Will veto really ‘export foreign policy to trail lawyers?’

Congress voted Wednesday to override President Obama’s veto of a bill to give the families of 9/11 victims a chance to sue Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

Congress voted Wednesday to override President Obama’s veto of a bill to give the families of 9/11 victims a chance to sue Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

As the U.S. Congress votes this week to override a presidential veto for the first time in President Obama’s tenure, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) says the country is exporting its foreign policy to trail lawyers and warned that U.S. personnel might find themselves dragged into lawsuits abroad over American drone use in Pakistan and Afghanistan, or even its support for Israel.

At issue is a law that would allow victims of the 9/11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia over any potential role in those attacks. The president and others say such a law would invite similar action against the United States. Sen. Corker is one of several members who argue the bill is so broad that it could expose the United States to retaliation in foreign courts.

The Washington Post says that the move is a “… a sign that Saudi Arabia’s fortunes are waning on Capitol Hill. The Saudi government has denied it had any ties to the terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attacks and has lobbied fiercely against the bill. But victims’ families have pushed for the legislation so they can press their case in courts, and lawmakers who support the measure argue Saudi Arabia should not be concerned if it did nothing wrong.”

Also from the Post: “This is not a time when U.S.-Saudi relations have much popular support on either side,” said F. Gregory Gause, head of the international affairs department at Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service. Just as the Saudis think the administration has tilted too closely to Iran, he said, many U.S. politicians blame Saudi Arabia for the globe spread of Sunni extremism. “I think that’s really simplistic.”

Read the WaPo report here:
Congress overrides Obama’s veto of 9/11 bill

Immigrants on their way to Ellis Island in New York for a naturalization ceremony last week. Credit John Moore/Getty Images

Immigrants on their way to Ellis Island in New York for a naturalization ceremony last week. Credit John Moore/Getty Images

One of the more thoughtful deep-dives into the immigration reform issue is making the rounds via The New York Times. Written by Eduardo Porter, it is one of the few to note that U.S. immigration policy and enforcement may not drive a person’s decision to come to the United States. He also notes the huge population differences brought about by the current trends:

“What the U.S. government is doing in terms of border enforcement, mass deportations and other restrictive policies just isn’t relevant to the decision to stay home,” noted the Mexican Migration Field Research and Training Program of the University of California, San Diego, which has interviewed thousands of immigrants and potential immigrants in communities across Mexico.”
And:
“Immigrants, their children and grandchildren have accounted for 55 percent of the country’s population growth since 1965, according to the Pew Research Center. Then, the country was 84 percent white, 4 percent Hispanic and less than 1 percent Asian. Today it is 62 percent white, 18 percent Hispanic and 6 percent Asian. Unauthorized immigrants, brought close to zero after the legalization wave of the 1980s, are back at an estimated 11 million.”

Read the story here:
Immigration Reform: Disparate Ideas, Disparate Futures

U.S. Dodges International Move To Free Refugee Children

22 women who are being held at Berks County Residential Residential Center started a hunger stike on August 8. They are asking to be released from detention as their cases for asylum move through the courts. Credit: Valeria Fernández/PRI

22 women who are being held at Berks County Residential Residential Center started a hunger stike on August 8. They are asking to be released from detention as their cases for asylum move through the courts. Credit: Valeria Fernández/PRI

The New York Times coverage of this week’s United Nations discussion about refugees, which includes a “summit” hosted by President Obama, including spotlighting that ” … the U.S. and a number of other countries also objected to language in the original draft that said children should never be detained, so the agreement now says children should seldom, if ever, be detained.”

That may be because the U.S. has more than a half-million pending Immigration Court cases backed up for years and has detained some refugee families for more than a year. The detention camps have been found illegal by a federal court, and some moms have resorted to hunger strikes. Some 45 countries are expected to agree to new, non-binding goals for the international refugee crisis this week.

In the U.S., immigration regulation is enforced at immigration courts as s “civil matter,” meaning those under detention do not have the same rights as criminal defendants, which would include the right to representation by a lawyer.

Read about the hunger strikes here:
Moms go on a hunger strike to get themselves and their kids out of immigration detention

Shackles In A Civil Case? With Immigration, That’s The Deal

PhotoCredit, Boston Gobe report, 8/29/16

PhotoCredit, Boston Gobe report, 8/29/16

A Boston Globe report has detailed that many detained immigrants show up in immigration court in shackles – even without any criminal record. The Globe reports that “… when detained immigrants have their day in immigration courtrooms in Boston and in many other courts around the nation, they almost always spend it in chains. Some of the immigrants have criminal records, but some do not, and the controversial practice has ignited protests from Connecticut to California. Critics say detainees in the civil immigration system are treated more harshly than people accused of violent crimes in state and federal courts. But others say shackling preserves public safety in the courts, where security is limited.”

