Trump administration cites success in migrant-family reunification effort, but what of ‘deleted families’?

Photo Credit: Ivan Pierre Aguirre/For The Washington Post as reported on 7/28/18.

Photo Credit: Ivan Pierre Aguirre/For The Washington Post as reported on 7/28/18.

By Thursday, July 26, when a court-ordered deadline loomed for the Trump administration to reunite hundreds of migrant families, government officials reported compliance.

The Washington Post reported on 7/26, “At the expiration of a 30-day court deadline to reunite migrant families separated during its ‘zero tolerance’ border crackdown, the Trump administration said Thursday it has delivered 1,412 children to parents in immigration custody and was on track to return all of those it determined were eligible for reunification.”

“President Trump ordered an end to family separations June 20 amid public outcry and spreading criticism within his own political party, as searing accounts emerged of traumatized children and anguished parents. Within days, Judge Dana M. Sabraw of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, a Republican appointee, ordered the government to return children to their parents and imposed deadlines,” the Post reported.

However, some families, termed “deleted family units,” could not be reunited by the deadline. There was no classification for more than 2,600 children who had been separated from their families and placed in government shelters. According to a The Washington Post report on 7/28, when Customs and Border Protection “sent that information to the refugee office at the Department of Health and Human Services, which was told to facilitate the reunifications, the office’s database did not have a column for families with that designation.”

“After his 30-day deadline to reunite the ‘deleted’ families passed Thursday, U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw lambasted the government for its lack of preparation and coordination,” reported The Washington Post.

The article continues, “‘There were three agencies, and each was like its own stovepipe. Each had its own boss, and they did not communicate,’ Sabraw said Friday at a court hearing in San Diego. ‘What was lost in the process was the family. The parents didn’t know where the children were, and the children didn’t know where the parents were. And the government didn’t know either.’”

ACLU alleges abuse of children by Customs and Border Protection

University of Chicago Law School students review documents with professor Claudia Flores, the director of the school's International Human Rights Clinic. (Photo credit: Lloyd DeGrane / University of Chicago Law School as reported by The Chicago Tribune )

University of Chicago Law School students review documents with professor Claudia Flores, the director of the school’s International Human Rights Clinic. (Photo credit: Lloyd DeGrane / University of Chicago Law School as reported by The Chicago Tribune )

Immigrant children who crossed the border suffered abuse and neglect from federal officials, according to a report released May 23 by the ACLU’s Border Litigation Project in partnership with the University of Chicago Law School.

“Elbowing children in the stomach. Lifting a child by the neck. Kicking a child in the ribs. These are all things the American Civil Liberties Union says immigrant children who crossed the border alone experienced while in custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection,” The Chicago Tribune reports.

Unaccompanied children who cross the border are placed in juvenile detention centers while they await court decisions on whether they can be released to a relative in the U.S., or if they will remain in custody or be deported.

The allegations stemmed from a review of 30,000 pages of documents by three law students, according to Claudia Flores, director of the University of Chicago’s International Human Rights Clinic.

Customs and Border Protection spokesperson Daniel Hetlage said in a statement that the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General completed an investigation and found that the claims were unsubstantiated.

If Supreme Court upholds President Trump’s travel ban, will it rein in district judges who have opposed it?

Photo Credit: Evan Vucci / Associated Press as reported in Los Angeles Times, 4/25/18

Photo Credit: Evan Vucci / Associated Press as reported in Los Angeles Times, 4/25/18

A travel ban that limits immigration may secure a key legal victory at the U.S. Supreme Court, based on comments from justices on April 25, a major newspaper predicts.

The L.A. Times reports, “The Supreme Court’s conservative justices sounded ready Wednesday to uphold President Trump’s travel ban, potentially giving the embattled White House a big legal victory after a series of defeats in the lower courts.”

The third version of a travel ban “bars the entry of most immigrants and travelers from Iran, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and North Korea as well as officials from Venezuela,” the L.A. Times reports.

