It is a well-established fact that our immigration courts are facing a backlog of cases. In some instances, deportation hearings are scheduled for 2017 because the court dockets are so full. This was the case before the development regarding minors and unaccompanied minors streaming across or southern borders. The immigration court, falling under the Department of Justice, handle more than 375,000 cases with only 243 judges nationwide.
Now with the crisis on the border, the overcrowding of the court’s docket will worsen and hearings will be scheduled farther out. In some cases, this is a benefit to an undocumented immigrant who does not have relief from removal or deportation because he or she does not qualify for political asylum or change of status. In other cases, where an immigrant is qualified to obtain a benefit through the immigration court system, the wait can be excruciating. Moreover, if the immigrant is detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the wait is obviously much more difficult, especially if the Immigration Judge does not allow a bond or the bond amount is so high that it cannot be afforded.
Many of the immigrants arriving through the southern border are fleeing poverty, sickness, and some of the most violent gangs in the world. Specifically, the gangs in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Since last October, more than 57,000 unaccompanied minors have made it through the treacherous journey to the United States. The children are placed with family members already residing in the United States and given a court date to report to immigration court. Unfortunately, many do not report to their court date for a variety of reasons and the Immigration Judge orders that they be deported in their absence. This is known as an in-absentia order. Part of the problem is that immigrants facing Immigration Judges in deportation proceedings are not provided with attorneys by the government. Many are brought to court by family or family friends.
The government has set up temporary shelters and have flown some children to other states to be processed. President Obama is asking for over 3 billion dollars to handle the crisis. Of course, the President makes the point that passing comprehensive immigration reform will help with this crisis and prevent another similar circumstances from occurring.
At this point, the children are being treated differently than adults who arrive at the border. For the adults, unless they express a fear of returning to their country, they are immediately processed and returned without the opportunity to see an Immigration Judge. For the children, however, they are given court dates and, in some cases of abandonment or abuse by their parents, they can apply for a special juvenile immigrant visa that can result in their obtaining lawful permanent resident status in the United States.
In the Atlanta Immigration Court, which includes the Stewart Detention Center, more Immigration Judges were hired back in 2010 because their docket was already backlogged.