CM Publisher Makes Case For Bi-Partisian Fix on Immigration Court

Sara Cocoran Warner, Founding Publisher of the California Courts Monitor

Sara Cocoran Warner, Founding Publisher of the California Courts Monitor

Courts Monitor Publisher Sara Warner, in a Huffington Post blog, makes her case that fixing the swamped immigration courts should be a low-hanging issue for bi-partisian action. Although, perhaps the parties have differing motivations.

See her argument here:

Swamped Immigration Courts Are A Bi-Partisian Fix Opportunity

Trump’s Election Boosting Efforts For ‘Civil Gideon’ Style Reform

Photo Credit: LA Times video clip 1/3/2017

Photo Credit: LA Times video clip 1/3/2017

One impact of the pending Trump administration is already being felt as some states and cities are preparing funds to fight deportation. While it’s only one part of the issue, the funding is a boost to the movement for a “civil Gideon” policy that would provide a right to an attorney in some civil cases – like the right to an attorney for criminal cases. The Gideon case was the policy-setting decision for that criminal-case right.

Immigration advocates have long argued that some deportation cases should be among those requiring representation, especially when children are involved. Funding has always been part of the discussion, but some governments are finding cash in the wake of President-Elect Trump’s victory. For example, the Los Angeles Times reports that  LA city and county leaders have “… unveiled a $10-million fund to provide legal assistance for residents facing deportation, the region’s boldest move yet as it prepares for an expected crackdown on illegal immigration by Donald Trump. If approved by lawmakers, Los Angeles’ two top government agencies could find themselves in the position of using public funds to challenge policies sought by the White House and Republican Congress.”

Similar efforts are under way in New York, San Francisco, Chicago and the state of New York.

Read more here:
http://www.latimes.com/local/ lanow/la-me-ln-lafund- 20161219-story.html

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:

The Key To Immigration? Hiring An Attorney

Wilfredo Allen, center, consults with Marlene Hasner and Camila Correal in his Miami office. Photo Credit: 10/30/16 Miami Herald Report

Wilfredo Allen, center, consults with Marlene Hasner and Camila Correal in his Miami office. Photo Credit: 10/30/16 Miami Herald Report

A Miami Herald report is adding fuel to the argument that would-be immigrants with legal representation fare much better than those without. The newspaper focuses on an individual case that “… seems to prove the theory among immigration lawyers that foreign nationals represented by an attorney in immigration court proceedings have a better chance of winning their case than those left to their own devices. But the first formal study on legal representation of foreign nationals in immigration proceedings actually proves the validity of that theory.”
 
“By reviewing over 1.2 million deportation cases decided across the United States over a six-year period, this report provides an urgent portrait of the lack of counsel in immigration courts,” according to the study issued by the American Immigration Council. “In it, we reveal that 63 percent of all immigrants went to court without an attorney. Detained immigrants were even less likely to obtain counsel — 86 percent attended their court hearings without an attorney. For immigrants held in remote detention centers, access to counsel was even more severely impaired, only 10 percent of immigrants detained in small cities obtained counsel.”
 
You can read the Herald story here: 

Former NY Prosecutor Outlines ‘The Real Crisis’ For Immigration

Quotas for depriving people of their liberty (KATE BRUMBACK/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Quotas for depriving people of their liberty (KATE BRUMBACK/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Over the last five years, the budget for immigration courts grew by 74% — but the budget for immigration enforcement agencies grew by over 400%. The result is gridlock that makes those old criminal court dockets look like models of efficiency.

Former Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, writing in the New York Daily News, outlines just how bad the U.S. immigration court crisis has become, blaming political pressures and adding that “… the result is a backlog that staggers the imagination. Today, when immigrants ask when they need to return to court, many are told in 2023.”

 Morgenthau outlines the oft-cited, but still hard to believe, stats: “According to the most recent data from a think tank at Syracuse University, there are currently pending before our immigration courts over half a million removal cases. That averages about 2,000 cases per judge.”

The writer offers some solutions and begins with judges: “What is to be done? Regardless of how one feels about immigration reform generally, everyone can agree that we need to restore sanity to immigration court. First, immigration judges should be real judges. Right now, they are employees of the Justice Department, and not genuinely independent.”

He also makes a call for a sort of Civil Gideon, the idea that some civil cases (as opposed to criminal cases) should require representation (immigration cases are considered civil actions): “Congress must also ensure that immigrants get proper legal representation when their basic rights are at stake… a study published this month disclosed that in 70% of cases involving adults with children, there was no legal representation for the family.”

And, obviously, increase capacity. It’s a well-considered piece from somebody who knows of what they speak. Read it, and find the writer’s other missives on immigration and other issues, here:

 Robert Morgenthau: America’s real immigration crisis

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

U.S. Dodges International Move To Free Refugee Children

22 women who are being held at Berks County Residential Residential Center started a hunger stike on August 8. They are asking to be released from detention as their cases for asylum move through the courts. Credit: Valeria Fernández/PRI

22 women who are being held at Berks County Residential Residential Center started a hunger stike on August 8. They are asking to be released from detention as their cases for asylum move through the courts. Credit: Valeria Fernández/PRI

The New York Times coverage of this week’s United Nations discussion about refugees, which includes a “summit” hosted by President Obama, including spotlighting that ” … the U.S. and a number of other countries also objected to language in the original draft that said children should never be detained, so the agreement now says children should seldom, if ever, be detained.”

