Trump’s im­mi­gra­tion pro­posal ig­nores fund­ing, 5-year wait list


A com­mon re­frain dom­i­nates im­mi­gra­tion dis­cus­sions: “They broke the law and should be de­ported.” The mes­sage holds power be­cause it sug­gests that al­low­ing im­mi­grants cast as law­break­ers to re­main in the coun­try weak­ens the rule of law.

There are mul­ti­ple prob­lems with this sweep­ing jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for de­por­ta­tions that treats im­mi­grants as of­fend­ers. Many im­mi­grants have not bro­ken any crim­i­nal laws — and most can­not sim­ply “get right” with im­mi­gra­tion laws that are as­ton­ish­ingly com­plex and ir­ra­tional.

More fun­da­men­tally, the de­por­ta­tion sys­tem it­self verges on law­less­ness. The rule of law re­quires that func­tion­ing tri­bunals ar­bi­trate dis­putes fairly, ef­fi­ciently and ac­cu­rately. The im­mi­gra­tion court sys­tem, which de­cides who will be de­ported and who may re­main in the United States, fails this test.

The gov­ern­ment has taken an ag­gres­sive stance on im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment, de­tain­ing and seek­ing to de­port in large num­bers. Yet, it has failed to pro­vide ad­e­quate re­sources for ad­ju­di­ca­tion of the re­sult­ing cases by the im­mi­gra­tion courts, even though th­ese courts must de­cide com­pli­cated is­sues, in­clud­ing le­git­i­mate claims to le­gal sta­tus. The pro­posed bud­get for 2018 re­flects this pat­tern, with the im­mi­gra­tion courts re­ceiv­ing only a small frac­tion of the $1.5 bil­lion promised to Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment for in­creased de­ten­tion and de­por­ta­tions.

This im­bal­ance has led to a bot­tle­neck of more than 600,000 pend­ing cases be­fore the im­mi­gra­tion courts and a state of chaos that neg­a­tively im­pacts all in­volved.

Courts are un­able to docket cases promptly, and there is wild un­pre­dictabil­ity in the sched­ul­ing of hear­ings. Be­cause in­for­ma­tion about a case only be­comes avail­able af­ter dock­et­ing, in­di­vid­u­als in im­mi­gra­tion court pro­ceed­ings can­not eas­ily learn when or where hear­ings will be held. There is no right to gov­ern­ment-ap­pointed coun­sel in im­mi­gra­tion cases, so most mi­grants are un­rep­re­sented and strug­gle to nav­i­gate the pro­ceed­ings alone.

Given the back­log, many hear­ings are sched­uled out for four to five years. At the same time, de­tained in­di­vid­u­als may have a fi­nal hearing within just a few months, and shift­ing pri­or­i­ties have re­sulted in ac­cel­er­ated ad­ju­di­ca­tion of other cases. Last-minute changes are com­mon be­cause of the courts’ chal­lenges in find­ing enough in­ter­preters and mal­func­tions in the video equip­ment used in hear­ings for de­tained in­di­vid­u­als.

Rather than rec­og­nize and ad­dress the in­cred­i­ble pres­sure placed on im­mi­gra­tion courts by the ex­plod­ing docket, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has adopted mea­sures that make a bad sit­u­a­tion worse.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion started by shuf­fling the courts, send­ing judges from around the coun­try to courts in bor­der ar­eas or as­sign­ing them to video hear­ings in re­mote de­ten­tion cen­ters. Judges have fallen be­hind on their own dockets to take on mat­ters al­ready un­der­way in courts with un­fa­mil­iar pro­ce­dures and bind­ing law. Par­ties have dif­fi­culty learn­ing who will pre­side over their hear­ings and have been forced re­peat­edly to begin anew in pre­sent­ing cases to ro­tat­ing judges. For video cases, de­tained per­sons face ex­treme dif­fi­cul­ties of­fer­ing ev­i­dence and tes­ti­mony to judges thou­sands of miles away.