“The justices issued a ruling in June that allowed the second version of the travel ban to take partial effect. Then, in December, with only two dissents, they set aside lower-court rulings to allow the administration to put the third version into practice, a strong indicator of where the majority was headed,” the newspaper reports.

This brings up the question about whether this ruling will override the “increasingly common practice of district judges handing down nationwide orders based on a suit brought by a handful of plaintiffs,” such as the district judge’s order in Hawaii that blocked the travel ban nationwide.

California court backlogs persist in civil, criminal arenas

Photo Credit: Don Bartletti, Los Angeles Times as reported on 5/10/14.

Photo Credit: Don Bartletti, Los Angeles Times as reported on 5/10/14.

Budget cuts have contributed to delays in the processing of civil cases in California Superior Courts, a television news investigation revealed.

NBC Bay Area reported on the problem five years ago, confirming a situation covered by the state’s other major media.

And earlier this year, the news station revisited the crisis, noting that criminal cases also are caught up in the backlog.

“An NBC Bay Area analysis of state court disposition data shows thousands of felony criminal cases have been delayed for years, and sometimes even decades, in jurisdictions around California,” NBC Bay Area reported in February. “The analysis shows Santa Clara County Superior Court and San Francisco County Superior Court have some of the largest criminal court backlogs and the lowest percentage of felony cases resolved within a year in the state.”

In 2013, NBC Bay Area delved into the situation, noting, “Thousands of Californians, including residents of the Bay Area, must wait up to four times as long as normal to get their day in court. Some residents now wait five years or longer to have their civil complaints heard by a judge or jury. Some residents are dying while waiting for their day in court.”

NBC Bay Area conducted an analysis of state Superior Court data, showing delays in every one of the state’s 58 Superior Court systems.

“In all nine Bay Area county Superior Courts, the Unit found longer delays in processing and scheduling of civil cases on their calendars. … The reason: years and years of budget cuts to the court system, the third branch of government, by the state legislature in Sacramento. According to state court officials, across the state, 175 courtrooms have been closed due to budget cuts.”

In 2014, the Los Angeles Times reported on similar backlogs to civil cases.

“Civil cases are facing growing delays in getting to trial, and court closures have forced residents in some counties to drive several hours for an appearance. The effects vary from county to county, with rural regions hit the hardest but no court left unscathed,” the newspaper reported.

Appeals court upholds Texas ban on ‘sanctuary cities’

Photo credit:  REUTERS/Jon Herskovitz/File Photo, as reported in the article U.S. court upholds most of Texas law to punish 'sanctuary cities' on March 13, 2018.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Jon Herskovitz/File Photo, as reported in the article U.S. court upholds most of Texas law to punish ‘sanctuary cities’ on March 13, 2018.

A Texas ban on “sanctuary cities,” which threatens sheriffs, police chiefs and other officials with jail time and removal from office if they do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities, can take effect while legal challenges proceed, an appeals court ruled on Tuesday, 3/15.

Reuters reported, “The law was the first of its kind since Republican Donald Trump became president in January 2017, promising to crack down on illegal immigration and communities that protect the immigrants.”

While upholding the bulk of the law, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a provision “to punish local officials who endorse policies running contrary to the law.”

The New York Times explained, “The law in question — Senate Bill 4, passed by the Texas Legislature in May 2017 — requires police chiefs and sheriffs to cooperate with federal immigration officials, and allows the police to question the immigration status of anyone they arrest. It was passed in response to the proliferation of sanctuary cities, which restrict such cooperation and have gained national attention as President Trump pursues stricter immigration policies.”

Supreme Court strikes down bond hearings for detainees

Supreme_Court2In a major immigration case, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Jennings v. Rodriguez, a class action lawsuit challenging the federal government’s practice of jailing immigrants while they litigate their deportation cases. It ruled that detainees held by the government for possible deportation are not entitled to a bond hearing even after months or years of detention. Civil rights advocates, such as the ACLU, question whether it is constitutional to “lock up immigrants indefinitely.”