We would background that immigration courts are not actually U.S. federal courts, but are actually run by the U.S. Justice Department. Those facing the courts do not have a right to an attorney, as they would if criminal charges were being considered, because the cases are considered “civil” actions.

Read the Globe report here: In Boston immigration court, chains are a familiar sound – The Boston Globe

California Lawyer-Oversight Bill Leads To Attorney Fee Request

The California State Bar is supposed to protect consumers, but a recent state audit found the agency put people at “significant risk” after failing to keep watch over attorneys across California. NBC Bay Area Investigative Reporter Bigad Shaban reports in a story that first aired February 24, 2016. (Published Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016)

The California State Bar is supposed to protect consumers, but a recent state audit found the agency put people at “significant risk” after failing to keep watch over attorneys across California. NBC Bay Area Investigative Reporter Bigad Shaban reports in a story that first aired February 24, 2016. (Published Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016)

The NBC affiliate in California’s San Francisco area is reporting that the state bar of California is, for the first time in almost 20 years, asking the state Supreme Court for authority to collect attorneys’ dues. The report backgrounds that “… the announcement comes after a bill aimed at reforming the bar failed to pass through the state’s most recent legislative session… the bill, SB-846, sought to divide the bar into two agencies, since it currently serves as both a trade group for lawyers and a regulatory body that is supposed to discipline attorneys.”

The potential legislation comes amid concerns that the California bar should be run by people who do not practice law. The NBC report noted that “… the California State Bar has come under harsh criticism in recent months over mismanagement and misspending. Last week, the Investigative Unit revealed that a recent state audit shows the agency is overpaying its employees, all while the bar’s fund to repay victims of corrupt lawyers is millions of dollars short.”

The NBC affiliate, perhaps one of the most aggressive local news in the nation, said that the Investigative Unit revealed how the bar was accused of failing to keep watch over some of the state’s worst attorneys. According to a separate state audit released in June 2015, in trying to clear its backlog of consumer complaints against attorneys, the bar allowed some lawyers to continue practicing, even though they should have been disciplined or disbarred.

Source: Bill to Reform California State Bar Fails to Pass Through Legislature | NBC Bay Area http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/Bill-to-reform-California-State-Bar-fails-to-pass-through-state-legislature-392199531.html#ixzz4K9qbxtjM
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Study: Miami Immigration Court Is Most Lenient In Nation

The clearinghouse that tracks immigration court backlog says that some places are better than others for immigrations hoping remain in the United States. The Miami Herald reports that’s “… because judges at the Miami immigration court are deemed among the most lenient toward immigrants in the country… the report from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University says that the Miami immigration court is in the top five immigration courts in the country whose judges are more likely to allow immigrants to stay in the country despite deportation orders sought by government trial attorneys representing the Department of Homeland Security.

According to the TRAC study, the Phoenix immigration court ranks No. 1 with “the highest proportion of individuals who were allowed to stay.” In second place was the New York immigration court, followed by Denver in third, San Antonio in fourth and then Miami in fifth, according to the study.

See the TRAC research here.

Read the newspaper’s story here: How lenient are Miami immigration judges? A study ranks the court

Here’s Summary Judgment

The National and California Courts Monitor websites are taking a summer break. We will resume daily postings on the Tuesday after Labor Day.

Private-Prison Phase-Out Will Not Apply To Immigration Jails

The much-heralded phase-out of privately run federal prisons had many wondering if that means changes in how immigrants are held by the Department of Justice. It will not, and the New Orleans website NOLA.com does a good job of breaking down the issue, which is partly because immigration jails are really “civil” vs. “criminal” charges.
 
NOLA backgrounds that “… the policy shift has no bearing on the private operation of immigrant detention facilities. As of December, 62 percent of the 34,000 beds for people detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement are in privately-run facilities. They are under the authority of the Department of Homeland Security, not the Department of Justice. The vast majority of privately-run prisons in the U.S. are at the state level, and will be unaffected by the DOJ announcement. As of 2014 they housed 91,244 state prisoners, or 6.8 percent of the total state prison population, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
 

Shifting Immigration Sands Catches NC Teen in Kafka-esque Purgatory

For one North Carolina teen, seeing his mom again meant a difficult, six-month journey through ICE, the courts and the ever shifting immigration waters. Having fled two powerful Honduran gangs – Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the 18th Street Gang – seeking to add him to their ranks, Wildon Acosta became the face of the immigration crisis for the small Durham community who rallied to support his cause.

