy to lament the problems of the current immigration system. However, witnessing this new collaboration shows the potential of our immigration system when federal agencies, state offices, and local partners collaborate and communicate effectively. In my five days at the clinic, I witnessed these USCIS officers work 12- hour shifts alongside the rest of the hundreds of volunteers, and go above and beyond in the name of efficiently processing these applications, demonstrating commitment to the agency’s mission to “uphold America’s promise as a nation of welcome and possibility with fairness, integrity, and respect for all we serve.”

This clinic embodied Governor Healy’s statement that the migrants are “here because Massachusetts has and will always be a beacon of hope, compassion, humanity and opportunity.” The clinic in Massachusetts was only the second such clinic with USCIS on site, and this model continues to spread across the country. AILA New England is grateful to the AILA New York Chapter for sharing their operating procedures and lessons learned from their fall clinic. These clinics are an unprecedented effort by USCIS and highlight what can happen when state and federal agencies work together to address immigration issues in a cooperative, common sense, humane manner. We welcome further collaborations with USCIS to address challenges in our immigration system.



Robin Nice

Robin Nice is the 2023-2024 Chair for AILA New England, and an immigration attorney at McHaffey & Nice, LLC in Boston, Massachusetts. Robin received her B.A. from Wellesley College, her Master’s Degree in Human Rights from London School of Economics in 2008, and a J.D. from Boston University Law School in 2012. She focuses on asylum and other forms of humanitarian relief before USCIS and Immigration Court.


New England AILA Members Joined Community and Government in Helping Newcomers – Blog: Think Immigration

Pawelski: Yesteryear’s immigrants wouldn’t make it today

By Members in the News

Opinion: Yesteryear’s immigrants wouldn’t make it today (


A common immigration phrase we hear today is “My family immigrated the right way.” But what is considered “legal” or “right” depends on when your family arrived.

My great grandmother immigrated from Italy in 1903. The sole immigration document is the ship’s Manifest of Alien Passengers for the Commission of Immigration. Prior to 1924, a rudimentary immigration system existed. The arriving immigrant needed to show no discernable health issues and have good moral character (not a criminal, polygamist, anarchist, beggar, or importer of prostitutes). While the 1882 discriminatory Chinese Exclusion Act was still in force, for many western Europeans the door to America was open.

Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1924, which limited how many people could enter the United States, created an admissions quota, and banned Asian countries. My grandfather, Samuel, was born two years after enactment. While he was an American citizen and World War II veteran, prejudices persisted for both first and second generation immigrants. As time passes, our nation’s collective memory forgets the ugly parts of the immigration journey – xenophobia, prejudice etc.

Early in his career Sam sold insurance while completing his teaching degree. He changed the family surname in 1958 because Italians were not “viewed as trustworthy.” My mother was too young, but my eldest aunt recalls practicing the new name in cursive before entering third grade.

This is a tiny sliver of my family’s story. Honestly, the immigration piece is the least memorable. However, many Americans do not realize that my family’s story would not be possible today. Today’s immigration system is completely different. The process is now almost impossible depending on country of birth, occupation, or income. If an Italian national sought to immigrate today, their options would require large amounts of money, a high level of education, a job offer, a family connection, or luck.

A green card could be sought through a family member, achievement (professional athlete, accomplished scientist etc.), investment ($800,000+), working as a manager/executive for a multinational company, employer sponsorship, or the Diversity Lottery (a lottery system). This list is by no means complete, but a sampling. Green cards are numerically limited each year and there can be a lengthy wait depending on category and country of birth. Each green card category has associated government filing fees, which are separate from any attorney fees. Given the cost, uncertainty and wait, this is not a simple process.

What if the Italian immigrant enters at the Southern border? The migrant is processed as a potential asylum seeker (photo, fingerprints, etc.), detained or released into custody, given an immigration court date (could be 10 years into the future), could be bused to another city, and does not have the legal ability to work until a work permit is processed. Work permit application processing backlogs go on for months.

My family did not immigrate the “right way” per today’s rules, rather we had an easier system. It feels like today, with technology and social media, we are more interconnected as a nation, but also so far apart in seeing eye to eye to address this issue in a humane fashion. We must move away from fearmongering and enforcement-only approaches. We need to have ongoing discussions on how to address our immigration system with real solutions. It is time to modernize the rules and meet this moment in history.

Anthony Pawelski practices business immigration law in Massachusetts and serves as a media liaison and state legislative relations liaison for the New England Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association

AILA New England’s Statement on Work Permit Clinics for Newly Arrived Immigrants

By Press Release


November 1, 2023

Contact: Robin Nice, Chair, American Immigration Lawyer’s Association’s New England Chapter at

AILA New England’s Statement on Work Permit Clinics for Newly Arrived Immigrants

The American Immigration Lawyers Association’s New England Chapter (AILA New England) applauds the Healey-Driscoll Administration in establishing immigration clinics in partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to collect and process work authorization during the week of November 13, 2023.

Massachusetts is facing a state of emergency as its shelter system is near maximum capacity with new arrivals, including asylum seekers. An estimated 7,500 families are in shelters, many of whom came through the Southern Border, and do not currently have work authorization.

To facilitate expedited issuance of Employment Authorization Documents for those who are eligible, U.S. Department of Homeland Security has mobilized to offer on-site assistance to accept filings, provide receipt notices, and conduct biometrics at the week-long clinic from November 13 to 17, hosted by the Healey-Driscoll Administration and U.S. Department of Homeland Security, facilitated by Massachusetts’ Office of Refugees and Immigrants, AILA New England, and the Boston Bar Association. The clinic will take place in Eastern Middlesex County.

This is an unprecedented effort by the DHS and Commonwealth of Massachusetts and presents a special opportunity for new arrivals in shelters to submit an unprecedented number of applications in a very short time frame, with attorneys’ assistance. Work authorization will afford these migrants a path to self-sufficiency and stability in the New England region.

As a multicultural and linguistically diverse state, our chapter welcomes this partnership to help ease the burden the state is facing. Moreover, the ability to work in the U.S. will boost our local economy and help employers with unmet labor needs. Immigrant households contribute hundreds of billions of dollars in federal, state, and local taxes and hold a tremendous amount of spending power. This partnership is stellar example of what we can accomplish when federal, state, and city government agencies collaborate with nonprofits and professional associations towards shared objectives to address a crisis situation.

As anticipated, our members are ready to volunteer and provide assistance at the clinic. Our chapter also welcomes lawyers and law students with or without immigration experience to volunteer, as training will be provided.

Biden administration speeds up work permits that could help thousands of Mass. migrants

By Members in the News

Attorney Rachel Self, who works with many of the 49 migrants, said she’s recommending they apply to this new status.

“One of the beautiful things about this is: the delays and backlogs in both our asylum system and our U-Visa adjudications will no longer be as large a concern,” she said. “This TPS designation will provide a bridge until those other applications can be adjudicated.”

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Robin Nice, New England Chapter chair for the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “Really, it’s oftentimes an instance of stealing from Peter to pay Paul where … I get some work permit applications or renewals approved within seven days, and then I have other ones waiting eight months.”

Read the whole article here.

Biden officials promised Boston’s special immigration program would be fast, but fair. Advocates say it fails at both.

By Members in the News

“‘Legal aid nonprofits that provide no-fee representation are extremely overwhelmed,’ Annelise Araujo, a Boston immigration attorney, said this week. ‘They are inundated with requests and they don’t have the funding or manpower to take them all on.'”

Read the full article here: