Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Trump's New Rules Swamps Already Backlogged Immigration Courts

In San Antonio, an Immigration Judge breezes through more than 20 Juvenile cases a Day, warning those in the packed Courtroom to show up at their next Hearing, or risk Deportation.

A Miami Immigration Lawyer wrestles with new Federal Rules that could wind up Deporting Clients who, just a few weeks ago, appeared eligible to stay.

Judges and Attorneys in Los Angeles struggle with Mandarin Translators and an ever-growing caseload.

Coast to Coast, Immigration Judges, Prosecutors, and Defense Attorneys are straining to decipher how the Federal Immigration Rules released in February by the Trump Administration will impact the system, amid an already burgeoning Backlog of existing Cases.

The new Guidelines, part of President Trump's Campaign promise to crack down on Illegal Immigration, give Enforcement Agents greater rein to Deport Immigrants without Hearings and Detain those who entered the Country without Permission.

But the ambitious Policy shift faces a tough hurdle: an Immigration Court system already juggling more than a half-million Cases and ill-equipped to take on thousands more.

“We're at critical mass,” said Linda Brandmiller, a San Antonio Immigration Attorney who works with Juveniles. “There isn’t an empty courtroom. We don’t have enough judges. You can say you’re going to prosecute more people, but from a practical perspective, how do you make that happen?”

Today, 301 Judges hear Immigration Cases in 58 Courts across the United States. The Backlogged Cases have soared in recent years, from 236,415 in 2010 to 508,036 this year, or nearly 1,700 outstanding Cases per Judge, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a data research group at Syracuse University.

Some Judges and Attorneys say it’s too early to see any effects from the New Guidelines. Others say they noticed a difference and fear that people with Legitimate Claims for Asylum or Visas may be Deported along with those who are Criminals.

Meanwhile, the Cases mount. The Backlog at Immigration Courts has spiked over the past decade as Resources poured into Immigration Enforcement, said Judge Dana Leigh Marks, President of the National Association of Immigration Judges.

Funding for Immigration Courts increased 70% from fiscal years 2002 to 2013, from $175 million to $304 million, and Budgets for ICE and Customs and Border Patrol rose 300%, from $4.5 billion to $18 billion, in the same period, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

“There is concern and frustration” among the Judges about the latest Guidelines, Marks said. “The people in the field are feeling very disconnected from the decision-makers and are not aware of much, if any, of the specifics of how these broad, aspirational goals will be implemented.”

Sample of Backlog Cases

California - 90,652 with Los Angeles - 44,596
On the eighth floor of a skyscraper in downtown Los Angeles, Judge Lorraine Muñoz hears cases with such efficiency that Immigration Lawyers nicknamed her list of Cases the "Rocket Docket."
Immigrants, clad in the orange jumpsuits of Federal Custody, answer questions about how and why they entered the Country. Lawyers for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) aggressively examine their explanations. One Case involved a Chinese man who allegedly flew to Tijuana, Mexico, on a Tourist Visa, climbed over the Border Fence and turned himself in to U.S. Border Patrol Agents. He was seeking Asylum in the U.S., claiming he was persecuted for being a Christian in his rural farming village. At his hearing, the ICE Lawyer asked him to repeat his story multiple times, pointing out changes in the narrative. At one point, the man said, Police officers hit him in the head after arresting him. “Last time you told us you were only hit in the stomach and chest,” the Lawyer said. “So at the last hearing you forgot where you were struck?” His Lawyer, who was filling in for another Attorney and had not met this Client before, did not object to the questioning. Ultimately, the Judge denied the man’s Asylum request, but he had a chance to file an Appeal.

Yanci Montes, a Lawyer with El Rescate, a Non-Profit that offers free Legal services, said that since the New Rules were announced, Prosecutors are more likely to pursue Charges and Deportations, and Judges set higher Bonds for Immigrants at Detention Centers. “Before Trump became president, things were a lot smoother,” she said.

Florida - 30,605 with Miami - 23,045
Cynthia Adriana Gonzalez stood before Immigration Judge G.W. Riggs and awaited instructions. She’s an Undocumented Immigrant from Mexico with no Criminal Record and three children born in the U.S. Gonzalez’s Attorney asked for “Prosecutorial Discretion,” a common practice under the Obama Administration in which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) didn’t push to Deport Undocumented Immigrants with no Criminal record.

The new Directives vastly broaden the pool of Undocumented Immigrants considered for Deportation. The result has been a jarring shift in which the Government seeks Deportation in nearly every Immigration Case, said Clarel Cyriaque, a Defense Attorney who represents Haitians in South Florida. Dozens of his Clients were under consideration for Prosecutorial Discretion based on their years in the U.S., Steady Employment and Clean Records. "That’s off the table now,” he said. “As soon as Trump took office, everything stopped. They got new marching orders. Their prime directive now is enforcement, as opposed to exercising discretion that would help good people.”

Homeland Security says its Attorneys can still practice Discretion on a Case-by-Case basis. But a statement released after Trump signed his executive order on immigration in January states, “With extremely limited exceptions, DHS will not exempt classes or categories of removal aliens from potential enforcement.”

Texas - 89,828 with San Antonio - 26,115
Courtroom 7 at the San Antonio Immigration Court is a small room on the fourth floor of a nondescript building near downtown, with the few wooden benches almost always full. On a recent afternoon, Judge Anibal Martinez heard Case after Case of Juvenile Immigrants seeking Asylum. They were from Honduras, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico. Martinez smiled at the youngsters and, through an interpreter, thanked them for their patience. Of the 25 Juveniles listed on the Docket, just four had Legal representation. About half of the kids didn’t show up.

“You’ve been excellent in bringing your daughter to court today,” the Judge told one woman. “But if she misses the next hearing, I may order her removal in absentia. Whether or not you have an attorney, you must show up.” The mom nodded in agreement.

Brandmiller, the Immigration Attorney, said many Immigrants are too scared to appear in Court. “I try to tell them it’s the opposite — if you don’t show, there’s a greater chance you’ll be deported,” she said. “But there’s such a deep fear out there right now.”

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