Deportation order for 11-year-old draws attention to courts’ woes

Laura Maradiaga-Alvarado, 11, was ordered deported without her family. Photo credit: Fiel Houston as reported by NBC News.

Laura Maradiaga-Alvarado, 11, was ordered deported without her family. Photo credit: Fiel Houston as reported by NBC News.

The near-deportation of a solitary 11-year-old child earlier this year highlights, critics say, the backlogs and turmoil surrounding federal immigration courts.

“A federal immigration judge in Houston signed a deportation order for Laura Maradiaga-Alvarado, originally from El Salvador, on March 12,” explains an NBC News article.

In the wake of publicity about the child’s plight, the judge ordered a new hearing scheduled for May 20, officials said.

“The deportation order has been attributed to a mistake made after a hearing scheduled in February for the girl, her mother and her sister was delayed by the government shutdown,” the article notes.

A March report by the American Bar Association indicated “that since its 2010 review of the court system, things had worsened ‘considerably,’” NBC News reports.

“The same issues identified then persist nearly a decade later: inadequate staffing, training and hiring; growing backlogs; inconsistent decision patterns among judges, particularly in asylum cases, and adoption of video-conference technology that impedes fair hearings. The situation, it said, has been exacerbated by years of congressional inaction while enforcement has increased under the Trump administration,” the article notes.

Study: Miami Immigration Court Is Most Lenient In Nation

The clearinghouse that tracks immigration court backlog says that some places are better than others for immigrations hoping remain in the United States. The Miami Herald reports that’s “… because judges at the Miami immigration court are deemed among the most lenient toward immigrants in the country… the report from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University says that the Miami immigration court is in the top five immigration courts in the country whose judges are more likely to allow immigrants to stay in the country despite deportation orders sought by government trial attorneys representing the Department of Homeland Security.

According to the TRAC study, the Phoenix immigration court ranks No. 1 with “the highest proportion of individuals who were allowed to stay.” In second place was the New York immigration court, followed by Denver in third, San Antonio in fourth and then Miami in fifth, according to the study.

See the TRAC research here.

Read the newspaper’s story here: How lenient are Miami immigration judges? A study ranks the court

Report Offers Details About Immigration Court Backlog

As reported in Al Jazeera America: "The nation’s immigration courts got a bit of relief at the beginning of June, when the Department of Justice hired 18 new immigration judges. But the courts are still facing a major backlog.Illustration by Sam Ward for Al Jazeera America"

As reported in Al Jazeera America: “The nation’s immigration courts got a bit of relief at the beginning of June, when the Department of Justice hired 18 new immigration judges. But the courts are still facing a major backlog.Illustration by Sam Ward for Al Jazeera America”

A new report by Bruce Wallace, writing for Al Jazeera America, details just how stalled the nation’s busiest immigration courts are, and how backlogged they remain. Writing from New York, he reports that “… depending on how you count it, this courthouse — actually a collection of 31 small courtrooms scattered across two floors of a tall federal office building in downtown Manhattan — is either the busiest or second busiest of the 58 immigration courts in the country. The one in Los Angeles got more new cases last year — a little over 18,000, compared with around 17,700 for Manhattan. But Manhattan has more cases pending: 60,538 compared with 51,878 in L.A. Or, on average, about 2,240 cases per New York judge. Judges in comparable courts have about 700 cases a year, according to the American Bar Association.
The story goes on: “Death-penalty cases in a traffic-court setting” is how Dana Leigh Marks likes to put it. She’s an immigration judge in San Francisco and president of the National Association of Immigration Judges (and, as such, one of two immigration judges in the country who are permitted to speak to the media). “The volume alone is like traffic court, and yet the stakes for someone who asserts a claim of asylum, if I am wrong — or even if I’m right but, because the law doesn’t allow me to grant relief, I have to deny them — they could be going back and facing death.”
Immigration courts, despite their name, are not actually part of the federal courts system. They are part of the Justice Department and the judges do not have much power over their colleagues who represent the government. They are civil courts, so there is no right to have counsel provided. Nationally, some 450,000 cases are pending with wait times reaching half a decade.

‘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.


