‘Re­main in Mex­ico’ cases ‘over­whelm’ San Diego-based im­mi­gra­tion court

Lodi News-Sentinel - - STATE - By Kate Mor­ris­sey

SAN DIEGO — The San Diego im­mi­gra­tion court has been over­whelmed by the num­ber of ad­di­tional cases lo­cal judges are hear­ing un­der a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion pro­gram that re­turns asy­lum-seek­ers to Mex­ico while they wait for hear­ings in the U.S.

Nor­mally, asy­lum-seek­ers com­ing to the Cal­i­for­nia border would be dis­trib­uted to im­mi­gra­tion courts across the coun­try, ei­ther be­cause they would be held some­where in the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s na­tional im­mi­gra­tion de­ten­tion sys­tem, or be­cause they would be re­leased to re­unite with fam­ily and friends al­ready in the U.S.

Now, the in­creas­ing num­ber of peo­ple picked for the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Mi­grant Pro­tec­tion Pro­to­cols, known widely as the “re­main in Mex­ico” pro­gram, across the Cal­i­for­nia border are all be­ing sent to im­mi­gra­tion court in down­town San Diego.

“Other than wal­low through it, I don’t know what we can do,” said im­mi­gra­tion Judge Lee O’Con­nor shortly be­fore walk­ing out of his court­room at 6:21 p.m. one even­ing last week after hear­ing a string of MPP cases. Court staff, in­clud­ing se­cu­rity, had left the build­ing long be­fore.

Im­mi­gra­tion judges are al­ready work­ing un­der pres­sure from per­for­mance quo­tas set by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to re­duce the im­mi­gra­tion court back­log, which has grown na­tion­ally to nearly 900,000 cases, ac­cord­ing to data from the Trans­ac­tional Record Ac­cess Clear­ing­house of Syra­cuse Univer­sity.

The San Diego court has more than 5,700 cases pend­ing, up from 4,692 cases in fis­cal 2018, a 22.4% in­crease. Na­tion­ally, the back­log has grown about 16.2% in fis­cal 2019.

“This is a re­flec­tion of the con­stant dou­ble speak we’ve been high­light­ing. The agency has in­ter­nally con­flict­ing pri­or­i­ties,” said Ash­ley Tabad­dor, speak­ing in her ca­pac­ity as head of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Im­mi­gra­tion Judges. “It cre­ates chaos.”

On a given day, three of San Diego’s seven judges gen­er­ally have after­noons full of MPP cases. On a re­cent Tuesday af­ter­noon, 82 peo­ple were sched­uled to ap­pear be­fore three judges, 28 of those be­fore O’Con­nor.

“The judges have no con­trol in terms of how many cases are be­ing sched­uled,” Tabad­dor said.

Border of­fi­cials who ini­tially re­ceive mi­grants ei­ther re­quest­ing pro­tec­tion at a port of en­try or after they’re ap­pre­hended cross­ing il­le­gally are re­spon­si­ble for sched­ul­ing the first court ap­pear­ance for re­turnees.

Cus­toms and Border Pro­tec­tion did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

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