Immigration judges dispatched to region
In an attempt to overcome a backlog of cases of deportation hearings the U.S. Department of Justice has reassigned immigration judges from around the country Friday, to 12 cities to speed up deportations, according to Reuters News Agency.
Among those cities will be Imperial. Customs and Border Protection supervisory officer John Campos declined to comment on the action, noting that he was uncertain which government agency where the order originated. The judges’ reshuffling was requested by the Department of Homeland Security yet immigration courts are administered by the DOJ. Lauren Mack, supervisory deportation officer at Immigration and Custom Enforcement remarked she was aware of the judges reassignment but also declined to comment, maintaining only a spokesman from the DOJ in Washington, D.C., was qualified to speak.
Yet Kelly Smith, an El Centro immigration attorney, and a board member of the National Justice for Our Neighbors, a United Methodist ministry that provides legal services/ for immigrants, noted part of the problem is that the last of two immigration judges in Imperial County retired several years ago and their vacancies were never filled.
There are now 300 immigration judges nationally with 74 vacancies and about 50 being interviewed to fill slots. But even those 50 will have to be vetted and that process could take a year. “This action is an attempt of the Trump Administration to deal with that backlog,” said Smith. “My question is what is it doing for the backlog?”
Smith went on, that in her opinion the reassigned judges is a show of getting something done by the Trump Administration, with undocumented immigrants who may be charged with a crime but not convicted. “Under immigration law it’s still possible to not be convicted of a crime but still be deportable,” she said. “But just because an individual goes before an immigration judge doesn’t mean they’ll be deported, even if they have a conviction.”
There are a number of different types of releases where the undocumented with criminal charges or convictions may obtain release, noted Smith. There is a legal argument that a particular crime is not a deportable offense and will not apply.
There is also what is called, Cancellation of Removal, where an offender can apply one time and once only, to avoid deportation, Smith explained. But it is purely discretionary. The judge could decide whether a person is worthy of Cancelation of Removal. There numerous types of release within immigration courts, but it is rarely granted for serious crimes.
At the end of January there was a backlog of 542,646 cases that included 20,856 people who were held in detention centers, noted the Associated Press. Dana Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration judges remarked, that temporary assignments are expensive and will result in delays elsewhere in the country.
But In January, President Trump issued an executive order that undocumented immigrants with criminal cases are a priority for deportation even if they have yet to be found guilty. This is a departure from the prior Obama administration that prioritized deportations of only those convicted of serious crime, noted Reuters.
“The bigger picture is why do this instead of marshaling the resources and momentum (Republican Congress and president) and solve comprehensive immigration reform,” said Smith.
Part of that package could include a guest worker program and implement an extended Dream Act. This was the program that allows young children under a certain age brought to the U.S. by undocumented parents to remain here. Also retain Obama’s DACA executive order that allows the undocumented to remain for two years without prosecution and issues an employment authorization card.
“Immigration law is very complex,” said Smith. “Undocumented parents who become citizens yet neglect to change the status of their children will not be a child’s pathway to a green card and still leaves him vulnerable to deportation. I think the judges’ reassignment is a very simplistic solution to a very complex problem, which means it is not a solution at all.”
Ron Griffen, First United Methodist Church minister and president of the local chapter of JFON, stressed they will continue to offer a ministry of hospitality to the undocumented along with advocacy and legal representation. “We can’t guarantee any individual a legal basis to remain,” he said. “We’re not trying to help people break the law. We are trying to help people legally navigate the system.”
Protestors chant in Terminal B at the Newark International Airport prior to addressing the media Thursday in Newark, NJ. A diverse group of advocates and immigrant New Jerseyans gathered to condemn Trump’s updated travel ban.