‘Border Kids’ Moves Into New ‘Crisis Of Process’

Photo from the LA Times Report, "7,000 immigrant children ordered deported without going to court," 3/6/15

Photo from the LA Times Report, “7,000 immigrant children ordered deported without going to court,” 3/6/15


Just when you think the “Border Kids” crisis where thousands of minor asylum seekers flood the borders, the situation takes a turn for the worse. Now, the Los Angeles Times reports, “… more than 7,000 immigrant children have been ordered deported without appearing in court since large numbers of minors from Central America began illegally crossing the U.S. border in 2013, federal statistics show.”
 
Not that anyone knows much beyond those orders. The Times notes that immigrant advocates say many of those children were never notified of their hearing date because of problems with the immigration court system. Times sources say that some notices arrived late, some went to the wrong address or perhaps there was no notice delivered at all. Those sources also say some children were ordered to appear in a court where they were initially detained, not where they are living now.
 
Also, nobody really knows how many of those children choose to just not show up for the hearing, or how many were actually notices. “What was a border crisis has now become a due process crisis,” said Wendy Young, president of Kids in Need of Defense, an advocacy group, in the Times report. Oh, and it is also not known how many of those children facing deportation orders have been sent home – you have to wonder if they even know the hearings happened.
 
Read more on the mess at the Times.

 

Church-Based ‘Guardian Angels” Step Into Help ‘Border Kids’ Facing Deportation

A Los Angeles Times report highlights efforts of a Lutheran church group becoming de facto court watchers to make sure the “border kids” – those under-18 would-be immigrants from countries other than Mexico who recently flooded into the U.S. – understand their rights under American law. Advocates say the Justice Department courts that review cases are wildly uneven and outcomes depend largely on legal representation. Those charged in the courts do not have a right to an attorney because the cases are considered civil actions.
 
Reports the LAT: “Because the government does not provide lawyers to immigrants facing removal, many of the children have ended up navigating complex deportation proceedings alone. Last fiscal year, 72% of children in deportation hearings were not represented by an attorney, according to federal data analyzed by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.”
 
Leaders of the guardian angels program, notes the Times, include the Lutheran pastor “… who hatched the idea last summer after hearing that children’s deportation hearings were being fast-tracked through the court system. More than three-fourths of children’s court cases closed in the second half of last year resulted in removal orders, according to the federal Executive Office of Immigrant Review. In the vast majority of those cases, the deportation orders were issued in absentia because the children did not show up for their hearings.”
 

Central American Cases Push Others Aside

One way to respond to the immigration courts crisis highlighted by those unaccompanied minors from Central America would be to overhaul the system and increase capacity. Another would be to push those cases ahead of others in hopes of discouraging other migrants from coming. Guess which one we’re doing? 
 
The Houston Chronicle has a strong story about “… a startling turnaround for a clogged immigration court system that usually takes about six months between just these first steps [as opposed to 30 days], reflecting the government’s effort to push Central American cases through the pipeline to deter other migrants from coming. The aggressive effort, however, has ramifications for others in the system, which is facing a record backlog of more than 430,000 cases nationwide. Some immigrants’ hearings have been delayed indefinitely, which can impede time-sensitive cases and jeopardize their chances of gaining legal residency. Mexicans, who make up the largest portion of immigration courts’ caseload, saw their disposition times increase by about 13 percent to 533 days, according to a new analysis of court records by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.”
 
“The Central American cases have completely taken over the docket,” immigration attorney Salvador Colon told the paper, while another noted that “they’re shoving all the Central Americans in front saying, ‘Go home and tell everyone else not to come because you’re going to be deported. The immigration court here looks like a day care because there are so many little kids hopping around.”
 

