SoCal Public Radio Report Outlines Immigration Court Issues

Ana Hernández (L )with her 15-year-old daughter Mariela Michell Beltrán-Hernandez outside the immigration court in Los Angeles. Dan Tuffs for KPCC.

Ana Hernández (L )with her 15-year-old daughter Mariela Michell Beltrán-Hernandez outside the immigration court in Los Angeles. Dan Tuffs for KPCC.

A new Southern California Public Radio report documents an “uptick” in those families seeking refuge in the United States from Central American nations, and the ongoing Immigration Courts crisis that goes along with it. The SCPR report begins with an example: “Michell Hernández’s case entered the immigration court in August as the system faced an unprecedented backlog, surpassing half a million ongoing cases nationwide. According to government data from Syracuse University’s TRAC, immigration courts fielded 516,031 cases, as of September 2016. Those numbers include both adult and juvenile cases.
 
One in five of those cases are in California – the biggest share of any state. And half of those, or nearly 50,000, are in Los Angeles.”
 
The report has other stats: “There are 250 judges in 58 courts across the nation, according to the Executive Office of Immigration Review, the agency that oversees the courts. Thirty judges currently serve in L.A. In response to the rising caseload, the agency has added more judges and staff, including swearing in an additional judge in Los Angeles this month. That followed three new judges  joining the L.A. courts in June. Still, judges typically handle dozens of cases a day.”
 
The uptick comes as the report backgrounds: “In 2015, the number of child migrants dropped across the Southwest border, but recent figures from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection show that those numbers have ticked back up. Through October 2016, for example, nearly 60,000 children have crossed the border alone in the past 12 months and over 77,000 families have been apprehended.”
 
Read the excellent reporting here:

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.

Help U.S. In War? Forget It When Seeking Asylum

Image Credit, New York Times Report, 4/2/16

Image Credit, New York Times Report, 4/2/16

The New York Times has an important story about an asylum-seeker who worked with the American military in Kabul for years, enough to fear for his life. He made his way to the United States and sought asylum, making a case complete with death threats and the testimony of American military officers. Yet he was jailed for his trouble.

Reporter Elizabeth Rubin, who has reported from the Middle East and credits translators like the one in question for saving her life, outlines just how sad the immigration/asylum system has become. She notes that “… we know our asylum policy is broken. In 2014, more than 108,000 asylum applications were filed. It is not an exaggeration to say that many of these cases are life or death, yet they are handled by only 254 immigration judges, who are also juggling hundreds of thousands of non-asylum cases. Samey’s case is simultaneously unique and painfully common…”

She offers examples of possible fixes. But she also outlines a truly cautionary tale of a system where a state department administrative judge somehow values his own assessment over that of a Lt. Col. in the U.S. military.

Read it here:

Locked Up for Seeking Asylum

At USC, Law Students Provide Immigration Legal Advice

Legal assistance for asylum seekers arriving at the U.S. border has been an issue, whether that means trained volunteers or lawyers. How about a legal clinic staffed by law students looking for experience? The University of Southern California student newspaper reports that “… in January, the year-round USC clinic — the only one of its kind among Southern California law schools — will mark its 15th year of offering representation to asylum clients… since 2001, the clinic has taken on more than 170 clients. Approximately 120 of them, one-third of whom identify as LGBT, have received either asylum, withholding of removal or protection under the Convention Against Torture.”
 
While the Immigration Clinic clients receive life-saving legal representation, its students receive valuable experience.
 

‘Border Kids’ Immigration Influx Is Once Again On The Rise

As reported by NPR: Detainees sleep and watch television in a holding cell where hundreds of mostly Central American immigrant children are being processed at a U.S. Customs facility in Nogales, Texas.

As reported by NPR: Detainees sleep and watch television in a holding cell where hundreds of mostly Central American immigrant children are being processed at a U.S. Customs facility in Nogales, Texas.

A Texas newspaper reports that the number of unaccompanied children being apprehended at the southern United States border – I’ve dubbed them “border kids” – is once again on the increase. Reporter Dylan Baddor at the Mount Pleasant Daily Tribune writes that in the Border Patrol’s Big Bend sector of Texas, “the number of unaccompanied children apprehended trying to enter the country during that period averaged 24 between 2010 and 2014. This year agents tallied 319.”
 
Statewide, says the report, 7,390 unaccompanied children were caught crossing in those two months, and 85 percent increase over the same period last year. The newspaper quotes Marc Rosenblum, a deputy director at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington D.C., saying that“… we’re clearly seeing a significant uptick.”
 
