The National and California Courts Monitor websites are taking a summer break. We will resume daily postings on the Tuesday after Labor Day.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
In a Huffington Post blog post, Courts Monitor Publisher Sara Warner recalls another leaked memo, well before email was to blame.
Rigged Memories? DNC Email Leak Recalls Asbestos-Victim Memo Scandal
The BuzzFeed News is among those noting the milestone in Immigration Court backlog, reporting that “… the backlog of immigration court cases has ballooned to an all-time high of more than 500,000, a number fueled by unaccompanied minors and families from Central America, officials said Wednesday” and adding that “… the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) said there are 500,051 pending immigration cases in the U.S. system. To deal with the backlog, EOIR plans to boost the number of immigration judges from 277 to 399.”
Reporter Adolfo Flores backgrounds that “… the backlog has been fueled by a growing number of unaccompanied minors and families, mostly from Central America, who have been crossing the border in recent years. Many of them are fleeing violence back home and are seeking better economic prospects in the US.”
Read the story here:
California-based Chevron has won the latest court decision in a case that the Wall Street Journal calls “… one the longest running in corporate history.” The WSJ backgrounds that “… Monday’s decision affirms a lower-court ruling by U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, who found in 2014 that the $9.5 billion environmental-damage judgment won by New York lawyer Steven Donziger and his Ecuadorean plaintiffs against Chevron was obtained through fraud and corruption. Judge Kaplan ruled Mr. Donziger couldn’t enforce the judgment in the U.S. or profit from the award anywhere in the world.
One reason the case will continue: “The appeals judges wrote that although the $9.5 billion judgment can’t be enforced in the U.S., their ruling does not stop the plaintiffs from taking action to enforce the judgment elsewhere.”
Read about the latest chapter of the saga here:http://www.wsj.com/articles/chevron-wins-ruling-blocking-enforcement-of-9-5-billion-ecuador-judgment-1470686218
In an opinion piece in The Hill newspaper in Washington D.C., a San Antonio immigration advocate outlines a recent milestone in the immigration court backlog: “In numbers just released, the backlog in immigration courts has now risen above half a million cases (500,051). Immigrants wait an average of 672 days for resolution of their cases, and for some cases the wait can reach up to six years. The highest number of pending cases are in California (93,466 cases), Texas (87,088 cases), and New York (86,834 cases).”
Sara Ramey says that “… in Texas, where my NGO RAICES serves the immigrant community, the average wait for resolution of a case is 712 days. The San Antonio court is setting hundreds, if not thousands, of cases for Nov. 29, 2019 as a place holder until the court can find a date, likely on an even later day. And this is just to start proceedings, not to determine the merits of the case.
Ramey does a good job outlining the problems when cases go that long and makes an appeal for both political parties to step up on the issue. See her argument here: http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/judicial/289875-immigration-court-delays-make-a-mockery-of-us-justice
Courts Monitor Publisher Sara Warner, in a Huffington Post blog, reminds us that internal communication leaks are not always emails. She looks at the famous “B&B script memo” at HuffPo. The idea of “rigged memories” is newly relevant and the 19-year-old memo is even in a new documentary.
Rigged Memories? DNC Email Leak Recalls Asbestos-Victim Memo Scandal
The typical narrative of undocumented immigration, sneaking across the border, is giving way to people who turn themselves in at the border, say officials in a Tucson.com report. Why? The report by Perla Trevino of the Arizona Daily Star newspaper explains that “… as soon as people who turn themselves in at an official crossing point say they are afraid of returning to their home country, it sets in motion the asylum process, which can drag on for years.”
The report backgrounds that “… more and more on the Southwest border, the new challenge is mixed flows,” said Doris Meissner, former commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute. “The basic illegal immigration of young men or younger Mexicans who are purely coming for job function is basically behind us.”
One surprise: “Cubans are responsible for a large share of this growth. Since fiscal 2010, the number of Cubans presenting themselves at Southwest ports of entry has grown from 5,500 to nearly 34,000 as of June of this fiscal year.”
Immigration cases are a leading example of civil justice rationing. The immigration “courts” are actually Justice Department administrative hearings and the judges are employees of the department, not independent judges. The system is backed up by a half-million cases, including asylum seekers, many of them children who have arrived at the border independently of adults.
See the report here: Asylum-seekers pose new challenge to US immigration system