That may be because the U.S. has more than a half-million pending Immigration Court cases backed up for years and has detained some refugee families for more than a year. The detention camps have been found illegal by a federal court, and some moms have resorted to hunger strikes. Some 45 countries are expected to agree to new, non-binding goals for the international refugee crisis this week.

In the U.S., immigration regulation is enforced at immigration courts as s “civil matter,” meaning those under detention do not have the same rights as criminal defendants, which would include the right to representation by a lawyer.

Read about the hunger strikes here:
Moms go on a hunger strike to get themselves and their kids out of immigration detention

Study: Miami Immigration Court Is Most Lenient In Nation

The clearinghouse that tracks immigration court backlog says that some places are better than others for immigrations hoping remain in the United States. The Miami Herald reports that’s “… because judges at the Miami immigration court are deemed among the most lenient toward immigrants in the country… the report from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University says that the Miami immigration court is in the top five immigration courts in the country whose judges are more likely to allow immigrants to stay in the country despite deportation orders sought by government trial attorneys representing the Department of Homeland Security.

According to the TRAC study, the Phoenix immigration court ranks No. 1 with “the highest proportion of individuals who were allowed to stay.” In second place was the New York immigration court, followed by Denver in third, San Antonio in fourth and then Miami in fifth, according to the study.

See the TRAC research here.

Read the newspaper’s story here: How lenient are Miami immigration judges? A study ranks the court

Private-Prison Phase-Out Will Not Apply To Immigration Jails

The much-heralded phase-out of privately run federal prisons had many wondering if that means changes in how immigrants are held by the Department of Justice. It will not, and the New Orleans website NOLA.com does a good job of breaking down the issue, which is partly because immigration jails are really “civil” vs. “criminal” charges.
 
NOLA backgrounds that “… the policy shift has no bearing on the private operation of immigrant detention facilities. As of December, 62 percent of the 34,000 beds for people detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement are in privately-run facilities. They are under the authority of the Department of Homeland Security, not the Department of Justice. The vast majority of privately-run prisons in the U.S. are at the state level, and will be unaffected by the DOJ announcement. As of 2014 they housed 91,244 state prisoners, or 6.8 percent of the total state prison population, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
 

Shifting Immigration Sands Catches NC Teen in Kafka-esque Purgatory

For one North Carolina teen, seeing his mom again meant a difficult, six-month journey through ICE, the courts and the ever shifting immigration waters. Having fled two powerful Honduran gangs – Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the 18th Street Gang – seeking to add him to their ranks, Wildon Acosta became the face of the immigration crisis for the small Durham community who rallied to support his cause.

ABC News Reports (8/16/16): Masked members of the 18th Street gang give a press conference inside the San Pedro Sula prison in Honduras, May 28, 2013.

ABC News Reports (8/16/16): Masked members of the 18th Street gang give a press conference inside the San Pedro Sula prison in Honduras, May 28, 2013.

Part of the ongoing Border Kids crisis, Acosta feared the consequences of not joining one of the two gangs. ABC News recently reported, “Those two gangs are major contributors to the violence that has made Honduras the country with the highest homicide rate in the world according to the World Bank, forcing thousands to flee their homes. The government of Honduras, according to the United Nations’ refugee agency, estimates that 174,000 people were internally displaced within the country between 2004 and 2014 because of violence and insecurity.”

When federal agents arrested him on his way to school, the story continued, Acosta had gone from speaking only Spanish to earning a B average in English-only courses. He was even held a part-time job.

Acosta is hardly the only minor fleeing the violence, either, to build a new life here in the U.S. U.S. Customs and Border Protection reports that more than 63,000 unaccompanied minors were apprehended while attempting to cross the border between October 2013 and September 2014 as the gang violence was reaching a crescendo in Central America.

The issue of overhauling the immigration system has been on the front burner since George W. Bush was president. A former Governor of a border state, President Bush attempted to overhaul the system under his tenure, but was blocked by his own party. Subsequent attempts have come close, but real reform has failed each time.

In 2014, President Barack Obama announced he was using his executive order power to bring about sweeping immigration changes. During his tenure, he has stepped up deportations, putting Border Kids at the front of the line, while also attempting to protect so-called DREAMERs. His executive orders have been stayed by the courts as states challenged his authority to implement immigration changes by executive order.

This policy uncertainty has led to myriad stories of young people caught in a shifting web of changing rules, leading to a legal purgatory that Kafka would find surreal. Were it not for the community pressuring their local member of Congress to act on his behalf, Acosta would have been deported already. With $10,000 in bail money raised in two days, he is grateful to back in his community with his family, but his future remains uncertain as he works to file a petition for asylum. The support from his community undoubtedly means that he will have legal representation to aid him in making his case to become a legal, permanent resident of the U.S.

For minors and youth with legal representation, their chances of being granted asylum are significantly better. But, as we reported back in May, Sen. Patrick Leahy said, “In immigration court, in case after case, a trained federal prosecutor represents the interests of the government while too many children facing deportation are forced to proceed before a judge without a lawyer.”

For more on the Acosta case, be sure to check out the in-depth ABC News report. You can follow along with our two-year project tracking the Border Kids crisis here.