The Washington Post reported on the Feb. 27 ruling, noting, “In a splintered 5 to 3 decision, the court’s conservatives said that the relevant statute does not even ‘hint,’ as Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote, at the broad reading of the right to bail hearings adopted by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.”

The American Civil Liberties Union argued, “In the appeals court, we fought for and won on the principle that immigrants should be given the opportunity to present their case to a judge, allowing that judge to decide whether the detainee could be released without risk of flight or threat to public safety.”

Immigration Court Backlog Tops 650,000 in U.S. with California Leading Nation

Judge Dana Marks, President National Assoc. of Immigration Judges (PHOTO: National Association of Federal Immigration Judges)

Judge Dana Marks, President National Assoc. of Immigration Judges (PHOTO: National Association of Federal Immigration Judges)

According to the latest case-by-case court records, the backlog at the end of November 2017 had reached 658,728, up from 629,051 at the end of September 2017. That number is expected to continue to grow, with the Immigration Court number of pending cases anticipated to climb by an additional 30,000 in the first two months of 2018, outpacing 2017 increases.

California leads the country with the largest Immigration Court backlog of 123,217 cases. Texas is second with 103,384 pending cases as of the end of November 2017, followed by New York with 89,489 cases, reports TRAC. 

“There is no single explanation,” said Susan B. Long, TRAC’s co-director in a recent Newsday report. “These are people before immigration court. These are considered deportation cases, but they could very well be seeking asylum and various forms of relief” to stay in the country legally.

Newsday also reported, “‘The immigration judges feel like we’ve been the canaries in the coal mines, saying that the immigration courts would be overwhelmed with caseloads and backlogs for more than a decade,’ said Dana Leigh Marks, an immigration judge in San Francisco who is a spokeswoman for the National Association of Immigration Judges.”

The immigration backlog findings are based upon current case-by-case court records that were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University.

For further highlights see: http://trac.syr.edu/ phptools/immigration/court_ backlog/apprep_backlog.php.
For full details, go to TRAC’s online backlog tool at: http://trac.syr.edu/ phptools/immigration/court_ backlog/

California ICE detention center faces class-action lawsuit

Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego County is at the center of a class-action lawsuit for its treatment of detainees. Photo Credit: Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune as reported in the LA Times on 12/30/17.

Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego County is at the center of a class-action lawsuit for its treatment of detainees. Photo Credit: Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune as reported in the
LA Times
on 12/30/17.

An immigrant detention center in San Diego that’s the focus of a class-action lawsuit over detainee treatment could be poised to expand.

“Otay Mesa Detention Center holds detainees in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency responsible for those with pending cases in immigration court,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

Now, a class-action lawsuit alleges that immigrants at the center are forced to labor despite the civil status of their adjudications.

“Although work programs that pay little are common in prisons, the complaint argues that there is a legal difference for those in the immigration system,” the LA Times article notes.

Immigration court is a civil court system, not a criminal one, so people going through the immigration court system cannot be detained as punishment. And that is the crux of the legal complaint.

The class-action lawsuit, filed in late December, comes as the center seeks to expand.

On Jan. 12, Voice of San Diego reported, “The private detention center in San Diego County is looking to grow its population of detainees, despite recent California laws that halt the expansion of for-profit detention centers in the state. The Otay Mesa Detention Center, owned by the private company CoreCivic, is able to do that thanks to a deal it struck years ago.

No resolution expected for ‘Dreamers’ by end of year

Photo by John Gastaldo/Reuters as included in the PBS report on Dec 5, 2017.

Photo by John Gastaldo/Reuters as included in the PBS report on Dec 5, 2017.

The status of recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — commonly known as Dreamers — likely will remain in limbo until 2018, as members of Congress spar over Immigration reform and a potential government shutdown.

“Top Democratic lawmakers dismissed Tuesday a compromise bill offered by Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley that would give protections to younger illegal immigrants in exchange for long-term immigration reform,” reported the right-leaning Daily Caller in a Dec. 5 update.

