Chicago Trib Deep-Dives Into Immigration Court Delays

Dario Castaneda, an immigration attorney who is representing detained immigrant, Francisco Casas, outside of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services field office (West Congress Pkwy.) in Chicago on Tuesday, May 9, 2017. (Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune)

Dario Castaneda, an immigration attorney who is representing detained immigrant, Francisco Casas, outside of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services field office (West Congress Pkwy.) in Chicago on Tuesday, May 9, 2017. (Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune)

The Chicago Tribune is taking a deep dive into the Windy City’s immigration court backlog, including how a DUI sent a man to jail for seven months to await his day in court and other big-picture information. For example, the newspaper reports that “… as recently as 2010, the immigration court in Chicago had fewer than 13,000 pending cases on its docket. By the end of March, that figure had risen to 24,844, according to statistics provided by the federal Executive Office for Immigration Review, which is part of the Department of Justice.

The paper also notes that “… the crunch is partly the result of policy changes under the Obama administration, which made a priority of quickly handling cases that involved children and recent border crossers, particularly in the face of an influx of immigrants coming into the U.S. illegally from Central American countries around 2014. But the Trump administration has contributed to the crunch as well, emphasizing the deportation of detainees who have had contact with the criminal justice system, though even those without records have been caught up in the efforts.”

It’s a solid report and you can find it here: Cases flood Chicago Immigration Court as system reckons with new landscape

Former Immigration Judge Calls For L.A. To Provide Lawyers

Some of about 100 people demonstrate outside a federal immigration court in Los Angeles on Monday, March 6, 2017. (Michael Balsamo / AP)

Some of about 100 people demonstrate outside a federal immigration court in Los Angeles on Monday, March 6, 2017. (Michael Balsamo / AP)

A former immigration court judge is calling on Los Angeles to move quickly and provide attorneys for undocumented residents facing deportation. Bruce J. Einhorn, who was an immigration judge for 17 years, says in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece that he “… watched sons trying to grasp complicated legal concepts not written in their native language and mothers desperately advocating for daughters who were in detention. I saw families torn apart by a system they were unable to understand.”

The former judge makes both legal and financial points in arguing his case and notes that Trump administration policies are likely to increase court volume and backlog. Already, he explains, San Francisco hearings might take two years before there’s room on a court docket. He also argues that the L.A. program might be modeled on the New York City project.

Judge Einhorn writes that “… New York City’s program, which began in 2013, has been tremendously successful. After securing representation for its first 1,000 clients, the program reported that it completed more than a third of the city’s deportation cases in the first or second hearing, and that immigrants were nearly 10 times more likely to win their cases. The program has since been expanded to New York State.”

Read his opinion here: L.A. needs to provide attorneys to immigrants facing deportation

NYT Outlines Obama’s Immigration ‘Shift’

Central American immigrants who had been released from United States Border Patrol detention waited at the Greyhound bus station in McAllen, Tex., in July 2014. Credit John Moore/Getty Images

Central American immigrants who had been released from United States Border Patrol detention waited at the Greyhound bus station in McAllen, Tex., in July 2014. Credit John Moore/Getty Images

The New York Times is among those reporting that the Obama administration is “delaying deportation proceedings” for recent immigrants in cities across the United States, allowing more than 50,000 of those who fled Central American communities since 2014 to remain in the country – legally – for years. It’s not a true policy shift, but instead a cost-saving measure, experts say. They also say mostly families are the ones staying.
 
The NYT reported that: “The shift, described in interviews with immigration lawyers, federal officials, and current and former judges, has been occurring without public attention for months. It amounts to an unannounced departure from the administration’s widely publicized pronouncements that cases tied to the so-called surge of 2014 would be rushed through the immigration courts in an effort to deter more Central Americans from entering the United States illegally.”
 
The report also notes that “.. the delays are being made as a cost-saving measure, federal officials said, because of a lapse in enforcement that allowed immigrants who were supposed to be enrolled in an electronic monitoring program to go free. Some of those affected had failed to report to government offices to be fitted with GPS ankle bracelets, according to a February memo from the chief immigration judge, Print Maggard, in Arlington, Va. Now that the government will not have to pay the daily fee of $4 to $8 a person to monitor such bracelets, the immigrants’ cases have been pushed back for years, some until 2023, judges and federal officials said. The cases of those who met their reporting obligations are still being expedited, with some cases moving faster than lawyers and judges had expected.”
 

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

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

L.A. Times Takes Issues With Denying Immigrants Phone Access

Protestors at the Metropolitan Detention Center during one of several May Day marches in Los Angeles, California. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Protestors at the Metropolitan Detention Center during one of several May Day marches in Los Angeles, California. (David McNew/Getty Image

The Los Angeles Times, in an editorial, is heralding a decision to increase phone access to people facing immigration hearings. Among other issues, the LAT notes that part of the problem is that the government contracts detention of those people to private firms, which have their own policies. The newspaper also notes that lack of phone access equates to lack of legal representation, which is a key factor in deciding who gets to stay and who has to go.

