Trump Immigration Crackdown Hits Backlogged Courts

Charles Reed/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement / AP

Charles Reed/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement / AP

BuzzFeed is deep-diving into the problems of a backlogged immigration courts system as President Trump gears up his enforcement and deportation plans. The report notes that “… judges and lawyers interviewed by BuzzFeed News described hearings scheduled four, five, or even six years out. Already facing a crushing caseload, immigration judges are bracing for more strain as the Trump administration pushes ahead with an aggressive ramp-up of immigration enforcement with no public commitment so far to aid backlogged courts.”
And as background the websites notes that “… immigration courts, despite their name, are actually an arm of the US Department of Justice… [the][ lawyers from the US Department of Homeland Security prosecute cases. Rulings can be appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals, which is also part of the Justice Department, and then to a federal appeals court.”
The report also notes that more than a half-million cases are pending immigration court attention. Read the report here: https://www.buzzfeed.com/zoetillman/backlogged-immigration-courts-pose-problems-for-trumps-plans?utm_term=.qeqnQJxo3#.wxBYOm5nr

SF-Based Immigration Courts Getting Testy

Official seal of the Executive Office of Immigration Review, which operates the U.S. immigration courts.

Official seal of the Executive Office of Immigration Review, which operates the U.S. immigration courts.

The federal immigration courts, already over-booked with a half-million pending cases and the focus of President Trump’s crackdown strategies, are getting a bit testy out San Francisco way. A reporter with the East Bay Express, a small but scrappy newspaper, wrote about being asked to leave a proceeding.

The story paints an alarming picture of federal agents lacking transparency. While not a direct part of the story, it also illustrates that the “judges” actually work for the Justice Department and are not regular federal judges.

Read the report here:

I Was Kicked Out of Federal Immigration Court — Because I’m a Journalist | East Bay Express

Report Outlines Why NY Has Huge Immigration Court Backlog

Photo credit: WNYC Audio Report, 1/17/17

Photo credit: WNYC Audio Report, 1/17/17

New York’s WNYC radio has an excellent report on why the Big Apple’s immigration courts are backed up, noting that more than a half-million cases are pending nationwide and tens of thousands of those are in NYC. The reporter visits one of the city’s 28 immigration courts, which are actually not federal courts but administrative functions of the Justice Department. The story follows one immigrant and notes ” the whole process took about five minutes for each case, and Khan was scheduling future court appearances as late as August of 2018. This isn’t so bad given, that Schmidt said he was scheduling hearings for 2021 before retiring last summer.”

The reporting is in the context of Donald Trump presidency and any attempt to increase the pace of court-ordered deportations. The take-away is that there’s no real capacity to increase or even keep pace

See the story here: Why New York’s Immigration Courts Are Overwhelmed

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

Florida Court District Says Divorce Hearing Can Take A Year

Courts nationwide are facing serious rationing, but a Tampa-area regional justice system is offering some details of its crisis. The info came as county commissioners are debating new facilities. But the area’s chief judge says that won’t help much because “… we can build additional courtrooms but nothing’s going to happen unless we have more judges to oversee them… we haven’t had a new judge in 10 years. Get the (state) Legislature to give us more judges.”

At issue is Florida’s 6th Judicial Circuit, which serves fast-goring Pasco and Pinellas counties The Tampa Bay Tribune explained that the district is “Florida’s third-largest court system. It has 69 judges to oversee all criminal, civil, appellate, family, traffic and small claims court cases. There are seven county court judges and 13 circuit judges assigned to handle cases at the New Port Richey and Dade City courthouses. In 2013 — the most recent figures available — those 20 Pasco County judges handled 24,069 circuit court cases and 41,733 county court cases. And the caseload keeps growing.”

One judge told county officials that it takes a year just to get a hearing on a divorce case

See more at the Tampa Tribune. 

Supreme Court Vacancy Is Tip Of Judicial Backlog Crisis

Photo Credit, Kansas City Star report, 4/12/16

Photo Credit, Kansas City Star report, 4/12/16

McClatchy’s news service has an explainer piece about the rationing of federal judicial appointments. It begins with an 82-year-old judge, the longest-serving in Idaho history, hoping to retire with his replacement on the way. The tone of the story is “good luck with that” as it outlines more than 80 vacancies created by the stalemate in Washington; some 50 nominees await U.S. Senate action.

The report explains that “… while the Senate remains at loggerheads over how to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, that dispute is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to judicial fights on Capitol Hill… the Senate on Monday approved a new federal judge for Tennessee, but, meanwhile, 85 other vacancies remained, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. North Carolina has had one court vacancy since 2005.

A couple of points from the piece:

— Idaho is now one of 34 jurisdictions facing a “judicial emergency,” with the number of cases overwhelming the number of judges, according to the Judicial Conference of the United States, a group of judges that advises Congress.
— “All over the country, you’ve got senior judges in their 80s, sometimes in their 90s, who are still working because they just don’t want to leave the other judges with even more work to do,” said Paul Gordon, senior legislative counsel for the liberal advocacy group People For the American Way. “It’s a bad situation.”

