Immigration courts speed up children's cases
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Immigration courts are speeding up hearings for the tens of thousands of Central American children caught on the U.S. border after criticism that the backlogged system is letting immigrants stay in the country for years while waiting for their cases to be heard.
There are 375,000 cases before the immigration courts, and many immigrants wait months or years for a hearing. Instead of bumping children to the back of that long line, the courts are now giving each child an initial court hearing within three weeks, according to the Justice Department's Executive Office for Immigration Review. A spokeswoman for the courts didn't answer questions about how many children's hearings had been set under the new plan, or which courts had scheduled additional hearings.
Immigration lawyers have long sought a speedier process to prevent immigrants from having to wait years for an answer on their asylum or green card applications. Now, the concern is the opposite: that the courts are moving so quickly that the children might not have enough time to make a case that they should be allowed to remain in the country legally.
The biggest worry is that children might not receive proper notice of hearings, and could wind up getting a deportation order if they fail to show up, immigration lawyers said. Advocates also say there aren't enough pro-bono immigration lawyers to go around and that it takes longer to prepare children's cases because it takes time to earn their trust.
"When the hearing date is three months out, it's no big deal — it's plenty of time to get yourself a lawyer. When it's three weeks, that's nowhere near enough time," said Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, an attorney with the Legal Aid Justice Center in Falls Church, Virginia.
FILE - This June 18, 2014, file photo, detainees sleep in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection, processing facility in Brownsville,Texas. Immigration courts backlogged by years of staffing shortages and tougher enforcement face an even more daunting challenge since tens of thousands of Central Americans began arriving on the U.S. border fleeing violence back home. For years, children from Central America traveling alone and immigrants who prove they have a credible fear of returning home have been entitled to a hearing before an immigration judge.