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.

Advocate Outlines Woes As Immigration Court Backlog Moves Past 500,000

Photo Credit: Francis Riviera

Photo Credit: Francis Riviera

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

Tucson Newspaper Outlines Asylum-Immigration Trend

Esteban/Felix: Associated Press

Esteban/Felix: Associated Press

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

HuffPo Writer Notes Milestone For Immigration Court Backlog

The HuffPo writer B. Shaw Drake is noting an uptick in the number of immigration judges and some progress in Congress toward adding even more judges, a key to reducing the administrative backlog that leaves people waiting years and years to make their case for staying in the country. The report notes a new Human Rights First report: “In the Balance: Backlogs Delay Protection in the U.S. Asylum and Immigration Court Systems,” takes a deep look at the immigration court backlog, its causes and potential solutions. The report finds that chronic underfunding and hiring challenges have left the courts with two few judges to handle a steady flow of incoming cases. The result is wait times that stretch over three years nationally, and up to five or six years at the nation’s most burdened courts.

The crisis outlined: “As of May 2016, 492,978 cases were pending before the immigration courts, up from 480,815 just three months ago. That number that will likely top half a million cases when data is available for June 2016.”

You can read about the progress, such that it is, here: A Milestone In The Immigration Court Backlog Points To Progress

Thousands More Border Kids Swept Into Provider-Attorney Lawsuit

Remember that class-action lawsuit involving legal representation for thousands of “border kids” facing deportation? The one where a senior immigration judge named Jack Well said in a sworn deposition that children did not need legal representation and that he had “taught immigration law literally to 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds” who were facing deportation.
 
Just last month, U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly certified a class in that lawsuit, filed in 2014 by a coalition of immigration-rights groups, that officials say could impact thousands of immigrant children awaiting deportation hearings. Zilly ordered the class of immigrants swept into the lawsuit to include all children under the age of 18 residing in the 9th Judicial Circuit who are facing so-called “removal proceedings” after June 24. It also includes those children who don’t currently have an attorney and can’t otherwise afford one, and who may be eligible for asylum or protection under the United Nation’s Convention Against Torture, which forbids countries from returning people to any country where there is reason to believe they will be tortured.
 
“This ruling means that thousands of children will now have a fighting chance at getting a fair day in immigration court,” said Ahilan Arulanantham, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrant Rights Project in Los Angeles.
 

VICE News Outlines Another Immigration Narrative

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

While a recent U.S. Supreme Court made mainstream headlines for dealing President Obama a setback on his attempts to aid undocumented residents, a different narrative has been growing among more alternative media outlets. In particular, VICE has produced some powerful reporting on how the Obama Administration is going after asylum seekers from Central America. A recent pice noted that:

[A] legal coalition, known as the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project, reported 40 cases of women and children arrested by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) since the series of immigration raids began in May. The majority of those arrests took place in workplaces, homes, and schools, and the CARA project alleges that federal immigration officials engaged in “aggressive and inappropriate conduct.”

The Department of Homeland Security has said that immigration enforcement actions would target Central American migrants who had exhausted their legal options to remain in the United States, but the CARA project’s report suggests that in at least 21 of these cases, immigrants have valid asylum claims that have not yet been heard in an immigration court. Moreover, several of those arrested by ICE did not have an outstanding deportation order, according to the group.

You can see the VICE story here: Immigration Raids in the US Are Targeting People with Valid Asylum Claims, According to a New Report | VICE | Canada

“Equally Divided Court” (Sorta) Leaves Obama’s Deportation Executive Order In Limbo

Questions will persist on whether President Obama superceded his authority by creating by executive order the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program designed to defer deportation for millions of immigrants.

Today, the Huffington Post reports the Supremes affirmed a lower court ruling that blocked the program stating simply, “The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided court.” While immigration advocates may lament the loss, the order itself rings hollow given the Administration’s renewed call last month to seek out and deport Border Kids escaping gang and drug cartel violence from Central America.

