Boston Globe Deep-Dives Into Immigration Court Delays

Photo Credit: Boston Globe Report, Pat Greenhouse/Staff / File 2015

Citing government studies, The Boston Glove is reporting that the immigration court “logjam” has more than doubled over the past decade, to include about a half-million cases including 11,271 cases in Boston,
“As a result, some respondents’ cases may take years to resolve,” government auditors said in the June 1 report on the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees the immigration court system.
The Globe story focuses on a woman, her husband, and their two children who “… fled war-torn Syria in 2013, moving first to Lebanon before arriving legally in Massachusetts in March 2014. They applied for asylum, were granted temporary permission to stay, and were given work permits. So far, however, they have no idea how long they’ll be allowed to remain in the United States. Or even if they will.”
The reporting cites several causes for the backlog, including too few judges and the 2014 jump in people seeing refuge here. Immigration courts are considered “civil,” rather than criminal and thus do not have to provide lawyers and other protections. The courts are not part of the federal courts system but are a function of the Justice Department.
Read the Globe story here: At immigration courts, a growing backlog – The Boston Globe

SF-Based Immigration Courts Getting Testy

Official seal of the Executive Office of Immigration Review, which operates the U.S. immigration courts.

The federal immigration courts, already over-booked with a half-million pending cases and the focus of President Trump’s crackdown strategies, are getting a bit testy out San Francisco way. A reporter with the East Bay Express, a small but scrappy newspaper, wrote about being asked to leave a proceeding.

The story paints an alarming picture of federal agents lacking transparency. While not a direct part of the story, it also illustrates that the “judges” actually work for the Justice Department and are not regular federal judges.

Read the report here:

I Was Kicked Out of Federal Immigration Court — Because I’m a Journalist | East Bay Express

Former NY Prosecutor Outlines ‘The Real Crisis’ For Immigration

Quotas for depriving people of their liberty (KATE BRUMBACK/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Quotas for depriving people of their liberty (KATE BRUMBACK/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Over the last five years, the budget for immigration courts grew by 74% — but the budget for immigration enforcement agencies grew by over 400%. The result is gridlock that makes those old criminal court dockets look like models of efficiency.

Former Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, writing in the New York Daily News, outlines just how bad the U.S. immigration court crisis has become, blaming political pressures and adding that “… the result is a backlog that staggers the imagination. Today, when immigrants ask when they need to return to court, many are told in 2023.

“Morgenthau outlines the oft-cited, but still hard to believe, stats: “According to the most recent data from a think tank at Syracuse University, there are currently pending before our immigration courts over half a million removal cases. That averages about 2,000 cases per judge.”

The writer offers some solutions and begins with judges: “What is to be done? Regardless of how one feels about immigration reform generally, everyone can agree that we need to restore sanity to immigration court. First, immigration judges should be real judges. Right now, they are employees of the Justice Department, and not genuinely independent.”

He also makes a call for a sort of Civil Gideon, the idea that some civil cases (as opposed to criminal cases) should require representation (immigration cases are considered civil actions): “Congress must also ensure that immigrants get proper legal representation when their basic rights are at stake… a study published this month disclosed that in 70% of cases involving adults with children, there was no legal representation for the family.”

And, obviously, increase capacity. It’s a well-considered piece from somebody who knows of what they speak. Read it, and find the writer’s other missives on immigration and other issues, here:

 Robert Morgenthau: America’s real immigration crisis

Colorado City Settles ‘Debtors Prison’ Case

 Nicole Beemsterboer/NPR


Nicole Beemsterboer/NPR

You can add Colorado Springs, Colo., to the list of American cities learning that turning “civil” cases like traffic tickets into jail-time cases might be illegal. National Public Radio did a deep-dive into the situation this week, offering the context that “… debtors’ prisons have long been illegal in the United States. But many courts across the country still send people to jail when they can’t pay their court fines. Last year, the Justice Department stepped in to stop the practice in Ferguson, Mo. And now, in a first, a U.S. city will pay out thousands of dollars to people who were wrongly sent to jail.”

The NPR story said that Colorado Springs and the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado announced “… a settlement that will end the practice of jailing people too poor to pay their court fines. The city will even give payouts to people who were incorrectly sent to jail. Last year, the ACLU of Colorado discovered nearly 800 cases where people had gone to jail in Colorado Springs when they couldn’t pay their tickets for minor violations. Most of the people were homeless — and they were ticketed for things such as panhandling or sleeping in a park overnight. The settlement calls for people to receive $125 for each day they were in jail. One man featured in the story, illegally jailed after being fined for holding up a sign at roadside, will receive some $11,000.

NPR quoted ACLU attorney Mark Silverstein explaining that “… putting people in jail when they can’t pay their fines — without giving them alternative options such as community service — has been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court” and also cited their previous work on the issue: An NPR investigative series in 2014 found the practice is widespread across the country. “The law is supposed to treat us equally,” Silverstein says. “So when people with means can simply pay a fine and move on and then the poor get sentenced to jail, because they’re poor, that’s a two-tiered system of justice that violates the principle of equal protection of the laws.”

That previous NPR investigation, which is truly alarming, noted that “… one of the first instances NPR found of fees charged to criminal defendants was in 1965 when California required payments to reimburse crime victims. By the 1980s, states started billing criminal defendants to reimburse taxpayers. Michigan, in 1984, passed the first law to charge inmates for some of the costs of their incarceration. By 1990, Texas reported that fees from offenders made up more than half the budget of the state’s probation agencies.” California now can charge people for their jail stays, public defender costs and other fees, as can 48 other states.

Read the Colorado Springs story here:
Colorado Springs Will Stop Jailing People Too Poor To Pay Court Fines

Houston Press Outlines How Broken Immigration Courts Really Are

Illustration by Brian Stauffer used in a report by The Houston Press, "Immigration Backlog Bounces Thousands of Cases to Late 2019," 2/10/16

Illustration by Brian Stauffer used in a report by The Houston Press, “Immigration Backlog Bounces Thousands of Cases to Late 2019,” 2/10/16

The Houston Press newspaper starts with immigration attorney John Nechman explaining how busy he used to be before “all of his removal cases scheduled to be heard in Houston’s downtown immigration court were reset to the same ten-day span in November, 2019.” And he says “it’s like that for every immigration attorney in town.” Obviously, the report points out, there’s no way all the cases actually scheduled for November, 2019 can be heard – it seems like a good holding date that’s still in this decade.

There are thousands of cases in Houston and also San Antonio and speculation is that they will actually get bumped back into the next decade. Nechman explains the irony: “good” cases, likely to be allowed to remain in the U.S. get the shaft because they remain in legal limbo for years and years; meanwhile, “bad” cases likely to get sent out of the country get years and years to become part of the culture and remain in the U.S.  Houston has the most pending cases in Texas, and is nationally third behind Los Angeles and New York City.

If you’re among those who feel like the immigration court, which is actually an administrative function of the Justice Department and not a federal court at all, has become dysfunctional with its 450,000-case backlog, then this story confirms your worst fears.