Driving Issue: 131K Licenses Issued To Undocumented In California

Citing state officials, Reuters is reporting that California issued “about 131,000 driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants in January and February, the first two months since the state began granting the permits to people who are in the country illegally.”
 
The news services added that “the most populous U.S. state joined nine others and the District of Columbia in granting licenses to drivers regardless of immigration status, a controversial move that marked a significant shift in policy toward immigrants in California.” The lack of a driver’s license has long been a problem in the Golden State, prompting some cities to issue their own forms of ID.
 
Between 2 million and 3 million unauthorized immigrants are believed to live in California, making them the nation’s largest such population. Immigration courts, meanwhile, face a backup of some 400,000 cases. Such cases are civil, not criminal, proceedings. To read more about the driving issue, click here.

Lawyer, Location Not Law, Determine Fate Of Asylum-Seeking Children

Access to a lawyer and location of their case is very much more likely to determine the fate of “Border Kids” than laws or other factors, according to a POLITICO analysis that found a “very uneven brand of justice” in U.S. immigration courts. The analysis of government data “… shows that fully 88 percent of the removal orders issued since July have gone to children without an attorney. What’s more, a juvenile assigned to judges in Texas, North Carolina and Georgia in the past 16 months was at least three times more likely to receive such an order than a child in California, Florida or New York.”
 
The resulting POLITICO story implies that the Obama Administration’s “hall pass” on the crisis, which exploded into headlines last summer but diminished in the wake of reform promises, is nearly expired. The D.C.-based publication wrote that “… the same humanitarian crisis that gripped the White House and Congress last year is now a less visible one of American justice. And it still poses a major test for the Obama administration, which promised compassion and fairness in the treatment of the child migrants but also contributed to the current problem by expediting deportation proceedings.”
 
The report is likely a game-changer because it documents the range of outcomes under a “single federal system,” which illustrates it’s anything but a single system. The research compares and contrasts outcome, documenting that “… the number of removal and voluntary departure orders in Texas and North Carolina was 3.5 times the level in California and Florida.

‘Border Kids’ Moves Into New ‘Crisis Of Process’

Photo from the LA Times Report, "7,000 immigrant children ordered deported without going to court," 3/6/15

Photo from the LA Times Report, “7,000 immigrant children ordered deported without going to court,” 3/6/15


Just when you think the “Border Kids” crisis where thousands of minor asylum seekers flood the borders, the situation takes a turn for the worse. Now, the Los Angeles Times reports, “… more than 7,000 immigrant children have been ordered deported without appearing in court since large numbers of minors from Central America began illegally crossing the U.S. border in 2013, federal statistics show.”
 
Not that anyone knows much beyond those orders. The Times notes that immigrant advocates say many of those children were never notified of their hearing date because of problems with the immigration court system. Times sources say that some notices arrived late, some went to the wrong address or perhaps there was no notice delivered at all. Those sources also say some children were ordered to appear in a court where they were initially detained, not where they are living now.
 
Also, nobody really knows how many of those children choose to just not show up for the hearing, or how many were actually notices. ”What was a border crisis has now become a due process crisis,” said Wendy Young, president of Kids in Need of Defense, an advocacy group, in the Times report. Oh, and it is also not known how many of those children facing deportation orders have been sent home – you have to wonder if they even know the hearings happened.
 
Read more on the mess at the Times.

 

NPR Follow-Up Humanizes Those Border Kids Cases

As the United States punts on its obligation to deal with asylum seeking children on its southern border, a new NPR report follows up on the story of  Jose, no last name or country used for fear of gang retaliation, who is “… one of almost 60,000 unaccompanied minors from Central America now living with family and friends in the United States. Most of the youths are awaiting court hearings to determine whether or not they can stay in the country. Many are also going to school and trying to get settled in new homes and new communities.”
 
NPR says that “a recent study by Syracuse University found that two-thirds of unaccompanied minors do not have legal representation — and that having it makes a big difference; those with attorneys are far more likely to be allowed to stay in the United States.”
 
As we have noted before, immigration courts have the look and feel of regular courts, but are actually civil proceedings and the judges are actually Justice Department employees In effect, the “courts” are hearings and NPR quotes one legal-services activist saying “… these kids are facing exile and in some cases death. It’s also very hard to represent yourself pro se when you’re a 10-year-old in a new country and you don’t speak the language.”
 

Compton Mayor, Justice Issues Profiled In HuffPo piece

Courts Monitor Publisher Sara Warner has published a Huffington Post profile on Compton Mayor Aja Brown, drawing from a Time Magazine profile last year and an exclusive interview with the mayor. You can read it here: In California’s ‘Hip Hop City,’ Mayor Looks ‘Beyond Brooklyn’

Church-Based ‘Guardian Angels” Step Into Help ‘Border Kids’ Facing Deportation

A Los Angeles Times report highlights efforts of a Lutheran church group becoming de facto court watchers to make sure the “border kids” – those under-18 would-be immigrants from countries other than Mexico who recently flooded into the U.S. – understand their rights under American law. Advocates say the Justice Department courts that review cases are wildly uneven and outcomes depend largely on legal representation. Those charged in the courts do not have a right to an attorney because the cases are considered civil actions.
 
Reports the LAT: “Because the government does not provide lawyers to immigrants facing removal, many of the children have ended up navigating complex deportation proceedings alone. Last fiscal year, 72% of children in deportation hearings were not represented by an attorney, according to federal data analyzed by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.”
 