The editorial notes that “… a legal settlement this week should help remove one obstacle facing detainees: their lack of access to telephones. In a case filed in a San Francisco federal court, detainees represented by the ACLU and other civil rights groups argued that the conditions of their detention in four California facilities interfered with their right to find counsel, to gather evidence on their own behalf and to receive a fair hearing when they make their cases in court. How were those rights being impeded? Through policies that severely limited their use of telephones.”

In another point, the Times says that “… part of the problem is the immigration detention system itself, which relies primarily on contracts between the federal government and the county jails or private companies that house detainees as well as other prisoners. Those facilities have their own rules about inmate access to telephones that also apply to immigration detainees even though the latter have not been charged with or found guilty of crimes.”

Read the editorial here: Why should immigration detainees be denied access to telephones?

Fallout Continues Over Judge’s Comments That 3-Year-Olds Can Represent Themselves

Immigrants from El Salvador and Guatemala who entered the country illegally board a bus after being released from a family detention center in San Antonio, Texas in 2015. (Eric Gay / Associated Press)

Immigrants from El Salvador and Guatemala who entered the country illegally board a bus after being released from a family detention center in San Antonio, Texas in 2015. (Eric Gay / Associated Press)

Political fallout continues over that immigration judge who recently made headlines for testifying that 3- and 4-year-old migrant children could be taught immigration law and could competently represent themselves in court. The backlash includes a powerful Los Angeles Times editorial that warms readers not to “be fooled” as the government tries to dilute the comments.
The Times notes the actual comment: “You can do a fair hearing,” said Judge Jack H. Weil. “[Children] get it. It’s not the most efficient, but it can be done.” He was testifying in a deposition for a federal lawsuit brought by the ACLU and other legal organizations to challenge the government’s failure to appoint counsel for children facing deportation.

The L.A. Times notes that “… Weil’s bosses promptly disavowed his comments, and he claimed his words had been taken out of context. But don’t be fooled. Weil is an assistant chief immigration judge responsible for training other judges on cases involving children. He is not just knowledgeable about how young people are treated in immigration court, he facilitates the process. His deposition unmasks the government’s deplorable position: Deportation hearings in which children must defend themselves are not right, but they will continue.”

It’s worth noting that Ahilan Arulanantham, deputy legal director at the ACLU of Southern California and the attorney who questioned Weil in the now-infamous deposition, told The Washington Post that he initially thought the judge had misspoken, “because what he said was so outrageous. As I asked further questions, he obviously meant what he said.”

Read the Times opinion, including just how much more likely non-represented kids are to be sent back, here: The injustice of deporting children without representation

Colorado Has Longest Immigration Court Delay: 933 days, 9K cases pending

ap_120625039355

Demonstrating for immigrant rights in Arizona. Photo credit, Colorado Public Radio report, 3/3/16

Colorado Public Radio is reporting that the Mile High State “… now has the longest delays in the nation for immigrants trying to have their cases heard before an immigration judge. The average waiting period is 933 days, and there are 9,420 cases pending.”

The network asks Denver immigration attorney Jennifer Casey to explain the situation while noting that it “… could get worse given the immigration-crackdown rhetoric in this political campaign season.”
Her initial comment: “If you look at the immigration courts over the last three years in Colorado, what we’ve seen is a reduction by about 50 percent of the immigration judges here locally. So we went from six judges in 2013 and we’re now down to three judges in 2016.”

The attorney also offers some background: “So, 50 percent reduction in immigration judges, 20 percent increase in cases and then the third factor is that the immigration courts nationally have prioritized certain cases above other cases. So we’ve got a priority docket and those are individuals who have entered the U.S. recently, specifically since May of 2014, who are either unaccompanied children or families with children. Mostly we’re talking about women and children but not exclusively.”
Of course, she also notes that the long delays benefit those with weaker cases to remain in the United States while hurting those with the better cases, because they cannot get a court date to win legal status.

– See more at: Why Denver’s Immigration Court Has The Longest Hearing Delays In The US

New Year Brings Increased Pressure On Immigration Courts

Photo: From Miami Herald report, 12/30/15

Photo: From Miami Herald report, 12/30/15

The new year brings a massive government roundup of women and families in the country illegally, which in turn raises the profile of would-be refugees claiming domestic violence as a reason for staying. The Miami Herald has an in-depth, potentially game-changing report that includes noting the half-million cases pending in Immigration Court, which is actually a civil function of the Justice Department and not a federal court in the usual sense.

The newspaper reported that in influx “… of unaccompanied minors and families from Central America that began last year has increased the backlog to nearly half a million cases in immigration court. To receive asylum in the United States, applicants must prove they have well-founded fears of persecution because of “race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.”

Which applicants are most likely to prevail often depends on judges’ backgrounds, what parts of the country the cases are heard in and whether they have lawyers, according to data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, known as TRAC, at Syracuse University.

The newspaper also looks at recent judicial changes that might allow more families to stay, and notes the huge holding facilities in Texas. Really, a solid backgrounder in what is emerging as a potential presidential election issue, especially in the pivotal primary state of Florida.

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.