Re­cently, the ad­min­is­tra­tion re­vealed spe­cific plans to ex­pand the use of “ex­pe­dited re­moval” and by­pass the im­mi­gra­tion courts al­to­gether, al­low­ing front­line en­force­ment of­fi­cials to de­port. Im­ped­ing ac­cess to a full ad­ju­di­ca­tion will cer­tainly not pro­mote more fair and ac­cu­rate re­sults — and the plan does noth­ing to ad­dress the ex­ist­ing back­log in the im­mi­gra­tion courts. Nor does the pro­posal slow docket growth, be­cause in­di­vid­u­als in ex­pe­dited re­moval can seek court in­ter­ven­tion to present asy­lum claims and will prob­a­bly do so if other­wise faced with im­me­di­ate de­por­ta­tion.

There are, how­ever, steps that would im­prove im­mi­gra­tion ad­ju­di­ca­tion. Fund­ing should be pro­vided for im­mi­gra­tion courts and en­force­ment at a par­al­lel rate. De­ten­tion should be dra­mat­i­cally scaled back, al­low­ing for more mean­ing­ful par­tic­i­pa­tion in court pro­ceed­ings and thus bet­ter de­ci­sions, while free­ing up dol­lars for other im­prove­ments. The use of ex­pe­dited re­moval should be re­duced rather than ex­panded, while some cases should be di­verted from the courts to the spe­cial­ized asy­lum of­fice or other non­ad­ver­sar­ial pro­ceed­ings, which are more ap­pro­pri­ate for many cases.

Im­mi­gra­tion ad­ju­di­ca­tion is in a state of cri­sis that must be ad­dressed. The sys­tem should op­er­ate as a means of sort­ing out cases un­der the law, grant­ing the right to re­main where mer­ited, rather than sim­ply be­ing part of a de­por­ta­tion ma­chine.

Re: July 24 ar­ti­cle, “Joe Straus says Austin school dis­trict ex­pected to lose $530-mil­lion-plus to fund other schools.”

Where is the out­rage, Austin? The Texas Leg­is­la­ture’s prop­erty tax “re­cap­ture” pol­icy is steal­ing from the rich and giv­ing to the rich. Travis County, with one of the high­est prop­erty tax rates in Texas, is los­ing al­most 40 per­cent of th­ese funds, which are then re­dis­tributed to coun­ties where prop­erty own­ers are pay­ing lower prop­erty tax rates. The re­cip­i­ents are not pay­ing their fair share to sup­port their own schools.

The States­man had a re­cent story about av­er­age in­come lev­els. It seems some coun­ties re­ceiv­ing prop­erty tax dol­lars from us un­der the “Robin Hood” pro­vi­sion en­joy a higher av­er­age in­come than we do. What is wrong with this pic­ture? Noth­ing will change, of course, be­cause most of our leg­is­la­tors rep­re­sent coun­ties ben­e­fit­ing from this ar­range­ment.

Re: July 27 com­men­tary, “Two Views: Con­stituents OK with tele-town meet­ings, says La­mar Smith.”

Most of what U.S. Rep. La­mar Smith of­fers is re­cy­cled opin­ions or in­for­ma­tion that those of us who are ac­tively try­ing to make our views known to our con­gress­man will rec­og­nize — from in-per­son and tele­phone con­ver­sa­tions with his of­fice staff, his House web­site and his let­ters to con­stituents.

True — he meets with small, highly select groups of stake­hold­ers and tele­con­fer­ences with large num­bers of con­stituents who hap­pen to an­swer robo­calls on their land­lines. But what about his demon­strated un­will­ing­ness to meet in per­son with con­stituents who are crit­i­cal of his per­for­mance? His ca­sual and care­less ex­cla­ma­tion about meet­ing with “con­stituents who share or op­pose (his) views” is quite telling in­deed: “For­tu­nately, it’s more of­ten the for­mer!”

Smith does not wit­tingly meet with his op­po­nents. Could you get away with such a dis­mis­sive at­ti­tude in your job?


Lewis Ran­gel, 7, from Pack 8 at Pease El­e­men­tary School in Cen­tral Austin, salutes as he passes an Amer­i­can flag dur­ing a Feb. 4 pa­rade to the Capi­tol.

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