Leaders of the guardian angels program, notes the Times, include the Lutheran pastor “… who hatched the idea last summer after hearing that children’s deportation hearings were being fast-tracked through the court system. More than three-fourths of children’s court cases closed in the second half of last year resulted in removal orders, according to the federal Executive Office of Immigrant Review. In the vast majority of those cases, the deportation orders were issued in absentia because the children did not show up for their hearings.”
 

Judges Renew Calls For Immigration Court Reform

After a period of relative quiet, the immigration judges facing hundreds of thousands of cases are speaking out, calling for help amid a crisis. A new NPR report explains that “… as Congress debates the fate of President Obama’s immigration policies, the nation’s immigration court system is bogged down in delays exacerbated by the flood of unaccompanied minors who crossed the southern border last summer. The administration made it a priority for those cases to be heard immediately. As a result, hundreds of thousands of other cases have been delayed until as late as 2019.”
 
NPR adds that “even before this past summer’s surge of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum, the immigration courts were already clogged, says Judge Dana Leigh Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges. There were too many cases for too few judges, and adding in the cases of the unaccompanied minors only made matters worse. There are currently more than 429,000 cases pending in the courts with just 223 judges.
 
The “judges” are not part of the usual judicial system, but are actually employees of the Justice Department – that means, for example, that they could not hold government agents – really, their co-workers – in contempt of court during one of the hearings. Read more: Immigration Courts ‘Operating In Crisis Mode,’ Judges Say

New Courts Director Targets Pension Reform

That state auditor’s report illustrating free-spending ways for
California’s top courts officials has helped spark some reform. The
Courthouse News reports that “… in his first round of big changes to
California’s court bureaucracy, new director Martin Hoshino answered a
scathing report from the state auditor with a series of reforms that
included eliminating a lavish pension benefit for the top brass.

The CN adds that “the controversial perk was cut back in 2012 by Chief
Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, but top executives were still receiving
another 22% in pension contributions from public funds on top of their
salaries, including Chief Operating Officer Curt Childs, Chief
Administrative Officer Curt Soderlund and Chief of Staff Jody Patel.
The pension benefit for the top officials caught the attention of the
California State Auditor, who honed in on the perk in a scathing
report released in January after a nearly year-long investigation of
the bureaucracy, formerly known as the Administrative Office of the
Courts. The new director said the benefit would end July 1st.”

Read the CN story
here:http://www.courthousenews.com/2015/02/19/new-director-of-california-court-agency-cuts-perk-for-top-brass.htm of reforms that
included eliminating a lavish pension benefit for the top brass.

The CN adds that “the controversial perk was cut back in 2012 by Chief
Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, but top executives were still receiving
another 22% in pension contributions from public funds on top of their
salaries, including Chief Operating Officer Curt Childs, Chief
Administrative Officer Curt Soderlund and Chief of Staff Jody Patel.
The pension benefit for the top officials caught the attention of the
California State Auditor, who honed in on the perk in a scathing
report released in January after a nearly year-long investigation of
the bureaucracy, formerly known as the Administrative Office of the
Courts. The new director said the benefit would end July 1st.”

Read the CN story
here:http://www.courthousenews.com/2015/02/19/new-director-of-california-court-agency-cuts-perk-for-top-brass.htm

State Courts’ Image On The Upswing

A new poll shows that public perception of state courts is improving on all fronts, but people would really, really prefer to skip a trip to the courthouse and use the Internet when at all possible.

The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) commissioned the  2014 State of State Courts Poll, asking 1,000 registered voters last November to weigh in questions ranging from procedural fairness and customer service to judges’ work hours and salaries. Not surprisingly, the group notes that “… the GBA report concludes that public doubts about political influence and bias represent the greatest threat to public confidence in the courts.”

Read more.

Justice Reform Create Odd Political Bedfellows

It seems that fixing the American justice system continues to be one place where America’s most high-profile political enemies can find common ground. The New York Times is reporting http://blogs.reuters.com/alison-frankel/2014/10/23/criminal-defense-lawyers-group-no-reason-to-shun-koch-industries-money/ that the “usually bitter adversaries” of Koch Industries and the Center for American Progress have agreed to work together on a new group, the Coalition for Public Safety. Other participating groups, left and right, include the ACLU, Americans for Tax Reform and Tea-Party leaning FreedomWorks. They’ll start with $5 million.
 
According to the NYT, “organizers of the advocacy campaign… consider it to be the largest national effort focused on the strained prison and justice system. They also view the coalition as a way to show lawmakers in gridlocked Washington that factions with widely divergent views can find ways to work together and arrive at consensus policy solutions.” 
 
This follows a Koch effort with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, which Reuters recently noted “… announced a major new grant to fund training for lawyers who represent indigent defendants. That’s no surprise. Providing good lawyers for defendants who can’t afford counsel is a core mission for NACDL. But the source of the funding caused a bit of a stir: Koch Industries, the Kansas-based, privately held manufacturing conglomerate that is the source of the boundless wealth of Charles and David Koch.”
 
Reuters noted that the “senate’s Democratic majority leader, Harry Reid, has tagged them [the Kochs] (via Talking Points Memo) “‘un-American’ plutocrats who ‘have no conscience and are willing to lie’ in order to ‘rig the system’ against the middle class.” That report said NACDL’s president told the reporter that  the group only cares that Koch Industries shares its view of the sanctity of the Sixth Amendment and defendants’ right to council.
 
So far, the odd-bedfellow efforts have been all about criminal, not civil, courts. But any improvements are bound to help both sides of that ledger.