“Grassley’s so-called SECURE Act would implement several policies long favored by conservative immigration reformers, most importantly the mandatory use of e-Verify and limits on family-based migration.

In return, the law would grant recipients of the now-cancelled Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program relief from deportation and work authorization for three years.” Democrats call the bill’s conservative provisions non-starters.

Grassley, in a Senate Floor statement about the SECURE Act on Dec. 5, referred to “the inherent unfairness in our nation’s immigration court and asylum adjudication systems, and how hundreds of thousands of aliens wait in backlogs for years at a time.”

The bill, he said, would “take meaningful steps to reduce immigration court and asylum adjudication backlogs by hiring more judges and personnel, limiting the number of continuances an immigrant can receive, and imposing new safeguards to combat well-documented fraud and abuse.”

Based on the tenor of talks in Congress, however, no quick solutions are expected for the court backlog.

Negotiations over immigration reform are being tied to funding of the federal government, prompting some to predict a delay in dealing with DACA.

Discussing immigration-reform negotiations, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn told reporters, “I hope our colleagues on the other side of the aisle will take our word for it as demonstrated by our good faith in making an offer to them that we do want to resolve this, but it’s not going to be before the end of this year,” according to CNN.

Others want quicker action on DACA. A group of 34 House Republicans on Tuesday asked Speaker Paul Ryan to act this month on legislation “dealing with the 800,000 young immigrants brought to the United States as children and living here illegally,” noted a PBS report. “Ryan has said he does not see a need to act before March, the deadline President Donald Trump gave Congress to find a permanent solution after he suspended the temporary protections against deportation granted by the Obama administration.”

But CNN reported, “There is a growing recognition on Capitol Hill that including immigration provisions to protect DACA recipients in the year-end spending bill could be a deal breaker for Republicans even as some Democrats in the House have threatened to vote against a spending package that doesn’t include it.”

To avert a government shutdown, the House and the Senate voted Thursday for a short-term spending bill “to keep the federal government running for another two weeks,” CNN reported.

Delaware Report Recommends More Funding for ‘Civil Gideon’

A Sacramento Police officer makes a traffic stop in November 2012. Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill in June to end the practice of Californians losing their driver’s license because of unpaid traffic fines. Photo Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / AP as reported by Los Angeles Times, 6/29/17.

A Sacramento Police officer makes a traffic stop in November 2012. Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill in June to end the practice of Californians losing their driver’s license because of unpaid traffic fines. Photo Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / AP as reported by Los Angeles Times, 6/29/17.

Another year brings another report about the need to improve access to civil courts for low-income residents.

A court-mandated legal commission in Delaware capped a two-year investigation this fall and issued its recommendations, agreeing the system is unfair to those in poverty.

In a 102-page report, the Delaware Access to Justice Commission urged equal justice under the law, “calling on the state Legislature, courts and law firms to divert more resources to provide poor people with legal aid, including additional hours of pro bono (without payment) representation,” according to a news report.

“The Delaware Supreme Court ordered the creation of the commission in 2014 to identify where access to justice fell short and to provide recommendations for cost-effective solutions,” reported The News Journal.

“The cost for a lawyer, which can add up to tens of thousands of dollars for civil cases, is prohibitive for most of the 123,000 people who live in poverty in the state,” commission members said. “The phenomenon also is a problem nationally where more than 40 million people live in poverty, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.”

Some states are trying to address this problem. This summer, California passed a bill ending driver’s license suspensions for unpaid court debt. Instead, courts can arrange a payment plan, a reduced payment, or community service for those who cannot afford to pay but can no longer suspend driver’s licenses for failure to pay. In Michigan, a package of bills has been introduced by the legislature that would help those with unpaid traffic debt to get their licenses back.

According to The Marshall Project, “Most of the movement on this issue began in the last two years, sparked by a Department of Justice investigation into the predatory practices of the Ferguson, Mo., municipal court. The report, issued in 2015, found that the local police and court system were run with an eye toward maximizing revenue, often on the backs of those who could least afford it.”