The high-profile immigrant detention center in Artesia, N.M., is closing, the San Diego Union Tribune is reporting. The paper says that “… the government told some members of Congress about its plans Tuesday, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement later confirmed the closure to the AP. The administration indicated the facility was no longer needed because they are expanding jails elsewhere.”
The U-T adds that: “The Homeland Security Department opened the detention center at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, New Mexico, in late June amid a crush of tens of thousands of Central American families caught crossing the border illegally. The facility had space to jail about 700 people facing deportation.”
Phillip Burch, the mayor of Artesia, said in the past six weeks 448 Central American mothers and children have been released from the detention center and 28 were deported. You can read the story here.
The ABC affiliate TV station in El Paso, Tx., KIVA, is making the case for immigration courts reform. In a multiple-part series, the station is outlining that “… the nearly 60,000 Central American migrants who came to the U.S. – many unaccompanied children – are going to the front of the line of the immigration courts – worsening the chronic backlog. Because the migrants mostly didn’t cross through El Paso though, Holguin said it’s not affecting the six El Paso immigration courts.
But that’s not the problem in the El Paso region, says KVIA. Their problem is simply capacity. The stories outline the budget situation: “while the U.S. Border Patrol’s budget increased by 30% to $3.5 billion from 2009 to 2013, the immigration court system budget increased by 8% to $289 million in the same time frame. President Obama’s request this summer for $45 million, partly to hire more judges, was denied by Congress.”
The reports take a look at how long waits can put pressure on families and institutions. It can be found here:
While early reports do not focus on the more than 300,000 recent Central American “border kids” awaiting deportation hearings, it does seem President Obama is making good on his immigration policy promises. The New York Times reports that “… part of Mr. Obama’s plan alone could affect as many as 3.3 million people who have been living in the United States illegally for at least five years, according to an analysis by the Migration Policy Institute, an immigration research organization in Washington. But the White House is also considering a stricter policy that would limit the benefits to people who have lived in the country for at least 10 years, or about 2.5 million people.”
The NYT added that “… extending protections to more undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, and to their parents, could affect an additional one million or more if they are included in the final plan that the president announces.” Immigration cases, thought by many to be criminal cases, are actually civil actions. For example, immigration “judges” are actually employees of the Justice Department.
But officials also said, according to the Times, that patrol agents and judges at the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and other federal law enforcement and judicial agencies, “will make clear that deportations should still proceed for convicted criminals, foreigners who pose national security risks and recent border crossers.”
It did not take long for Matt Taibbi to return Rolling Stone to the top of your must-read list. His story on the financial coverup behind those huge civil lawsuit settlements is making the rounds. He reports, among many things, that “… six years after the crisis that cratered the global economy, it’s not exactly news that the country’s biggest banks stole on a grand scale. That’s why the more important part of Fleischmann’s story is in the pains Chase and the Justice Department took to silence her… she was blocked at every turn: by asleep-on-the-job regulators like the Securities and Exchange Commission, by a court system that allowed Chase to use its billions to bury her evidence, and, finally, by officials like outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder, the chief architect of the crazily elaborate government policy of surrender, secrecy and cover-up…”
The report focuses on a whistle-blower attorney, he calls her the $9 billion witness, with insider knowledge. It notes that the woman this year “… watched as Holder’s Justice Department struck a series of historic settlement deals with Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America. The root bargain in these deals was cash for secrecy. The banks paid big fines, without trials or even judges – only secret negotiations that typically ended with the public shown nothing but vague, quasi-official papers called ‘statements of facts,’ which were conveniently devoid of anything like actual facts.”
It turns out that the under-staffed immigration courts still found time to hire family members of officials, sometimes in apparent violation of federal law, according to various reports. Says the Washington Post, “… the Federal investigators found rampant nepotism in recent years within the agency that oversees U.S. immigration courts, including three top officials who used their positions to help relatives land paid internships.
Adds WaPo in one of its federal government blogs: “In a report this week, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz said about 16 percent of the interns hired between 2007 and 2012 for the Executive Office of Immigration Review’s Student Temporary Employment Program were family members of employees.”
