Refugee Children

Immigrants on their way to Ellis Island in New York for a naturalization ceremony last week. Credit John Moore/Getty Images

Immigrants on their way to Ellis Island in New York for a naturalization ceremony last week. Credit John Moore/Getty Images

One of the more thoughtful deep-dives into the immigration reform issue is making the rounds via The New York Times. Written by Eduardo Porter, it is one of the few to note that U.S. immigration policy and enforcement may not drive a person’s decision to come to the United States. He also notes the huge population differences brought about by the current trends:

“What the U.S. government is doing in terms of border enforcement, mass deportations and other restrictive policies just isn’t relevant to the decision to stay home,” noted the Mexican Migration Field Research and Training Program of the University of California, San Diego, which has interviewed thousands of immigrants and potential immigrants in communities across Mexico.”
And:
“Immigrants, their children and grandchildren have accounted for 55 percent of the country’s population growth since 1965, according to the Pew Research Center. Then, the country was 84 percent white, 4 percent Hispanic and less than 1 percent Asian. Today it is 62 percent white, 18 percent Hispanic and 6 percent Asian. Unauthorized immigrants, brought close to zero after the legalization wave of the 1980s, are back at an estimated 11 million.”

Read the story here:
Immigration Reform: Disparate Ideas, Disparate Futures

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

NY Mayor Predicts Legal Right To Civil Lawyers

The Wall Street Journal reported (9/29/15) that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio sees "a day not too far away when indigent defendants have a legal right to a lawyer in civil cases."

The Wall Street Journal reported (9/29/15) that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio sees “a day not too far away when indigent defendants have a legal right to a lawyer in civil cases.”

He admits that local jurisdictions will need federal help to make it happen, but New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is predicting that he can “see the day” when indigent defendants have a legal right to a lawyer in civil cases. The mayor was speaking at one of  a series of hearings led by New York’s chief appeals judge on the topic of civil legal services. His comments illustrate that New York continues to lead the nation in providing civil attorneys for life-changing cases like eviction and child custody disputes.
 
The Wall Street Journal is among those reporting on the civil Gideon effort, backgrounding that “… in the landmark 1963 case Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court recognized an indigent defendant’s right to an attorney in a criminal trial. But the high court has never extended the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of counsel to civil cases. The story quotes New York State Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who has led the conversation: “We are talking about the necessities, or essentials, of life… we mean the roof over someone’s head, we mean their physical safety, their livelihoods, the well-being of their families, entitlement issues.”
 

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

Thousands Of Immigration Cases Delayed Until At Least 2019

The Dallas Morning News is reporting that “… thousands of immigrants seeking legalization through the U.S. court system have had their hearings canceled and are being told by the government that it may be 2019 or later before their futures are resolved.” The paper says that “… immigration lawyers in cities that absorbed a large share of those cases, including New York, San Antonio, Los Angeles and Denver, say they’ve had hearings canceled with little notice and received no new court dates. Work permits, green cards, asylum claims, and family reunifications hang in the balance.”
 
By way of background, the cancellations began began to skyrocket over the summer as the Justice Department prioritized the tens of thousands of Central American migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, most of them mothers with children and the high-profile arrival of unaccompanied minors.
 
The Dallas newspaper report quotes David Martin, a law professor at the University of Virginia who worked for two Democratic presidents, who “criticized Congress and the Obama administration for not funding more immigration judges.” He also told the paper that “… you fund more investigators, more detention space, more border patrol, almost all of these are going to produce some kind of immigration court case… you are putting a lot more people into the system. It’s just going to be a big bottleneck unless you increase the size of that pipeline.” Read the story here.

‘Border Kids’ Noted In AP’s Top 2014 Stories

AP photo used in Tampa Bay Times report on 12/22/14 shows "Young detainees sleep in a holding cell on June 18, 2014, at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility in Brownsville,Texas."

AP photo used in Tampa Bay Times report on 12/22/14 shows “Young detainees sleep in a holding cell on June 18, 2014, at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility in Brownsville,Texas.”


The unaccompanied Central American minors seeking refuge in the United States was a key event as “immigration” was a Top 10 story in 2014, according to the Associated Press annual survey of U.S. editors and news directors. The wire service said “police killing of unarmed blacks” was the top story and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was second.
 
On immigration, the AP says that “… frustrated by an impasse in Congress, President Obama took executive actions in November to curb deportations for many immigrants residing in the U.S. illegally. GOP leaders in the House and Senate pledged efforts to block the president’s moves. Prospects for reform legislation were dimmed earlier in the year by the influx of unaccompanied Central American minors arriving at the U.S. border, causing shelter overloads and case backlogs.” Immigration courts are civil justice proceedings managed by the Justice Department. Judges in the system have called for an overhaul, including making the courts independent of law enforcement.
 
