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.”

San Francisco Leads Nation In Immigration Court Backlog

Those waiting to have their asylum cases heard find the reality that there currently aren't enough judges and staff to handle the demand leaving some applicants forced to wait for years while their witnesses and key evidence disappear. NBC Bay Area Senior Investigative Reporter Stephen Stock reports in a video that first aired on Sept. 25, 2017. (Published Monday, Sept. 25, 2017) Source: San Francisco Leads Nation in US Immigration Court Calendar Delays - NBC Bay Area http://www.nbcbayarea.com/investigations/As-immigration-delays-skyrocket-San-Francisco-leads-the-nation-447705953.html#ixzz4v1aLYU00  Follow us: @NBCBayArea on Twitter | NBCBayArea on Facebook

Those waiting to have their asylum cases heard find the reality that there currently aren’t enough judges and staff to handle the demand leaving some applicants forced to wait for years while their witnesses and key evidence disappear. NBC Bay Area Senior Investigative Reporter Stephen Stock reports in a video that first aired on Sept. 25, 2017. (Published Monday, Sept. 25, 2017

Investigative journalism by NBC-owned stations, working with Telemundo stations around the country, has found that San Francisco leads the nation in backlogged immigration court cases, which is no easy task considering how badly things are going.

A joint investigation by NBC owned and operated stations in conjunction with Telemundo stations around the country found a record backlog of immigration cases clogging an overloaded and over stressed system. The NBC Bay Area report says that “… court records show waits that last more than 1,000 days in some cases. And, those records show, some immigration cases in US Immigration Court in San Francisco now are being scheduled as far into the future as July 2022. The reason: there simply aren’t enough judges and staff to handle such an overwhelmed Immigration Court system.”

They quote Judge Dana Leigh Marks, one of the very few immigration judges daring to speak about the crisis. Why? Because these are not really “federal” judges, but actually work for the Justice Department. Note how carefully they identify her role:

“It is painful for the judges and it is painful for the community we serve,” says Judge Dana Leigh Marks, who spoke to us in her role as President of the National Association of Immigration Judges. “A lot of people tell us that they fear for their very life if they’re sent back to their home country. That’s a death penalty case.”

Going beyond the numbers, the journalists document real-world impacts. It’s not an easy read, but find the milestone report here: San Francisco Leads Nation in US Immigration Court Calendar Delays – NBC Bay Area

http://www.nbcbayarea.com/investigations/As-immigration-delays-skyrocket-San-Francisco-leads-the-nation-447705953.html#ixzz4v1On6rTK

PBS Airs Great Backgrounder On Immigration Courts Backlog Crisis

Amid the debate over President Trump’s immigration policies, it still gets overlooked that hundreds of thousands of people are in limbo because our immigration courts are backed up for years. Now PBS sheds some light with an interview featuring the San Francisco-based immigration judge who leads the National Association of Immigration Judges, Dana Leigh Marks. For years, hers has been a strong voice for the judges, who are not “federal judges” but who work for the U.S. Justice Department.

It’s a great backgrounder and you can find it here:

How a ‘dire’ immigration court backlog affects lives

Three State Will Lead On DACA Lawsuit

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, left, speaks with Graciela Nuñez, a DACA recipient, at a Seattle news conference called to announce Washington’s participation in a lawsuit against the Trump... (Alan Berner/The Seattle Times)

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, left, speaks with Graciela Nuñez, a DACA recipient, at a Seattle news conference called to announce Washington’s participation in a lawsuit against the Trump… (Alan Berner/The Seattle Times)

While 15 states and the District of Columbia are signed on to challenge President Trump’s planned removal of DACA, it turns out that only three – Washington, New York and Massachusetts – will take the lead on the lawsuit, That will include the state attorney general who is perhaps the most vocal in his opposition, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who has long been an outspoken defender of DACA – the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” program.

“It’s outrageous.” said Ferguson in a press conference. “It is. It’s outrageous. I’m not going to put up with it.” He also said this is “… a “dark time for our country.” The challenge will focus on claims of racial and ethnic bias against the “dreamers,” most of whom are from Mexico. The Seattle Times has coverage of Ferguson and the state’s leadership role here:

‘I’m not going to put up with it’: Washington AG Ferguson says lawsuit over DACA will show Trump’s bias