Judges Renew Calls For Immigration Court Reform

After a period of relative quiet, the immigration judges facing hundreds of thousands of cases are speaking out, calling for help amid a crisis. A new NPR report explains that “… as Congress debates the fate of President Obama’s immigration policies, the nation’s immigration court system is bogged down in delays exacerbated by the flood of unaccompanied minors who crossed the southern border last summer. The administration made it a priority for those cases to be heard immediately. As a result, hundreds of thousands of other cases have been delayed until as late as 2019.”
NPR adds that “even before this past summer’s surge of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum, the immigration courts were already clogged, says Judge Dana Leigh Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges. There were too many cases for too few judges, and adding in the cases of the unaccompanied minors only made matters worse. There are currently more than 429,000 cases pending in the courts with just 223 judges.
The “judges” are not part of the usual judicial system, but are actually employees of the Justice Department – that means, for example, that they could not hold government agents – really, their co-workers – in contempt of court during one of the hearings. Read more: Immigration Courts ‘Operating In Crisis Mode,’ Judges Say

In First, 2014 ‘OTM’ Out-Paced Mexican Immigrant Detention

For the first time, the OTM, or “other than Mexican,” immigration out-paced Mexican nationals apprehended at the U.S. Mexico during 2014, a Texas ABC News affiliate is reporting. Citing a Pew Research Center study, KRGV in the Rio Grande valley says that “… [in] 2014, the number of Mexican nationals detained was 229,000, compare to nearly 260,000 OTMs. A surge of Central American children made up a large part of the immigration picture last summer. The numbers are lower than in years past, but the open border raises many questions nationally and locally.”
The OTM designation offers a different path for would-be migrants, including an immigration court review before they can be sent back. The bigger numbers come as the U.S. faced a surge from Central American companies, especially among minor children seeking refuge here. The TV station speculates that “… it is possible immigration courts will be busy with thousands of people filing documents. In the next few weeks, it is possible those same courts will likely handle hundreds, possibly thousands, of cases involving new illegal immigrants.” The story outlines border issues involving social services, property insurance and other impacts. See it here.

Courts Monitor’s Top 5 Civil Justice Issues For 2015

The staff and publisher offer a rundown of five top civil justice issues to watch. See it at The Huffington Post.

‘Border Kids’ Noted In AP’s Top 2014 Stories

AP photo used in Tampa Bay Times report on 12/22/14 shows "Young detainees sleep in a holding cell on June 18, 2014, at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility in Brownsville,Texas."

AP photo used in Tampa Bay Times report on 12/22/14 shows “Young detainees sleep in a holding cell on June 18, 2014, at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility in Brownsville,Texas.”

The unaccompanied Central American minors seeking refuge in the United States was a key event as “immigration” was a Top 10 story in 2014, according to the Associated Press annual survey of U.S. editors and news directors. The wire service said “police killing of unarmed blacks” was the top story and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was second.
On immigration, the AP says that “… frustrated by an impasse in Congress, President Obama took executive actions in November to curb deportations for many immigrants residing in the U.S. illegally. GOP leaders in the House and Senate pledged efforts to block the president’s moves. Prospects for reform legislation were dimmed earlier in the year by the influx of unaccompanied Central American minors arriving at the U.S. border, causing shelter overloads and case backlogs.” Immigration courts are civil justice proceedings managed by the Justice Department. Judges in the system have called for an overhaul, including making the courts independent of law enforcement.
See the AP story list for 2014 here, via the Tampa Bay Tribune.

N.M. Immigrant Detention Center Closing

The high-profile immigrant detention center in Artesia, N.M., is closing, the San Diego Union Tribune is reporting. The paper says that “… the government told some members of Congress about its plans Tuesday, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement later confirmed the closure to the AP. The administration indicated the facility was no longer needed because they are expanding jails elsewhere.”
The U-T adds that: “The Homeland Security Department opened the detention center at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, New Mexico, in late June amid a crush of tens of thousands of Central American families caught crossing the border illegally. The facility had space to jail about 700 people facing deportation.”
Phillip Burch, the mayor of Artesia, said in the past six weeks 448 Central American mothers and children have been released from the detention center and 28 were deported. You can read the story 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.”