See the AP story list for 2014 here, via the Tampa Bay Tribune.
 

Amid Gridlock, California Comes To Border Kids Representation Rescue

The U.S. Congress inactive due to gridlock and campaign season. President Obama inactive, while cynically delaying action until after November’s midterm voting. The Justice Department relatively inactive over the very immigration court system it manages as the U.S. attorney general resigns. But the state of California is stepping up, setting aside $3 million for immediate legal assistance to the tens of thousands of Central American children showing up to see refuge in the United States.
 
Gov. Brown signed the law over the weekend and it includes assistance to keep some students in school who “defied” authority. In a Los Angeles Times story, state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), who backed the measure, said that “… the $3 million to help the immigrant children, said, will provide due process in the United States that will rescue some of them from the “virtual death sentence” they would face if deported to unsafe home countries.” Later, she added in a statement that “… with the stroke of a pen, Governor Brown reaffirmed California’s commitment to doing its part to address the unprecedented humanitarian crisis at [the] border involving Central American youth.”
 
Read the Times story, which also covers other legislation signed ahead of Tuesday’s end-of-month deadline, here: Gov. Brown signs bills aiding immigrant children, troubled students

Immigration ‘Rocket Docket’ Raises Ire In S.F.

Local officials in San Francisco are raising issues with the Department of Justice “rocket docket” for unaccompanied Central American minors who were caught or surrendered to authorities at the U.S. border. The San Francisco Bay Guardian newspaper is reporting that courts are now “… cramming through as many as 50 cases daily.”
  
“This new docket is dramatically accelerating the pace for the cases of newly arrived, traumatized children and families from Central America,” Robin Goldfaden of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Bay Area wrote in an email to the Bay Guardian. “For many, a wrong decision can mean being sent back to unspeakable harm – brutal beatings, rapes, even death. … But nonprofit legal services providers, already stretched beyond capacity, simply do not have the number of attorneys and other staff required to meet the ever-rising level of need.” 
 
At the Sept. 2 Board of Supervisor’s meeting, one county official proposed a budgetary supplemental to allocate $1.2 million for legal representation for unaccompanied youth being processed in immigration court in the Bay Area. “Under international law, many of these kids would actually qualify as refugees,” said the official. “And many of them have cases that would allow them to be protected by immigration law in the US…”
 

SoCal Civil Court Backlogs With Child Immigration Cases

Southern California Public Radio has an important new piece on how Los Angeles courts are handling the immigration crisis of unaccompanied Central American children. Reporter Dorian Merina quotes one judge noting that “… other federal judges hear about 500-600 cases a year” while typical immigration judges in L.A. hear three times as many, or up to 1,600 on average.
 
The judge explains that the situation “.. has led to an historic backlog of cases in the immigration court system nationwide” and that there are about 375,000 pending cases as of June this year, the highest it’s ever been, according to government enforcement.
 
The report also addresses the issue of legal representation, saying that “… of the 7,729 juvenile cases currently in the L.A. courts, just under half, or 3,516, face proceedings without a lawyer, according to TRAC data. (Unlike criminal cases, immigration courts are considered administrative hearings and attorneys are encouraged, but not guaranteed.)”
 
It’s a troubling report from the nation’s largest immigration court: LA’s immigration courts overwhelmed by child migrant cases

Writer Calls Out U.S. Policy On Border-Children Crisis

The writer Ruben Navarrette is citing MLK and Democratic governors in a new CNN piece that also says the Obama Administration is misleading the public about what is actually happening to unaccompanied Central American children seeking refuge in the United States.
 
Navarette, who is also a Daily Beast online columnist and syndicated nationally via the Washington Post Writers Group, begins by citing the civil rights icon: “In his epic ‘Letter from the Birmingham Jail,’ the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. observed that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.’ But now that the Obama administration is fast-tracking the deportation of thousands of undocumented minors, perhaps hoping to get rid of them before the November elections, it’s clear that expedited justice is just as bad.”
 
The writer adds that, “… despite the President’s claim that there is no rush in returning the children and due process would be preserved, the reality is much different. Kids are given court dates they can’t possibly be expected to make — often in another state. Many don’t have lawyers. Deportation cases are being rushed through the pipeline.”
 
He also suggests that the crisis might become a 2016 presidential election issue, noting that “… Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a possible contender for the Democratic nomination in 2016, warned that the administration was giving the migrant children death sentences. O’Malley told a gathering of the National Governors Association in Nashville, Tennessee: ‘We are not a country that should turn children away and send them back to certain death.'”
 
It is one of the strongest indictments yet of how the U.S. is handling the crisis, and you can read it at CNN here: Fast-tracking children to possible death