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

Supreme Court Considering Key Low-Level Drug Deportation Issue

The United States Supreme Court famously likes to use small cases to make big decisions, and thus we have the case of a man deported over a sock. The International Business Times explains that “… Moones Mellouli, an immigrant from Tunisia who has been fighting the grounds of his deportation order since 2012. A high court ruling against him could widen the deportation net for immigrants convicted of low-level drug-related crimes — even if the drugs in question aren’t designated controlled substances under federal law.”
 
The Times offers the backstory: “Mellouli came to the U.S. in 2004 on a student visa. He completed two master’s degrees, taught mathematics, secured a job as an actuary and received his green card. In 2010, he was stopped and detained in Kansas for driving under the influence, and then charged and convicted with possession of drug paraphernalia — specified under Kansas law as anything used to “store, contain, conceal, inject, ingest, inhale or otherwise introduce a controlled substance into the human body.” In this case, it was a sock containing an unspecified drug… in Kansas, this counted as a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine. Under federal law, and in many other states where “drug paraphernalia” has a stricter definition, Mellouli’s behavior wouldn’t have amounted to a crime at all.”
 
The idea was that his sock, where he had stashed four Adderall pills, was paraphernalia. The Justice Department’s Immigration Court upheld the deportation. Now, says the Times, “… if the Supreme Court agrees, it could open the way for more of these types of low-level drug crimes to become deportable offenses… the case also highlights the degree to which the variability of state laws factors into deportations: If Mellouli had been in California, rather than Kansas, he may not have been convicted in the first place.
 

Immigration Judges The ‘Cinderellas’ Of Justice System?

San Francisco immigration judge Dana Leigh Marks, who sidesteps a Justice Department gag order on her profession because she is also president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, is continuing to give voice to those who work inside the “border kid” crisis. She tells ABC News that “… we call ourselves ‘the legal Cinderellas’ in the Department of Justice, because we feel that we have been ignored resource-wise.”

She told ABC that, this year, “… $18 billion was spent on immigration law enforcement and only 1.7 perfect of that went to the courts…” Marks also cited non-functioning equipment and understaffed offices as key culprits in the “massive dysfunction” that immigration judges are currently facing. The judges are actually Justice Department employees.

Judge Marks outlined the scope of the problem: “Nationwide there’s more than 375,000 pending cases before 227 immigration judges who are sitting in the field,” Marks said. This works out to more than 1,500 cases per judge, but individual caseloads vary across the country. For example, Marks’ docket in San Francisco has more than 2,400 pending cases. The judge said the administration’s decision to “flip” the docket to move border kids to the front has meant longer delays for others. 

Read the story from the front lines of immigration court here: Immigration Judge Says Court System Has Been Ignored, Underfunded

‘Kafka’s’ Immigration Trials Spark State and National Response

CCM’s publisher, Sara Warner, has another post up on Huffington Post regarding the Border Kids legal representation issue. Take a look!

Most ‘Border Kids’ Show Up For Court

It’s been a nagging part of the “border kids” immigration crisis: How many of those children actually show up for court? Especially since many are sent to live with relatives and may have court dates set months into the future – easy enough to miss. A new government report, covered in the Wall Street Journal, says that “… the vast majority of migrants who recently entered the U.S. illegally are showing up for their scheduled deportation hearings, even as the government said most adults who arrived with children have skipped separate required check-ins with immigration offices.”
 
Reports the WSJ: “Between July 18 and Sept. 30, about 85% of unaccompanied minors showed up for a scheduled first hearing, and about two-thirds of adults with children appeared, according to data obtained from the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the agency that oversees the nation’s immigration courts. The agency said on July 18 that it would expedite deportation hearings for the two groups, following the Obama administration’s decision to prioritize their cases to discourage further illegal immigration.”
 
About 30,000 unchaperoned children and 40,000 people entering in family units flocked to the U.S. during a surge of such immigrants between May and August this year, the latest month available, said the WSJ, adding that “… that surge has since subsided.” Some states and the federal government have allotted millions of dollars to provide legal representation for the border kids, who are not provided with lawyers because the violations are potentially civil, not criminal.