New Priority to Certain Immigration Court Cases Creates a New Crisis

New Priority to Certain Immigration Court Cases Creates a New Crisis

US Department of Homeland Security Gives Priority to Certain Immigration Court Cases, Creating a New Court Crisis

Moving immigration court cases through the U.S. immigration court system can be a slow and tedious process for immigrants. People like a 31 year-old woman whom we will call Juanita, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador. Juanita fled the only home she has ever known with her two sons. “There are massacres where I come from,” she said in Spanish through an interpreter. “They don’t have any respect for anybody.”

Because of fears for her safety NBC Bay Area agreed to call her by a different name.

Juanita came to the United States looking for freedom. Now she has to wear an ankle monitor so US Immigration officers can track her whereabouts at all times. It’s a small price for her, but she has no idea how long she’ll have to wear the monitor. They recently pushed back the date for her immigration court case to more than a year away.

“I felt more secure before (when I had a court date). I cannot explain or understand ourselves why they moved the court date, I feel very insecure now.” Juanita said. 

Another undocumented immigrant had to leave her young daughter behind in El Salvador. She feared for her life and had to flee to the US. Paola (not her real name) applied for political asylum, but, like in Juanita’s case, she experiences continued delay in her immigration court case. “I have my daughter and for me that is my biggest desperation,” the 31 year-old said. “That’s why I wish the process was a little faster.” The immigration court originally scheduled her case for next month. The court has now pushed it until January of 2017 at the earliest.

Delayed Justice in immigration court cases

Paola’s attorney, Emily Abraham, expects another delay. She says her client’s case is not unique. “Families are being scheduled out to 2019, sometimes later. They can’t actually get any justice here until their immigration court case is over,” Abraham said. “They can’t bring their family here to live with them.

Data backs up what Abraham’s sees firsthand. According to the U.S. Justice Department’s EOIR, as of July 20, 2016, there were 35,005 pending immigration cases in San Francisco. Nationwide EOIR had more than a half million (500,051) pending immigration court cases.

What makes things different this year is that after March 1, 2016, EOIR began prioritizing immigration cases the Department of Homeland Security considered “Priority 1 category for civil immigration enforcement. Since July, 2014, EOIR had been prioritizing unaccompanied children, families in detention, families released on alternatives to detention and detained cases of recent border crossers. Now when DHS categorizes undocumented immigrant immigration court cases as “Priority 1”, that action essentially puts them on the fast track toward a resolution. But it also means other undocumented immigrants waiting for hearings on their immigration court cases experience delay time and time again.

Click here for full EOIR statement.

“A lot of clients get hearing dates continued. And continued just means they push them off sometimes two, three, four times. They don’t tell us why,” said Guatam Jagannath. “Clients deserve to know why they push them off.”

DHS and ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice told NBC Bay Area “we don’t directly tell EOIR and judges how to set their calendar. “Kice did admit that DHS does categorize immigration cases into areas of priority and communicates with EOIR about setting those calendars, it is EOIR not DHS that sets US Immigration Court calendars.

Click here to read full statement from DHS/ICE.

“Crisis of the Immigration Courts”

“I’d call it a crisis in the court, but that seems inadequate because we have been saying there has been a crisis for several years,” said Judge Dana Leigh Marks, the President of the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ). Judge Marks spoke to NBC Bay Area as a representative of the NAIJ. “The court is just under tremendous pressure. The judges are feeling the brunt of that.”

Judge Marks says she wants to move immigration court cases at a quicker pace, but that’s difficult when DHS tells her and other judges how to set their calendars. “It feels like you’re tying my hands back in terms of not letting me use what I think is my best legal judgment after years on the bench to figure out how to schedule my immigration court cases so I can do the most in the shortest period of time,” said Judge Marks.

EOIR confirms that since March 1, 2016, DHS has flagged priority immigration cases, allowing to fast track them. “I have not heard a coherent explanation as to why some immigration court cases are considered to be priorities and others are not,” said Judge Marks.

Click here for latest Border Patrol Statistics.

All of this leaves the undocumented immigrants with lots of questions, and very few answers. “We don’t know what is happening,” said Paola. “We just would like it if they gave us some answers as to why.”

Officials with EOIR tell me they are doing their best to get everyone’s immigration court case before a judge. Not only do they have an all-time high 277 judges working an EOIR spokeswoman says the agency is working to hire 90 more.

Even so, if NO MORE immigration court cases came in right now it would take more than 2 years just to clear the present hearing schedules; there are that many people in the system.

Source: US Dept. of Homeland Security Gives Priority to Certain Immigration Cases, Creating a New Court Crisis | NBC Bay Area

 

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