About CourtWatch

Law Lab’s CourtWatch is a free tool designed to both facilitate the work of existing court watch projects and encourage the development of new court watch projects, while creating and sharing data with organizers, advocates, academics, and reporters to call attention to patterns of abuse and opportunities to advocate for migrant justice.

The tool presupposes that court observations will be carried out by coordinated “Teams,” and that those Teams will be organized by immigration court - so there could be a San Antonio CourtWatch team, an El Paso CourtWatch team, an Adelanto CourtWatch team, etc. Teams are divided into Team Leads and Volunteers. The main differences between Team Leads and Volunteers are that:

  • Team Leads can invite additional Team Leads and additional Volunteers to join their team, whereas Volunteers cannot,
  • Team Leads can view all of the work their team has completed, as well as all pending transcriptions, whereas Volunteers can only see those transcriptions that have been assigned to them, and
  • Team Leads are generally expected to share responsibility for recruiting, training, coordinating, and managing Volunteers, including scanning and uploading the forms that Volunteers complete.

The tool includes court watch forms for court observers to use to document their observations in immigration court. These forms are specifically formatted to allow for facilitated transcription using Optical Mark Recognition. You can view the forms that have been developed thus far at this link: https://courtwatch.lawlab.cc/forms

Generally speaking, a volunteer brings to immigration court:

  • one copy of the Docket Summary Form for each Docket they plan on observing (volunteers usually observe no more than one docket in a given day), and
  • as many copies of the Master Calendar Hearing and Bond Forms as they might need to observe the dockets they plan on observing

Once a court observer has completed a court watch session, the completed forms are scanned as pdf files and uploaded to CourtWatch. CourtWatch uses Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) to facilitate the transcription of the pdf files of scanned immigration court observation forms.

As a few examples of how OMR facilitates the process:

  • Volunteers are asked to record their "Volunteer ID number," assigned by CourtWatch at the top of any form they fill out. In that way, the CourtWatch tool knows to assign the scanned form to the appropriate volunteer for finalizing the transcription.
  • Multiple choice questions are automatically transcribed, although volunteers must confirm the transcription is accurate.
  • Free text responses are captured as images and presented to the volunteer for transcription.

There is also a Team Resources folder that teams can upload their training and orientation materials to, so developed court watch groups can share their resources with jurisdictions where court watch is just getting up and running.

Finally, the tool is designed such that any user can have access to any data uploaded by any and all users. There are cautionary measures in place to protect the personal identifying information of persons in removal proceedings from being exposed, but beyond personal identifying information and the free text notes that observers record, all data collected is available to all CourtWatch users.

Getting started?

Thanks for signing up for CourtWatch! Together, we will build a nationwide network of community-based court watch efforts to investigate our immigration courts, demand that judges be held to high ethical, professional, and legal standards, and demand that those standards be a reflection of the values of our communities.

Visit the Team Resources page for educational resources and orientation materials, including HOPE Border Institute’s comprehensive manual on immigration court watch.

To learn how to use this Court Watch tool, take a look at the Documentation page, where you’ll find instructions to help you get started.

Innovation Law Lab is a nonprofit organization dedicated to upholding the rights of immigrants and refugees. We specialize in the creation of scalable, highly-replicable, and connected sites of resistance that create paradigm shifts in immigration representation, litigation, and advocacy.