Another NBC I-Team Bombshell On Immigration Court Crisis

There must have been a memo. Another NBC station is breaking news on the immigration court crisis, with the New York affiliate reporting on a huge loophole for entering the U.S. The station’s in-depth coverage includes that “… according to court sources… [the source] is at least the 14th Amandeep Singh from the Punjab state of India to seek immigration help in Queens Family Court — a place better known for custody and child support cases. Singh tells a judge he was abused by his parents, starved and beaten with sticks. Although this may be completely true, judges say they have no investigative recourse. After one hour in court, Singh, who is undocumented and was smuggled across the border, was well on his way to getting a green card, permanent legal status and the right to work in the U.S.”
Read the story here.

TV News Report Includes Director’s Rare Comments Demanding Change

A California NBC TV affiliate has scored a rare interview with the director of the nation’s immigration system, and he’s not holding back in blaming lawmakers for what amounts to a broken system. Bay Area NBC says that “… in his first ever TV interview on camera, the Director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) tells NBC Bay Area that only a complete overhaul by Congress will truly fix the issues plaguing the current system.”
“There’s no question that the system, the immigration court system, is under incredible stress right now,” Director Juan Osuna told the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit, which conducted the interview in Washington, D.C. The multi-part report says that “… according to EOIR’s latest figures, US Immigration Courts received 306,045 cases in 2014 alone. Many of those cases were never heard, adding to a backlog which now totals 445,607 according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC.”
The comments are rare, both because of what NBC called “tradition” and also because the immigration system, including the judicial branch, are not “courts” at all but really are a function of the Department of Justice. 
See the milestone story here.

Judges Oppose Proposed Budget Oversight

Judges and court clerks on the Judicial Council’s Trial Court Budget Advisory Committee are opposing a proposed rule change “… that would give a different council committee the authority to go back and review how the council and its staff spent judiciary funds on behalf of the courts,” the Courthouse News Service (CNS) is reporting.
In a detailed story, the CNS quotes a San Luis Obispo judge complaining that the rule change would be “… a complete diminution of the authority of” the existing committee while adding that “… this [judicial] branch has a history of problems with credibility and transparency. I think we’ve worked on that, but this goes backwards. It reduces transparency.”
The rule change comes in response to a harsh state audit that questioned how the courts spend money and create transparent decision-making.
Read the CNS story here.

Immigration Court Backlog Nearly A Half-Million Cases

The latest update from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, the group most-cited for keeping track of the immigration courts backlog, sets the number of pending cases at a new all-time high of 445,000, with “routine” hearings being delayed for up to four years.
The Los Angels Times is among those taking notice, saying that the rising caseload “… is a nearly 30% increase since Oct. 1, 2013, the start of the last fiscal year” and “… immigration courts have been overwhelmed since the influx last fiscal year of more than 68,500 unaccompanied children and about as many family units crossing the southern border, most from Central America.”
They also noted a changing trend, because “… most backlogged cases involved Mexican immigrants, their backlog has increased only about 4% since the start of last fiscal year, while the backlog has skyrocketed for Central Americans — up 63% for Guatemalans, 92% for Salvadorans and 143% for Hondurans.”
Federal data indicates that California, Texas, and New York led the nation with the largest immigration backlogs, followed by Florida and New Jersey.
The nation’s “immigration courts” are actually a division of the Justice Department, not really federal courts at all. The system report that it has 233 judges in 58 courts nationwide and officials say 17 more are expected to start by month’s end with 68 more are in the process of being hired. But Judge Dana Leigh Marks, who’s been on the bench for 28 years and is president of the National Assn. of Immigration Judges, told the L.A. Times that some 100 immigration judges were expected to retire this year.

New State Budget Gives Courts A Slight Increase


Gov. Brown’s latest spending  plan gives California courts a slight boost from the January version, but falls well short of restoring the drastic cuts that have hit the system over the last half-decade. The San Jose Mercury-News break it down as “… [the increase is] from last year’s $3.29 billion to about $3.47 billion, with most of that increase headed to the 58 trial courts around California hit hardest by past cutbacks. Courts in counties across the state, including Bay Area systems in Santa Clara, San Mateo, Alameda and Contra Costa counties, have been forced to reduce public hours, lay off employees and shutter remote courthouses as a result of prior cuts that at one point exceeded $1 billion over several years.”

Read the story here.

