Massachusetts’ Top Court Nixes Immigration ‘Holds’

Photo Credit: The badge of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Fugitive Operations team is seen in Santa Ana, California, U.S., May 11, 2017. Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

Photo Credit: The badge of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Fugitive Operations team is seen in Santa Ana, California, U.S., May 11, 2017.
Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

The top Massachusetts court has ruled that police and court officers do not have authority to detain undocumented immigrants until federal law enforcement officials can take them into custody, a controversial practice called a “hold” that is debated around the country. It is believed to be the first time a state supreme court has ruled to ban the practice and the Reuters news service says the “… decision amounts to a rejection of requests by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency for courts and law enforcement agencies to hold illegal immigrants, who are facing civil deportation orders, in custody for up to 48 hours after their cases are resolved.”

The court ruled that ordering the hold amounts to a “fresh arrest” and said there is no authority to do so. News organizations quoted ICE officials as saying they are reviewing the decision.

Read the Reuters story here: Massachusetts cannot hold immigrants so U.S. can detain them: state top court

Shackles In A Civil Case? With Immigration, That’s The Deal

PhotoCredit, Boston Gobe report, 8/29/16

PhotoCredit, Boston Gobe report, 8/29/16

A Boston Globe report has detailed that many detained immigrants show up in immigration court in shackles – even without any criminal record. The Globe reports that “… when detained immigrants have their day in immigration courtrooms in Boston and in many other courts around the nation, they almost always spend it in chains. Some of the immigrants have criminal records, but some do not, and the controversial practice has ignited protests from Connecticut to California. Critics say detainees in the civil immigration system are treated more harshly than people accused of violent crimes in state and federal courts. But others say shackling preserves public safety in the courts, where security is limited.”

We would background that immigration courts are not actually U.S. federal courts, but are actually run by the U.S. Justice Department. Those facing the courts do not have a right to an attorney, as they would if criminal charges were being considered, because the cases are considered “civil” actions.

Read the Globe report here: In Boston immigration court, chains are a familiar sound – The Boston Globe

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. 
 
 

Obama Said To Be Planning Big Immigration Move

While early reports do not focus on the more than 300,000 recent Central American “border kids” awaiting deportation hearings, it does seem President Obama is making good on his immigration policy promises. The New York Times reports that “… part of Mr. Obama’s plan alone could affect as many as 3.3 million people who have been living in the United States illegally for at least five years, according to an analysis by the Migration Policy Institute, an immigration research organization in Washington. But the White House is also considering a stricter policy that would limit the benefits to people who have lived in the country for at least 10 years, or about 2.5 million people.”
 
The NYT added that “… extending protections to more undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, and to their parents, could affect an additional one million or more if they are included in the final plan that the president announces.” Immigration cases, thought by many to be criminal cases, are actually civil actions. For example, immigration “judges” are actually employees of the Justice Department.
 
But officials also said, according to the Times, that patrol agents and judges at the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and other federal law enforcement and judicial agencies, “will make clear that deportations should still proceed for convicted criminals, foreigners who pose national security risks and recent border crossers.”
 

Feds Demanding Interpreters In Civil Cases

In a situation sure to echo nationally, California is scrambling to “voluntarily” remedy a civil rights violation for not providing interpreters in certain civil cases, The Los Angeles Times reports. The Times notes that “… unlike those charged with a crime, people in civil court do not have the constitutional right to an interpreter. For many of California’s nearly 7 million limited-English proficient speakers — about one-third of whom live in Los Angeles County — that makes the system practically impenetrable… the problem led the U.S. Department of Justice last year to conclude that L.A. County and the state’s Judicial Council were violating the Civil Rights Act.
 
The Times explained that the investigation “was prompted by a complaint filed by the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles on behalf of two low-income clients. One had been sexually assaulted and sought a restraining order against her attacker; the other had filed for custody and child support for her son. Both were denied Korean interpreters. Federal authorities have given California the chance to voluntarily improve services. But failure to make the court system accessible to all could result in federal intervention.”
 
The Times story comes in a context of diminished civil court services and delays in family court, among other challenges. Top court officials have said mere access to courts become a civil rights issue.
 

ICE Holds Down Under ‘Trust Act’ Policy

Some new numbers are confirming that law enforcement officials are holding fewer immigrants on behalf of federal immigration authorities. The change comes under policies of the Trust Act that went into place earlier this year and follow court decisions on the “holds.” The Associated Press reports that “… immigration officials say local authorities across the U.S. released thousands of immigrants from jails this year despite efforts to take them into federal custody, including more than 3,000 with previous felony charges or convictions.”
 
The AP story explains that “… the Trust Act limits the ability of local law enforcement to comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests to hold immigrants longer than their scheduled release date to give ICE time to take them into custody.” Immigration issues are nearly always “civil,” not criminal issues.
 
California’s San Diego County was among the five counties nationwide with the most federal immigration requests declined, according to newly released ICE data. Santa Clara, Los Angeles, Alameda and Miami-Dade, FL, were the other four. In northern California, the number of detainees transferred to ICE custody fell 53 percent during fiscal year 2014, according to ICE. In the Los Angeles area, the number fell by 15 percent. Similar figures weren’t available for San Diego, but in fiscal year 2013, immigration authorities requested that 3,020 detainees be transferred to ICE custody from San Diego and Imperial counties, reports the AP.
 
See the story via California public radio here: Immigration Holds Plummet In First Year Of California’s Trust Act

NYT Shines Light On Civil Detainee Labor

The New York Times has published a detailed report on how civil immigration detainees are being used for cheap or free labor in the facilities where they are being held, benefiting not only government agencies but for-profit companies that operate in the facilities. California is one of the states with multiple detention centers, and the report notes that “… near San Francisco, at the Contra Costa West County Detention Facility, immigrants work alongside criminal inmates to cook about 900 meals a day that are packaged and trucked to a county homeless shelter and nearby jails.”
 

The NYT notes that the federal government has become the largest employer of potentially illegal immigrants: “Last year, at least 60,000 immigrants worked in the federal government’s nationwide patchwork of detention centers — more than worked for any other single employer in the country, according to data from United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE. The cheap labor, 13 cents an hour, saves the government and the private companies $40 million or more a year by allowing them to avoid paying outside contractors the $7.25 federal minimum wage. Some immigrants held at county jails work for free, or are paid with sodas or candy bars, while also providing services like meal preparation for other government institutions.”

The report includes the government response of “… the federal authorities say the program is voluntary, legal and a cost-saver for taxpayers. But immigrant advocates question whether it is truly voluntary or lawful, and argue that the government and the private prison companies that run many of the detention centers are bending the rules to convert a captive population into a self-contained labor force.”
 
This is the kind of story that might illustrate the difference in rights people have in criminal vs. civil cases – it is hard to imagine people being held in de facto labor camps if they faced criminal charges, because a different set of rights kicks in. Read the NYT game-changing story here: Using Jailed Migrants as a Pool of Cheap Labor