Courts Monitor Publisher Sara Warner is suggesting the new GOP Senate might find success with bankruptcy reform, but only once the Democrats come up with consumer protections for “perjury pawns.” See her ideas at the Huffington Post: Sara Warner
In a divided decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has backed same-sex marriage bans in four states, leading to speculation that the U.S. Supreme Court will eventually tackle the issue. Reports the Vox.com news site: “Beyond stopping same-sex couples from marrying in several states, the decision makes it very likely that the Supreme Court will now step in to decide the issue of same-sex marriage.”
Vox offers some background: “[The] nation’s highest court previously side-stepped the debate, largely because all circuit courts had been in agreement that states’ same-sex marriage bans violated the Constitution’s Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses. The decision not to act sparked a wave of court rulings ending same-sex marriage bans in several states, from Idaho to North Carolina.”
In a situation sure to echo nationally, California is scrambling to “voluntarily” remedy a civil rights violation for not providing interpreters in certain civil cases, The Los Angeles Times reports. The Times notes that “… unlike those charged with a crime, people in civil court do not have the constitutional right to an interpreter. For many of California’s nearly 7 million limited-English proficient speakers — about one-third of whom live in Los Angeles County — that makes the system practically impenetrable… the problem led the U.S. Department of Justice last year to conclude that L.A. County and the state’s Judicial Council were violating the Civil Rights Act.
The Times explained that the investigation “was prompted by a complaint filed by the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles on behalf of two low-income clients. One had been sexually assaulted and sought a restraining order against her attacker; the other had filed for custody and child support for her son. Both were denied Korean interpreters. Federal authorities have given California the chance to voluntarily improve services. But failure to make the court system accessible to all could result in federal intervention.”
The Times story comes in a context of diminished civil court services and delays in family court, among other challenges. Top court officials have said mere access to courts become a civil rights issue.
The Los Angeles Times is noting that a Republican takeover of the United States Senate would likely mean that President Obama’s ability to control federal judicial appointments has peaked. The Times also notes that “… legal experts say it’s a record of unprecedented achievements in judicial diversity. Women make up 42% of his confirmed nominees, more than double the average of his five predecessors combined, while African Americans make up 18% and Latinos 6%. Eleven
Photo from the LA Times report, “Obama’s best chance to influence the judiciary may be passing,” 11/2/14
openly gay judges now serve…”
There are still vacant seats, but you may recall the dust-up last November when Senate Democrats nixed the longtime filibuster rule for most judicial nominations, which allowed the president to select more liberal judges who would have had no chance under the old rules.
Less well known, after the filibuster change, is that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy has continued what the Times calls a “… strict interpretation of arcane committee traditions, which effectively granted veto power over nominations to home-state senators.” That means the “… logjam was broken only in the 19 states with two Democratic senators. Often Obama has declined to nominate judges in states with Republican senators, leaving seven crucial appeals court seats, including the one on the 7th Circuit in Chicago, without a nominee.”
If you wonder what the election means for the nation’s courts, start with this LA Times report.
Mother Jones magazine is offering a rundown on five states where electing state supreme court justices has become a high-stakes political battle, complete with spending millions of dollars on attack and counter-attack ads. The piece offers some familiar names for anyone who follows the judicial policy wars, like Texas and North Carolina, and some places where you might not have noticed conflict, like Tennessee.
In particular, the magazine notes that Florida, also home to significant fights over the governor’s office and of course a vital presidential swing state, has seen dramatic increases. Florida, says reporter A.J. Vicens, “… ranked near the bottom of the list between 2000-09 in terms of judicial candidate contributions, with nominees raising just $7,500 during that entire period. But that changed in the 2011-12 cycle, when three Supreme Court judges were up for retention votes, with candidate fundraising coming in at more than $1.5 million and independent spending topping $3.1 million.”
For court watchers, it may be interesting that the increased spending is happening in some states with “retention” models, which are believed to decrease political efforts in the judiciary. In those states, voters can only decide whether or not to keep or dismiss a judge – as opposed to choosing between candidates. California, for example, uses a retention system for its high court, although a huge majority of lower court judges run unopposed.
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Brett Snider, Esq.
California Courts Monitor ‘Special Report’ Print Edition Fall 2013
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California Courts Monitor ‘Special Report’ – First edition (Summer 2013)