UPDATE: House Committee Endorses Asbestos Bankruptcy ‘Transparency’ Proposal

By a 19-9 vote along party lines Thursday (May 14), the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee has decided to send an asbestos bankruptcy transparency proposal to the full House. The legislation, called “FACT,” for Furthering Asbestos Claims Transparency, would require court-approved bankruptcy trust funds to disclose name, claim and payout information of people seeking payouts from the funds.
Dozens of the trust funds have been created to address liability of bankrupt firms facing asbestos exposure liability. Republicans argue that transparency is needed to prevent “double dipping” from people who get paid by both trusts and civil lawsuits; Democrats counter that trusts are a different system and defendants could get the payout information via pre-lawsuit discovery efforts. Both sides claim to have interests of veterans at heart.
Watch the sometimes testy debate at the House website archives (note it might take some time to convert the webcast to archive):

Post-Ferguson Reform Continues To Focus On Courts, Traffic


A new report released by a coalition of legal aid groups in California is the latest documentation of how local governments’ quest for traffic-ticket funds has skewed the judicial landscape. The Los Angeles Times notes that the report “… comes a month after the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division issued its report on Ferguson, Mo., which criticized similar practices for their disparate effect on low-income and largely minority populations.”

The report says that “… traffic-court fines layered with escalating fees and penalties have led to driver’s license suspensions for 4.2 million Californians — or one in six drivers — pushing many low-income people deeper into poverty…” 

“As in Ferguson,” the California report noted, “these policies disproportionately impact people of color, beginning with who gets pulled over in the first place.” Reformers are calling for, among other things, an end to license suspensions for unpaid tickets and a reduction in fees and penalties.

Read the LAT story here.

Welcome To Juror Appreciation Week

A new study has found that about 30 percent of Los Angeles residents called for jury duty don’t bother showing up at all, and only about 20 percent of folks in the city participate actually participate in jury service. This as we celebrate “Juror Appreciation Week” in the Golden State.
A former city attorney, writing in the San Gabriel Valley newspaper makes a case for appreciation, noting that “… we can do better than that. According to the study, the statewide average of ‘no-show’ jurors is 20 percent… it only goes to show that Los Angeles has a way to go to be on par with jury service across the rest of the state.”
You can read the case for jury duty here.

First Marijuana RICO Case, Colorado Hotel Claims Lost Business in Civil Suit

Civil lawsuits continue to muddy the waters in states that have legalized marijuana, with a new Colorado case asserting that selling weed nearby has hurt business at a Holiday Inn. The Summit Daily News is reporting that “… nearly three months after two heartland states sued Colorado in federal court, a Frisco dispensary is now at the epicenter of the first-ever racketeering lawsuit filed against a marijuana business since the advent of legal weed.
On Thursday, the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Safe Streets Alliance named Medical Marijuana of the Rockies as one of 12 defendants in a federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) case.”
The newspaper said that “… Safe Streets sponsored the lawsuit in partnership with co-plaintiff New Vision Hotels, the Colorado Springs company that owns the Frisco Holiday Inn. Frisco is a tourist-intensive mountain town just west of Denver.
Also from the SDN: “This is really the only course of action left for the hotel,” said Brian Barnes, the plaintiffs’ spokesman and one of several attorneys working the case. “They weren’t sure of other options available to them, and the reality is that when people talk about marijuana being legal in Colorado, it is still illegal in the United States and selling marijuana is against the law. They have a legal right to not be injured by that activity.”
The Holiday Inn managers had previously asked the Frisco Town Council to deny the license to the marijuana merchants who wanted to operate about 75 yards from the hotel entrance. The SDN reported that “… hotel representatives argued that a prospective marijuana dispensary has already harmed business, citing cancellations from several youth ski teams after the town council debates made national news.”
Read the story here.

How Clinton’s Immigration Policy Would Differ From Obama’s

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton made headlines by calling for a path to full and equal citizenship for undocumented immigrants, but offered few details on how her programs as president would go beyond what President Obama has done by executive order. Immigration cases are civil actions and some 400,000 cases are backed up in the special “immigration courts” which are actually operated by the U.S. Justice Department, not the usual courts system.
The left-leaning website ThinkProgress has a solid analysis of how Clinton’s ideas differ from Obama’s, noting that the candidate “… called for granting ‘full and equal citizenship’ to undocumented immigrants; extending an existing executive action that provides deportation protections to so-called DREAMers, or undocumented immigrants, giving legal representation to immigrants in immigration court; and reforming immigration enforcement and detention practices ‘so they’re more humane, more targeted, and more effective.'”
See more of the analysis here.