Finally: Capacity Cited In Immigration Courts Crisis

For the “about time” file, discussion of the ongoing crisis of unaccompanied Central American children seeking refuge in the U.S. is moving beyond theories and finger-pointing to address the capacity issue. And that issue is that there’s not enough court capacity.
The Reuters news service has a sobering report that walks us through the numbers: “… U.S. immigration courts have a backlog of 375,373 cases, almost 50,000 more than they faced two years ago, according to Justice Department figures… one of the 243 judges presiding over 59 immigration courts in the United States, is setting hearing dates as far off as 2018. It now typically takes three to five years for cases to clear the system, judges and lawyers said… on a recent Wednesday at a crowded immigration court in Arlington, Virginia, a judge was setting February 2017 asylum hearings for juveniles. While Reuters does not mention it, we would add that this is possible because immigration courts are civil, not criminal, and thus exempt from decades of “timely trial” laws.
The report does cite budget cuts and other problems, like passing more complex laws without increasing capacity to implement the changes, but also says that the government’s planned solutions are likely to only make things worse.

2-Year-Old Taken From Court Found Unharmed

BREAKING NEWS: The Associated Press is citing the City News Service in reporting that the 2-year-old girl abducted Wednesday by her parents during a family court custody hearing “has been found unharmed in Arizona.” The AP explains that “… the grandmother of Mariah Salguero was granted temporary custody of the child at the court proceeding Wednesday morning. Shortly afterward, police say, the child’s parents took the girl out of the courtroom.”

Immigration Debate Shifts To U.S. Role

Debate over the immigration crisis of unaccompanied Central American children is shifting from immediate needs like housing and toward the role of the United States in creating the causes for the influx. An editorial blog from The Dallas Morning News explains why understanding the U.S. role is so important: “If Central American minors can make a credible claim that deportation would expose them to persecution or sexual exploitation in their home countries, U.S. immigration judges are likely to be lenient and let them stay. But the bar is set very high — and for a good reason.”
As stories surface about U.S.-based gangs operating in the countries of origin for the children, you can expect that debate over “causes” to increase. And how the civil immigration courts manage to verify any claims is going to be interesting.
Here’s the Morning News take from editorial writer Tod Robberson: 

WaPo: Obama Admin. Was Warned Of Border-Children Crisis

Top officials at the White House and the State Department had been warned repeatedly of the potential for a further explosion in the number of migrant children since the crisis began escalating two years ago, according to former federal officials and others familiar with internal discussions, The Washington Post is reporting.
The newspaper also says that the White House was directly involved in efforts in early 2012 to care for the children when it helped negotiate a temporary shelter at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, which would seem to contradict administration claims that nobody could see the crisis brewing – at least not on the scale we see today. Meanwhile, estimates of Central American children arriving in the U.S. without accompanying parents or guardians is being revised from around 60,000 to more like 90,000 and up.
The border crisis is a civil justice crisis. The immigration process is a civil proceeding, as opposed to a criminal case, so children are not guaranteed representation by an attorney or a speedy process, as would be the case with criminal charges. Civil rights groups are suing the government in hopes of obtaining mandatory legal representation for the children.

Culver City Attorney Elected Court Commissioner

The MetNews is reporting that “… Culver City attorney Brenda Penny has been elected a Los Angeles Superior Court commissioner, Presiding Judge David Wesley informed judicial officers Friday… Penny, a former probate attorney for the court, was elected in balloting by the court’s judges. She was the highest-ranked candidate on the list of those nominated by a panel of judges. 
But ongoing budget cuts impacted the move. The MetNews report notes that ”… the court has had a commissioner post open since David Cowan was recently appointed a judge. Electing a commissioner to fill the opening means that the post will not be converted to a judgeship.”

Unaccompanied Child Refugee Crisis: Calling Out The Guard

With Texas Governor Rick Perry doubling-down on the “security option” in the wake of an ongoing children’s refugee crisis on the southwestern U.S. border, it might be a decent time to review just how we got to a point of “calling out the National Guard.” Gov. Perry is announcing that he’s sending 1,000 national guard soldiers to the border, says the New York Times, which adds that “… Democrats, including Texas lawmakers in the border region, immediately lined up in opposition to the deployment plan, calling it an attempt to score political points and to militarize the border.”
Of course, for Gov. Perry and others the current crisis around unaccompanied children immigrating from Central America is the latest among ongoing border security issues. But that crisis has focused attention on immigration, and especially immigration of unaccompanied children. National Public Radio, which helped break the story and has been an informational leader, said the situation is “… turning into the largest influx of asylum seekers on U.S. soil since the 1980 Mariel boatlift out of Cuba. Since October, more than 52,000 children — most from Central America and many of them unaccompanied by adults — have been taken into custody. That’s nearly double last year’s total and 10 times the number from 2009.”
“Because of a backlog, which is growing greatly with the recent influx, in essence a kid releasedtomorrow could stay in the U.S. for up to three years waiting for that date,” explains NPR’s Carrie Kahn. “And for most of these kids, that’s three years with a long-lost relative or three years away from extreme poverty and violence.” A child migration advocacy group says that “… as many as 90 percent of the children stay with relatives or family friends already living in the U.S., with the rest placed in foster care…”

Gov. Brown Calls Child-Immigration Crisis A ‘Tragedy,’ Critic Says Comments Are ‘Empty’



