Im­mi­grant kids’ video hear­ings crit­i­cized

Tampa Bay Times - - Nation & World -

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion says it is try­ing to speed up le­gal pro­ceed­ings for some of the record 13,000 mi­grant chil­dren in fed­eral cus­tody by us­ing video hear­ings to stream tes­ti­mony from de­tained youths into court­rooms.

The prob­lem, some at­tor­neys and judges say, is that tech­ni­cal glitches — in­clud­ing bad au­dio, weak con­nec­tions and pix­e­lated screens — are ac­tu­ally mak­ing it much harder for the teens in shel­ters to have a fair hear­ing. It can be chal­leng­ing for judges to as­sess chil­dren’s cred­i­bil­ity with­out eye-to-eye con­tact, they say. And it fur­ther ob­scures the cases, which legally are sup­posed to be pub­lic.

But the Of­fice of Refugee Re­set­tle­ment, which has cus­tody of the teens, says its unan­nounced pi­lot pro­gram will save money and al­lows youths, some of whom are be­ing housed at a cost of more than $775 a night, to ap­pear be­fore a judge more quickly.

The pro­gram for teens, pi­loted in con­junc­tion with the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fice for Im­mi­gra­tion Re­view, launched sev­eral weeks ago. Video tele­con­fer­enc­ing al­ready has been widely used in a variety of adult le­gal pro­ceed­ings.

So far, about 30 youths have ap­peared via video­con­fer­enc­ing be­fore im­mi­gra­tion judges in Phoenix and Har­lin­gen, Texas, said Ly­dia Holt, an ORR spokes­woman. Sim­i­lar hear­ings have been con­ducted in im­mi­gra­tion courts in Mi­ami and New York City, said Kathryn Mat­tingly, an EOIR spokes­woman. The AP learned they also have been sched­uled in Los Angeles, Philadel­phia, El Paso, Seat­tle, Tuc­son and San Fran­cisco.

This summer, the op­tics of chil­dren in court be­came an em­bar­rass­ment to the ad­min­is­tra­tion, with crit­ics seiz­ing on the fact that the im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem re­quires chil­dren — some still in di­a­pers — to ap­pear be­fore judges for le­gal pro­ceed­ings.

Holt said the ad­min­is­tra­tion has rec­om­mended 75 more un­ac­com­pa­nied chil­dren for video hear­ings, typ­i­cally mi­grants be­tween the ages of 15 and 17 who have been in cus­tody for a longer pe­riod of time and want their im­mi­gra­tion cases heard swiftly.

“If at all pos­si­ble, ORR does not want chil­dren to stay longer than nec­es­sary in our fa­cil­i­ties while wait­ing for their im­mi­gra­tion case to be heard,” she said.

ORR shel­ters are nearly full, mostly with chil­dren who im­mi­grated with­out their par­ents and have fam­ily or friends in the U.S. will­ing to take them in. But they can spend months in de­ten­tion as the gov­ern­ment ar­ranges their de­por­ta­tion or re­lease to par­ents or other spon­sors.

Al­most 60 per­cent of all mi­grant chil­dren who had their first court date in fis­cal year 2017 still did not have lawyers by this Au­gust, ac­cord­ing to the Trans­ac­tional Records Ac­cess Clear­ing­house.

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