ABC News Reports (8/16/16): Masked members of the 18th Street gang give a press conference inside the San Pedro Sula prison in Honduras, May 28, 2013.

ABC News Reports (8/16/16): Masked members of the 18th Street gang give a press conference inside the San Pedro Sula prison in Honduras, May 28, 2013.

Part of the ongoing Border Kids crisis, Acosta feared the consequences of not joining one of the two gangs. ABC News recently reported, “Those two gangs are major contributors to the violence that has made Honduras the country with the highest homicide rate in the world according to the World Bank, forcing thousands to flee their homes. The government of Honduras, according to the United Nations’ refugee agency, estimates that 174,000 people were internally displaced within the country between 2004 and 2014 because of violence and insecurity.”

When federal agents arrested him on his way to school, the story continued, Acosta had gone from speaking only Spanish to earning a B average in English-only courses. He was even held a part-time job.

Acosta is hardly the only minor fleeing the violence, either, to build a new life here in the U.S. U.S. Customs and Border Protection reports that more than 63,000 unaccompanied minors were apprehended while attempting to cross the border between October 2013 and September 2014 as the gang violence was reaching a crescendo in Central America.

The issue of overhauling the immigration system has been on the front burner since George W. Bush was president. A former Governor of a border state, President Bush attempted to overhaul the system under his tenure, but was blocked by his own party. Subsequent attempts have come close, but real reform has failed each time.

In 2014, President Barack Obama announced he was using his executive order power to bring about sweeping immigration changes. During his tenure, he has stepped up deportations, putting Border Kids at the front of the line, while also attempting to protect so-called DREAMERs. His executive orders have been stayed by the courts as states challenged his authority to implement immigration changes by executive order.

This policy uncertainty has led to myriad stories of young people caught in a shifting web of changing rules, leading to a legal purgatory that Kafka would find surreal. Were it not for the community pressuring their local member of Congress to act on his behalf, Acosta would have been deported already. With $10,000 in bail money raised in two days, he is grateful to back in his community with his family, but his future remains uncertain as he works to file a petition for asylum. The support from his community undoubtedly means that he will have legal representation to aid him in making his case to become a legal, permanent resident of the U.S.

For minors and youth with legal representation, their chances of being granted asylum are significantly better. But, as we reported back in May, Sen. Patrick Leahy said, “In immigration court, in case after case, a trained federal prosecutor represents the interests of the government while too many children facing deportation are forced to proceed before a judge without a lawyer.”

For more on the Acosta case, be sure to check out the in-depth ABC News report. You can follow along with our two-year project tracking the Border Kids crisis here.

CA Court Interpreter Funding Boost Key to Access to Justice

In states like California where roughly 44 percent of residents speak a language other than English, court interpreters are a key component to reasonably equitable justice. Just last week, we noted the backlog of California immigration cases had trumped 500,000 making court interpreters a sought after commodity.

The LA Times Reports (8/9/16): Aldo Waykam, a Mayan language interpreter, meets recently with Vinicio Nicolas, 15, outside the federal immigration court in Anaheim before Vinicio's asylum hearing. Vinicio speaks Kanjobal, the language used in his village in the highlands of Guatemala. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

The LA Times Reports (8/9/16): Aldo Waykam, a Mayan language interpreter, meets recently with Vinicio Nicolas, 15, outside the federal immigration court in Anaheim before Vinicio’s asylum hearing. Vinicio speaks Kanjobal, the language used in his village in the highlands of Guatemala. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Earlier this month, the LA Times reported extensively on the challenge of Border Kids whose native language is Mayan.  Many of these kids are coming in from countries such as Guatemala to escape gang violence epidemic with the drug cartels.

They report, “Spoken by almost 80,000 people in mostly rural municipalities in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, Kanjobal is common in places like Santa Eulalia… but rare everywhere else.”

As with other court funding issues; however, funding has been short. The shortages have real consequences, according to the Times Report, “The shortage of interpreters is leading to a host of issues. Often, judges delay immigration hearings until one is found. At times, asylum seekers are deported even if they have a strong case because a qualified interpreter cannot be found in time. And unlike in immigration court, interpreters aren’t provided for free during asylum hearings.”

Gov. Jerry Brown just signed into law the California budget which includes nearly a 10 percent increase in funds for court interpreters, Slator.com reports, bringing the total over $103 million. This is a major development considering the Justice Index placed California in 30th place out of 52 for language access in its 2016 report.

The money isn’t going into a vacuum either, it appears. The reporter notes, “The numbers are huge. A 2015 report by the Judicial Council of California showed that court interpreters in the state provided a total of 254,000 service days from 2012–13.”

As other states struggle with the Border Kids crisis, court interpreter funding will likely become an ever present issue demanding more attention.