California Gov. Jerry Brown, who has said the Golden State could be a “leader” on national immigration policy even though the issues involved are usually federally controlled, has called the border-crossing crisis involving unaccompanied children a “crisis,” but stopped well short of commenting on what the state might do about the situation, according to a Fresno Bee newspaper report. The Bee also reports that Brown “…accused critics of exploiting the situation for political gain.”
The Bee also reported that the governor’s state Office of Emergency Services “… said earlier this week that the administration has been coordinating with federal and local law enforcement officials, including providing assistance with crowd and traffic control. Brown said Friday that California is a destination for immigrants because they think the state is ‘great.’”
“By the way, they may come in through Texas because they have so many holes in the border down there, but they usually want to get over to California as fast as they can because stuff is happening here,” Brown said. He added, “I’m not saying I’m encouraging that. I’m not.”
Meanwhile, Neel Kashkari, the Republican conducting what’s largely seen as a longshot campaign to unseat Brown in the November election, called the governor’s comments “empty.”

Read more here.


Counter-protests Highlight Ongoing Child-Immigration Crisis

The ongoing failure of the civil immigration system is bringing counter-protests to the Murrieta community Southern California, where angry residents turned away three Homeland Security buses transporting unaccompanied minors from nations other than Mexico to facilities there. The transfer came after an estimated 37,600 unaccompanied minors were detained at the border since October, overcrowding facilities there.
Last week, more than 200 pro-immigrant activists held a vigil at Murrieta City Hall on Wednesdayevening for the migrant families that have found themselves in Southern California, the USA Today and other outlets report. That newspaper writes that “… Border Patrol spokesman Paul Carr said the agency has reduced its backlog in south Texas and is now able to process more migrants there… Carr said the decision to discontinue transfers to San Diego and El Centro was not a result of the ongoing protests that have taken place in Murrieta, Calif.”
While the reports use the term “arrested,” the immigration issues are actual civil, not criminal, charges. The difference is stark, including that civil defendants do not have the same rights to be represented by an attorney, a situation that has brought its own protests and lawsuits.
Read the USA Today protest story here: Debating the nation’s immigration laws –

ACLU Leader Outlines Immigration Lawsuit Argument

As reported by NPR: Detainees sleep and watch television in a holding cell where hundreds of mostly Central American immigrant children are being processed at a U.S. Customs facility in Nogales, Texas.

As reported by NPR: Detainees sleep and watch television in a holding cell where hundreds of mostly Central American immigrant children are being processed at a U.S. Customs facility in Nogales, Texas.

With armed “citizen groups” starting to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border and angry crowds protesting the arrival of children into their communities, the ongoing “unaccompanied children immigration” crisis is growing worse. Clearly, this is a tragic worst-case example of what happens with “rationing justice” in our civil courts, and California has the biggest caseload backup with tens of thousands of kids awaiting a day in court.

In a major Los Angeles Times opinion piece, the director of the ACLU of Southern California outlines theories behind this week’s lawsuit against the U.S. Government, filed by his group and other civil rights groups. Among other issues, the groups argue for legal representation, saying that 
“… the appointment of counsel is the only way to ensure that children with potentially valid claims can present the necessary arguments and proof. Given the complexities of immigration law and the language and cultural barriers immigrants face, it should surprise no one that attorneys matter in immigration proceedings. A 2012 study of New York immigration courts showed that immigrants who proceed without representation are five times more likely to lose their cases than those who have counsel.”
The ACLU director also argues that, while we may use the term “immigration,” these children are more accurately classified as refugees fleeing for their lives. These are the emerging talking points on the escalating crisis, and you can find them here: Kids caught at the border deserve due process, including lawyers

Non-Representation Of Immigration Children Sheds Light On System

As reported by the LA Times: Karla Salazar, right, and Ellen Leonard on Tuesday joined nearly 100 demonstrators at the naval base in Port Hueneme, where hundreds of immigrant children are being housed. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

As reported by the LA Times: Karla Salazar, right, and Ellen Leonard on Tuesday joined nearly 100 demonstrators at the naval base in Port Hueneme, where hundreds of immigrant children are being housed. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

In a country where citizens are only vaguely aware that immigration is mostly controlled by civil, not criminal, courts, the ongoing “unaccompanied children” crisis is serving to shed some light on how the civil courts work – or, more exactly, how they sometimes don’t work. Now a coalition of immigration groups has filed a federal lawsuit against the United States over non-representation of these children, The Los Angeles Times is reporting.

The Times reports that “… the immigrant advocacy groups that filed suit are targeting ongoing actions in which immigration officials have initiated proceedings to deport thousands of minors, both recent arrivals as well as those who have lived for years in the United States but without permission. Many of the children never hire attorneys, appearing in court by themselves. Because immigration cases are civil, not criminal proceedings, defendants are not guaranteed the right to legal counsel.”
The immigration groups make the same basic argument that other juvenile advocates make, “… attorneys argue that children are not equipped to represent themselves in serious cases that can determine their future, lacking the intellectual and emotional capacity of adults as well as knowledge of legal remedies that may be available to them.”

Meanwhile, federal authorities say that some of the 243 immigration judges in 59 courts nationwide will be reassigned to hear the cases, either at the border or by video with some new judges appointed temporarily. Clearly, the issue is not going away – read some of the Times’ excellent coverage here.

U.S. sued for not providing attorneys to children in immigration court