It’s a shocking story. Read it here via the Kansas City Star: Idaho joins long wait list as Senate fails to act on judicial nominees

Rights Group Notes Immigration Courts Backed Up 3 Years

The Human Rights First advocacy group is noting its new study indicating that the U.S. Immigration Courts are backed up for about three years now, and it’s only getting worst. The Courthouse News in Los Angeles reports that the group “… says the problem is most pronounced in Texas and California where 89,000 and 81,000 immigration cases are pending, respectively.”

Also noted in the CN story: The group says: “The number of cases pending before the court will soon exceed 500,000, far too many for a court staffed with only 254 immigration judges – a fraction of the number needed to timely address removal cases.” Congress took a small step towards fixing the problem in December when it approved funding for 55 new immigration judges as part of a spending bill for fiscal year 2016, Human Rights First said.

But experts say lawmakers have been overly focused on the front door of illegal immigration, the U.S.-Mexico border, and the threat of terrorists entering the country so that, from 2001 to 2010, the number of Border Patrol agents at the border more than doubled to exceed 20,000.

Read the CN story here:
CNS – Report Outlines Backlog in Immigration Courts

Maine Hotel Case Illustrates Civil Justice Rationing

 
It seems a routine case: A town planning board approves a new Hampton Hotel but a resident thinks it was done improperly and failed to properly address questions like how tall the buildings would be. But, as with many such “civil referee” cases around the country, this one illustrates the rising problem of civil justice rationing. That’s because the community, Kittery on the coast of Maine, has not heard civil lawsuits for months because the caseload has been consumed by criminal cases.
 
Brian Early, writing in the Fosters.com newspaper site, quotes Kittery Town Attorney Duncan McEachern saying that York County is “about a judge-and-a-half short, so the priority is processing criminal cases and this is civil.” The report adds that “… a clerk at the York County Superior Court in Alfred said Friday the court has not heard civil cases since June [2015], and the next opening to hear civil cases will be during the first week in March. What cases will be heard will not be decided until next month. If the case is not heard in March, it is not clear when it will be.”
 
Read about the rationing here.

NYT Notes ‘Border Kid’ Crisis Is Not Over, But Has Moved

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.

The New York Times has an important story about the “Border Kids” who arrived in the country amid headlines last summer. The paper notes that the number of kids has dropped, but the crisis has moved to courts. Meanwhile, a federal judge in California has given the U.S. government mere weeks to shut down several “family detention” centers because they are illegal.
 
On the court crisis, the NYT backgrounder is that “… about 84,000 children were apprehended at the Southwest border during the 2014 fiscal year and the first six months of the 2015 fiscal year, according to the Border Patrol. Of the 79,088 removal cases initiated by the government, 15,207 children had been ordered deported as of June, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research group in Washington.
 
“While a small percentage of children have been granted asylum, most are seeking relief from deportation by applying for special immigrant juvenile status, federal officials said. And yet, rather than their claims being expedited, 69 percent of the children on the priority docket still have cases pending, statistics show.
 
“The burden is far more difficult for children if they do not have a lawyer — a right not granted to defendants in immigration courts — especially because of the accelerated time frame the government established for their cases. After being released to a sponsor, usually a relative, they are on the clock: They are required to make their first court appearance within 21 days of the court’s receiving their case to contest their deportation.”
 
Read the excellent report here: Immigration Crisis Shifts From Border to Courts
 
For a refresher on the Family Detention Center, check out our late August blogs, “Obama Admin. Fighting To Keep Family Detention Centers” and “Judge Orders Govt. To Release Detained Kids.”

Obama Admin. Fighting To Keep Family Detention Centers

As reported in Politico on 8/7/15: US citizens Esmeralda Tepetate, 10, with her brother Sebastian, 2, whose parents are originally from Mexico, holds a sign that says "stop separating families" during a rally for comprehensive immigration reform, Friday, Nov. 7, 2014,  outside of the White House in Washington. After the midterm elections immigration groups are pushing for executive action. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

As reported in Politico on 8/7/15: US citizens Esmeralda Tepetate, 10, with her brother Sebastian, 2, whose parents are originally from Mexico, holds a sign that says “stop separating families” during a rally for comprehensive immigration reform, Friday, Nov. 7, 2014, outside of the White House in Washington. After the midterm elections immigration groups are pushing for executive action. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Politico and others are reporting that the Obama administration is asking a federal judge to reconsider her ruling that the U.S. must release of tens of thousands of immigrant mothers and children who tried to cross the southern border illegally. Says Politico: “… in a 60-page response filed late Thursday, Justice Department lawyers argued that family detention facilities run by the Department of Homeland Security are a necessary tool to help deter illegal migration to the United States.”
 
The judge’s order is starting to gain notice, as has the family detention issue. President Obama also finds himself at odds with his own party, according to Politico, which reports that “… detaining immigrant families caught at the border have run into steep opposition from Democrats on Capitol Hill. Nearly all members of the House Democratic Caucus signed onto a letter circulated last week by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), a former immigration attorney who is the ranking member on a House subcommittee overseeing the policy.”
 
“It is long past time to end family detention,” the House Democrats wrote in the letter. “In light of this recent federal court ruling, we urge you take all necessary and appropriate steps to bring the Department’s practices in line with the settlement agreement and the recent court ruling.” Keep track of the slow-burning fuse here:
Read more: DOJ fights family detention ruling (Politico)