Alabama Joins California In Civil Court Cuts, Delays

In a situation similar to what California faced in 2012 and 2013, Alabama is the latest state to face dramatic court system budget cuts. The now-familiar refrain is that criminal courts, with their constitutional guarantees, will remain a priority while civil cases will really feel most of the impact.  The Birmingham Business Journal has a good report and notes that “.. one overlooked aspect of cutting the court budget is how it will affect businesses. Already, short-staffed civil cases with businesses can take up to two years to resolve, but with the proposed budget cuts [a court source] said he sees these cases taking up to five years.
 
That would, in turn, change the local business landscape, the report argues.
 

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)

L.A. Times Calls Out Congress Over Immigration Court Backlog

In a major editorial, the Los Angeles Times is calling upon Congress to fix the immigration court backlog and offers some compelling numbers in the process: “… over the last 10 years, the workload of the federal immigration court system has increased by 146% to an astounding 453,948 active cases at the end of July. The average amount of time each of those cases has been pending: 627 days. Some have been lingering for years.”
 
The LAT also notes that the backlog effects are exactly what we don’t want: People who have no legal right to be in the country get lengthy reprieves simply because the judges can’t get to their cases while those with legit claims are left “twisting in the wind.”
 
The editorial says that “… the reason for the enormous backlog is clear. While the government has poured money into enhancing border security — the number of border agents has nearly doubled to 21,000 in the last decade — it has failed to similarly increase the capacity of the immigration court system that hears deportation cases. According to a recent report, immigration enforcement budgets increased 300% from 2002 through 2013, but immigration court budgets rose only 70%.
 
The immigration courts are really an international embarrassment for the United States. The LAT editorial shows just how bad it is, and why it’s likely to get worse: The immigration court backlog: Why won’t Congress act?

Courts Funding Gets Buzzy

Call it official: the once obscure civil courts funding issue surrounding immigration enforcement has gone mainstream. We know this because the click-fest known as BuzzFeed has actually developed one of their video-centric reports: “Top 10 Reasons Why Immigration Courts Need More Funding.”

The reasons are solid, like “… with a backlog of more than 360,000 cases, the average wait for a case to be resolved in immigration court is 578 days.” They also note the lack of legal representation for minors, budget cuts and common sense.

It’s posted in the “community” section with a disclaimer that it was produced by a BuzzFeed non-staffer, but it certainly has the BF DNA. Take a look here.

Child-Immigration Crisis Also A Civil Court Crisis

With President Obama asking Congress for a quick $2 billion to address the growing crisis on the U.S.-Mexican border, it is worth noting that the system failure is not just about immigration policy or border enforcement – it’s really a failure of civil courts capacity. Many Americans learning about the crisis are surprised to discover that immigration issues are “civil” and not “criminal,” and that the core of the problem is that tens of thousands of children are due a day in court – and that day will not come for years and years.
 
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.



Background: National Public Radio and others are drawing attention to the fact that, over the past nine months, “… more than 50,000 children and teenagers have crossed that border illegally on their own, most from Central America. By law, the administration can’t deport those young people until they have an immigration hearing — a process that can take years.” The immigration law is different for people from Mexico, who can be returned much faster.
 
Says NPR: “… law requires the U.S. to hold an immigration hearing before deporting a child from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador or any other country that doesn’t border the U.S., says Marc Rosenblum of the Migration Policy Institute. The law aims to protect vulnerable young people from being inadvertently sent home into forced labor or the sex trade.”
 
“While they wait for that immigration hearing, the law also requires that they be held in the least restrictive custody setting,” Rosenblum tells NPR. “What that means in practice is that most of these kids are getting placed with family members in the U.S. while they wait for an immigration hearing.”
Because the immigration courts are overloaded, the average wait is nearly two years, Rosenblum adds in the NPR coverage.
 
That means what we’re seeing is really a high-profile example of what happens when civil courts can’t meet demands. There is very likely a similar situation in many of our family courts and other systems, and those will eventually bring their own “crisis” headlines.


Here’s the NPR report: Obama To Ask Congress For $2B To Ease Immigration Crisis

Budget Deadline Punts On Court Funding

How to handle an election-year funding issue involving the labor-intensive courts system? First, expand it to a “two-year” plan to avoid the hard questions in the election cycle and then tie any increases to “reforms” to be identified later. As this weekend’s constitutionally mandated June 15 California budget deadline expires, that’s the status of hard-hit courts in Gov. Brown’s budget. Not always noted is that one of the ways to “tighten operating costs” is increasing the amount workers pay into their pension funds.
 
The Courthouse News is a go-to source for following the issue, especially with the focus on Los Angeles, home of the nation’s largest trial court where cutbacks have closed courthouses and forced long journeys to court.
 
For this years budget, The Courthouse News reports that “… Department of Finance Director Michael Cohen said the $160 million for the courts is part of a two-year strategy to stabilize court funding while the Judicial Council and the chief justice look for ways to tighten operating costs. Most of the additional funds will go toward paying court-employee pensions and benefits and backfilling a shortfall in filing-fee revenue.”