Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Backlogged immigration courts face new deluge

LOS ANGELES — Adolescent girls in braids and pigtails and teenage boys wearing jeans and sneakers sat alongside their parents in the courtroom of Immigration Judge Frank Travieso to hear how long they might be allowed to stay in the United States.

Travieso grabbed four thick books and dropped each one on his desk with a thud, warning the families in his Los Angeles courtroom about the thousands of pages of immigration laws and interpretations that could affect their cases and urging them to get a lawyer.

"This is even smaller print," he said of the 1,200-page book containing regulations during the hearing in June. "I am not trying to scare you, but I'm trying to ensure your children get a full and fair hearing."

He then sent them on their way and told them to report back in February.

The scene is one that could become more common as the country's backlogged immigration courts brace for a deluge of tens of thousands of Central American children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent months.

The court system is so overwhelmed that it can take three years to get a hearing, and many believe the delays will only get worse in the months ahead. For many immigrants, the delays in the court system work in their favor because they know they have so long before their cases are resolved.

"This situation just happens to be a magnitude unlike anything we have ever seen," said Lauren Alder Reid, counsel for legislative and public affairs at the U.S. Justice Department's Executive Office for Immigration Review, which runs the courts.

Immigration courts in the United States have long been troubled. The courts, overseen by the Department of Justice, have more than 375,000 cases being handled by just 243 judges, according to the agency.

It can take months or years to get hearings for immigrants who aren't in detention facilities, let alone a resolution. Immigration lawyers said judges are already setting hearings for 2017.

The Obama administration has said it will move quickly to process thousands of immigrant children and families arriving on the Texas border fleeing violence and extortion from gangs in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Since October, more than 57,000 unaccompanied children have reached the United States, prompting the government to set up temporary shelters and fly immigrants to other states to be processed. Officials have asked Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency funding to cope with the crisis, including the hiring of more judges.

After Central American immigrants are apprehended at the border, they are usually processed at one of several facilities that have been set up across Texas and the Southwest.

Children are placed in shelters and reunited with family members in the United States before being told to report to an immigration office and ultimately given a date before a judge in a process that can take years.

In immigration court, many immigrants fail to attend their hearings and are issued deportation orders. More than one in five immigrants not in federal custody received court orders in their absence during the 2013 fiscal year, according to court statistics.

Obama administration critics say the huge delays only encourage more immigrants to try to come here and turn themselves in at the border, knowing they'll be allowed to wait years for their cases to be resolved.

"The system is so dysfunctional," said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies. "They get to stay, and the more time they spend here, the more difficult it is to get them removed."

Vaughan said courts ought to handle cases in reverse order, tackling those on the border first to speed up deportations and deter would-be immigrants.

Since the influx, the immigration courts have temporarily reassigned seven judges to hear cases in southern Texas and three judges to handle hearings at a recently created New Mexico detention facility via teleconferencing, Alder Reid said. She could not say how many cases have been postponed but expects the latest influx of immigrants will have a significant impact.

"The number of nondetained backlog cases is going to rise from overwhelming to overwhelming times 10," said Bruce Einhorn, a retired immigration judge in Los Angeles. "Until we enlarge the court system, we should brace ourselves for a bloody mess."

The immigration courts have more than 41,000 juvenile cases, including those involving unaccompanied border-crossers as well as longtime residents facing deportation and adults who were initially apprehended as children.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in Brownsville, Texas, should expect to see long lines, like this one at their processing facility in June, for many years to come.

Associated Press

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in Brownsville, Texas, should expect to see long lines, like this one at their processing facility in June, for many years to come.

Backlogged immigration courts face new deluge 07/12/14 [Last modified: Saturday, July 12, 2014 11:51pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Associated Press.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's national security adviser, dies

    News

    Zbigniew Brzezinski, the hawkish strategic theorist who was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter in the tumultuous years of the Iran hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the late 1970s, died on Friday at a hospital in Virginia. He was 89.

    Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, participates in Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on March 5, 2009, in Washington, D.C. [Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]
  2. USF eliminated by UCF in AAC baseball; Florida, FSU, Miami win

    Colleges

    CLEARWATER — Roughly 16 hours after a ninth-inning collapse against East Carolina in the American Athletic Conference's double-elimination baseball tournament, USF returned to Spectrum Field presumably set for a reboot.

    It simply got booted instead.

    ’NOLES win: Tyler Holton gets a hug from Drew Carlton after his strong eight innings help Florida State beat Louisville.
  3. Pinellas licensing board executive director settled hundreds of cases without getting his board's approval

    Local Government

    By Mark Puente

    Times Staff Writer

    Eleanor Morrison complained to the Pinellas licensing board in 2015 that her contractor installed crooked walls and windows and poured too much concrete for her carport.

    Eleanor Morrison poses at her home in Treasure Island, 5/26/17. Morrison filed a complaint with the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board and later learned that its former Executive Director, Rodney Fischer, dismissed the case in a private meeting with the contractor.
  4. Report: Kusher wanted secret communications channel with Kremlin

    World

    Jared Kushner and Russia's ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Donald Trump's transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, U.S. …

    The name of Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's White House senior adviser, has come up as part of the Russia investigation. [Associated Press]
  5. Rays pitchers rave about Twins pitching coach, ex-mentor Neil Allen

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — There have been a lot of coaches who have had a hand in helping Chris Archer get to the big leagues and to the front of the Rays rotation, and as he took the mound Friday night at Target Field, he had reason to nod appreciatively toward the home dugout.

    In their third year with pitching coach Neil Allen, the Twins have been one of the surprises of the American League.