The Border Kids crisis became a national focus last year and prompted the Obama Administration to fast-track the cases, sometimes moving them to the “front of the line” in a backed-up immigration court system. Current estimates are that more than 450,000 cases are backlogged in the courts, which are actual civil procedures held as part of the U.S. Justice Department.
 
See the Daily Tribune story here: http://www.dailytribune.net/site/about.html

VICE News Looking Hard At Migrant Family Lockups

The VICE media network has made a living off covering stories under-reported by mainstream (or, more accurately, “more mainstream”) media, and it is focusing on American jails this week. Mostly that is going to involve criminal lockups, but the VICE News is reporting on the family lockups facing a federal judge’s order to release families – and how the government is likely to work around that order.
 
The report notes what other have missed: “With tens of thousands of migrants flooding into Europe in recent months, it’s easy to forget that the US faced its own refugee crisis last summer when scores of children and mothers bolted from Central America amid heightened gang and drug violence. Desperate for a safe haven, the families mounted buses and trains through Mexico and then poured across the Texas border, seeking political asylum.” To that we would add: Last summer? How about now?
 
VICE gives some context: “… to combat the influx, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) launched an “aggressive deterrence” strategy last July designed to discourage more people from coming. The solution, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson announced, was to lock up Central American moms and kids as they fought their asylum cases in court. Previously, DHS did not detain such families, but rather allowed them to pay a small bond as an assurance they would show up to their court dates.
 
The new DHS strategy spawned a massive, long-term family detention system for Central American people seeking asylum in the US. The agency contracted the nation’s two biggest private prison companies to open facilities in southern Texas that hold about 3,000 people combined and cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars to operate. Many families have spent seven or eight months in detention while awaiting their day in court.”
 
Check out what very likely is going to happen next here.

What Should We Call Those Migrant Refugee Immigrants Seeking Asylum?

Words matter, and the U.S. media has been struggling to settle on what to call all those folks seeking to leave a very bad place in hopes of a better life. Actually, that would not qualify for “refugee” status, which requires a human to be fleeing war zones or natural disasters. Migrant is a wider net, but loses some of the urgency. “Immigration” carries its own weight. Those seeking asylum, with those political overtones, are yet another situation.

The NPR ombudsman offered an on-air outline of how that standards-leading group approaches the wording. The one thing that seems clear is that just leaving a place because it sucks does not gain the benefits of other status.

See the report here: ‘Refugee’ Or ‘Migrant': How To Refer To Those Fleeing Home

California, Texas Lead In Immigration Court Delays

It may the one of the few places where Texas does not mind being second to California: immigration case backlog. A Houston Chronicle newspaper report notes that  “… the stack of cases at Texas’ overburdened immigration courts grew by nearly 60 percent since October 2013, bringing the state’s pending cases to a record high of nearly 77,000, making it the largest backlog in the country after California.”
 
The delays are truly staggering, especially for younger people. The Chronicle says “… nationwide it now takes an average of 604 days to process an immigration case, according to an analysis of federal data through April by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. In Houston, where the pending case load grew by 13 percent from late 2013 to nearly 32,000 so far this year, the highest in the state, the delay is 636 days.”
 
That’s to be “processed.” Some cases are taking five years to resolve. The HC explained that “… the long overburdened and underfunded immigration court system has been further overwhelmed by the influx of more than 67,000 unaccompanied Central American children who streamed across the Southwest border in 2014. In response, the Obama administration prioritized their cases and those of other migrants who arrived here last year to deter more from coming.” That means folks waiting years for a day in court might have to wait years longer.
 
(Immigration courts are not criminal courts, but rather an administrative function of the Justice Department and are considered civil cases.) Read more here. 
 
 

AP Story On Immigration Crisis Gets Traction

A Los Angeles-based story by Amy Taxin of the Associated Press continues to be used by those making the case for legal representation for the unaccompanied children awaiting processing to determine if they can stay in the U.S. 
 
Her story opens in Los Angeles with a dramatic courthouse scene: [The judge} … grabbed four thick books and dropped each one on his desk with a thud, warning the families in his Los Angeles courtroom about the thousands of pages of immigration laws and interpretations that could affect their cases, and urging them to get a lawyer. “This is even smaller print,” he said of the 1,200-page book containing regulations during the hearing last month. “I am not trying to scare you, but I’m trying to ensure your children get a full and fair hearing.”
 
To read the AP report via the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, click here.