Irrespective of where one stands on the immigration reform debate, the fact is that the question of executive power was left unanswered because now even the judicial branch has been brought to a standstill.

One Nation? It’s All Regional When It Comes To Staying In U.S.A.

The Associated Press, using the Freedom of Information Act, is reporting that “… youngsters whose applications are handled by the U.S. government’s regional offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles are far more likely to win approval from asylum officers than those applying in Chicago or Houston…” and the report also explains that “… the figures offer a snapshot of how the government is handling the huge surge over the past two years in the number of Central American children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border unaccompanied by adults. Tens of thousands of youngsters — many of them fleeing gang violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — have overflowed U.S. shelters and further clogged the nation’s overwhelmed immigration courts.”

The AP backgrounds that “… under federal law, these children can apply to remain in the country in a process that involves an interview with an asylum officer from one of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ eight regional offices. To win their cases, they must show that they have been persecuted or are in danger of persecution.” The report notes that “.. overall, 37 percent were granted asylum, but the rate varied dramatically from 86 percent at the San Francisco office, which handles applications for a swath of the Pacific Northwest, to 15 percent in Chicago, which covers 15 states from Ohio to Idaho.”

Read how much geography is destiny here: AP Exclusive: Children’s Asylum Approvals Vary by US Region

Trump Promises Deportation, But Obama Already Delivering It

Advocates say immigration raids are making it more difficult to contact potential Latino voters. | AP

Advocates say immigration raids are making it more difficult to contact potential Latino voters. | AP

While Donald J. Trump has outraged immigration advocates by saying he intended to deport massive numbers of undocumented residents, the Obama administration is outraging many of the same people by actually deporting families here to seek asylum from dangerous countries. Politico is reporting that “… the administration has so far declined to confirm specifics about the latest round of raids, which were disclosed in a Reuters report this month. According to a document obtained by the news agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have told agents across the country to prepare for a 30-day ‘surge’ of arrests targeting mothers and children who have recently arrived in the country illegally but have been told to return to their home countries.

One part of the political fallout is simply that immigrant families that might worry about their status just don’t come to the door when political organizers visit. Politico is all over the story here:

Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2016/05/immigration-raids-latinos-sanders-clinton-223671#ixzz4AFkexpwS

Atlanta Is Worst For Avoiding Deportation

STEVE EBERHARDT FOR THE HUFFINGTON POST Kimberly Pineda Chavez and her mother, Lourdes, came to the U.S. from Honduras.

STEVE EBERHARDT FOR THE HUFFINGTON POST
Kimberly Pineda Chavez and her mother, Lourdes, came to the U.S. from Honduras.

Elise Foley, the Huffington Post’s immigration reporter, has a devastating story about Atlanta being the “worst” for immigrants hoping to avoid deportation. She notes that “… more than a third of the people detained under what the government calls Operation Border Guardian were from the Atlanta area, more than any other ICE jurisdiction.

There’s a reason for this. Immigration law doesn’t vary from state to state or court to court. But immigrants’ odds do, and by the numbers, Atlanta is one of the worst places in the country to be an undocumented immigrant hoping to avoid deportation. Justice Department-appointed judges in that court denied asylum 98 percent of the time in the 2015 fiscal year, the highest rate of any immigration court that heard more than five cases. Eighty-eight percent of cases that went before Atlanta immigration courts ended with a removal order. That’s way over the national average: In the country as a whole, immigration judges denied about 52 percent of asylum claims, and 69 percent of cases resulted in a deportation order.”

She also backgrounds that “…Atlanta immigration judges have been accused of bullying children, badgering domestic violence victims and setting standards for relief and asylum that lawyers say are next to impossible to meet. Given Atlanta immigration judges’ reluctance to grant asylum, some immigrants who fear returning to their native countries don’t even pursue it.”
Read the story here: Here’s Why Atlanta Is One Of The Worst Places To Be An Undocumented Immigrant