Tag Archives: mandatory detention

Court of Appeals Limits Mandatory Detention

9 Oct

Detention

On October 6, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit issued a decision in Castañeda v. Souza that greatly limits the ability of Immigration & Customs Enforcement to subject individuals to mandatory detention during their removal proceedings.  In Castañeda, the First Circuit interpreted the not very confusing language “when the alien is released” and rejected the Board of Immigration Appeals’ formulation, articulated in Matter of Rojas that the “when released” means “any time after release.  The First Circuit determined that the Board got that wrong and concluded that “when released” means “at the time the individual is released” rather than “any time after release not matter how many days, weeks, months or years later.”  Amazingly, two other circuit courts, the Third and the Fourth, have already upheld the Board’s decision.  Thus, the First Circuit’s decision creates a “circuit split” that may result in the Supreme Court resolving the two differing interpretations.

The Immigration & Nationality Act (INA) allows Immigration & Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) to detain someone without any right to release on bond if they are removable for having been convicted of certain offenses.  This “mandatory detention” causes certain individuals to be held in detention for the duration of their removal proceedings.  They are not entitled to an individualized determination as to whether they present a danger to the community or are not likely to appear for removal proceedings.  The section of the INA that allows for mandatory detention states that DHS “shall take into custody” certain foreign nationals who are deportable on specific criminal grounds “when the alien is released” from criminal custody.  Stewart

For years, individuals have challenged their mandatory detention by arguing that they were not taken into custody “when released,” but weeks or even years later.  By filing actions for habeas corpus in U.S. District Court, individuals obtained decisions from courts nationwide ordering DHS to give the detainee an individualized bond hearing where issues of dangerousness or flight risk could be assessed by an independent judge.   The overwhelming majority of district courts to consider the “when released” language concluded that the Immigration & Nationality Act only subjected those who were taken into custody within a reasonable period of time from criminal custody to mandatory detention.  Courts concluded that mandatory detention did not apply to those who ICE apprehended long after their release from custody and those individuals must be given an individualized bond hearing.  Over the past few years, the government has appealed some of these district court decisions.  The first decision from a Court of Appeals occurred here in the 4th Circuit.  In Hosh v. Lucero, the government appealed a district court’s order that DHS provide Mr. Hosh with a bond hearing in light of the three year gap between his release from criminal custody and his apprehension and detention by ICE.  The 4th Circuit reversed the decision of the district court determining that the Board of Immigration Appeals’ interpretation of the “when released” language was reasonable and not plainly in opposition to the INA and therefore, was entitled to the court’s deference.  About a year after Hosh, the Third Circuit reached the same conclusion in Sylvain v. Attorney General.  Thus, although several district courts across the country rejected the Board’s interpretation, the two circuit courts that considered the question deferred to the Board.

FirstIn Castañeda, the First Circuit determined that the “when released” language did not permit the government to subject an individual to mandatory detention when she was taken into custody ten years after her release from criminal custody.  The First Circuit did not require complete immediacy and stated that ICE’s apprehension must occur within a reasonable period of time after release from criminal custody.  The Court noted the arbitrary nature of mandatory detention and why it offends due process when it is undertaken long after a person completes their criminal sentence:

Despite its years long delay in bringing removal proceedings after the petitioner’s release from custody, the government has offered no explanation for either the delay or the eventual decision to prosecute in these individual cases or for that matter, in the other cases where individuals have been detained years after release.  Indeed, when the district court ordered that the petitioners be given bond hearings, the government actually viewed them as neither dangerous nor likely to flee.  Castañeda was even released on her own recognizance (i.e., without a monetary bond) and before her bond hearing even took place.

Mandatory detention of individuals such as the petitioners appears arbitrary on its face.  We are left to wonder whether the petitioner’s sudden arrest and detention is not to “facilitate deportation, or to protect against risk of flight or dangerousness, but to incarcerate for other reasons,” which would offend due process.

The decision in Castañeda creates a circuit split between the 1st Circuit and the 3rd and 4th Circuits.  When federal law is different in different parts of the country, there is a strong incentive for the Supreme Court to step in.  However, the Supreme Court can only step in if the government chooses to appeal.  We will be watching to see what the Department of Justice does.

In each of these circuit court cases, Benach Ragland has submitted amicus (“friend of the court” ) briefs on behalf of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and will continue to do so as long as the issue is litigated.

An Open Letter to Rep. Spencer Bachus

21 Mar

Dear Congressman Bachus,

Thank you very much for speaking out about the overuse of detention by Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) in civil proceedings to determine the removability of individuals in the U.S.  By stating and asking “it looks to me like there is an overuse of detention by this administration.  If these people are not safety risks . . . why are we detaining them?,” you have joined the growing chorus of Americans who wonder why the government, during a time of fiscal crisis, spends so much money locking people up during immigration proceedings when they present no danger to society.  You are welcome in our club and we are glad to have you.

However, we do think it is important that you understand the role you played in building the gulag archipelago of immigration detention.  The explosion of immigration detention is a direct result of legislation you voted for, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996.  This law, more than any decision by the Obama administration, has resulted in the overuse of detention for individuals in removal proceedings.  While you are right to question the overuse of detention by the administration, please do not overlook Congress’, and your, responsibility in forcing the detention of tens of thousands of people, the vast majority of whom are not safety risks.  IIRIRA fueled the explosion of detention in several ways.  First, it expanded mandatory detention to cover lots of people convicted of minor offenses.   Mandatory detention has forced ICE (and INS before ICE) to detain people during the course of their removal proceedings.  These individuals had no right to individualized determinations of their risk to society or likelihood to appear for hearings.  By expanding the classes of people subject to mandatory detention, Congress created a base layer of detainees.  It is true that interpretations by this and previous administrations have increased the potential pool of mandatory detainees, but mandatory detention and its wide reach is a creation of Congress.  Second, IIRIRA labelled many minor offenses as “aggravated felonies,” requiring detention during removal proceedings.  For example, an individual convicted of shoplifting a pair of $100 sunglasses might be sentenced to one year imprisonment, with service of the sentence suspended.  In other words, the criminal court would determine that that individual should not serve jail time unless they do something bad during the year of the suspended sentence.  Under IIRIRA’s overinclusive language, such an offense would be an aggravated felony and subject that individual to mandatory detention.  And IIRIRA made it clear that it did not matter when the offense occurred.  It is hard to imagine that this hypothetical defendant is a safety risk, but the law gives ICE and the immigration courts no authority to release that individual.  Third, IIRIRA created 287(g) partnerships with state and local law enforcement to enforce immigration law.  The explosion of detention is also directly related to the numbers of people coming to ICE’s attention because a local police officer pulls an immigrant over for failing to use a turn signal.  IIRIRA is the impetus to Arizona-style laws, one of the worst of which was passed in your own Alabama, Congressman.  Fourth, by creating the ten year bar to return to the U.S., IIRIRA made it close to impossible for many immigrants to regularize their status.  Thus, individuals who would have been able to obtain residence under previous laws, remained in the U.S. in unlawful status.  When encountered by ICE, they have often been detained in the discretionary determinations of ICE.  It is true that here is an area where the administration’s overuse of detention is due to the refusal to exercise favorable discretion, but please note that many of these people would be legal residents if not for the 1996 Act.  In addition, please recognize the role that the fear of Congressional rebuke plays in ICE’s decisions.  Take a look at the outcry from your colleagues when ICE released 2200 detainees last month in anticipation of the sequester.  Moreover, Congressional intent has been a key building block of the judicial decisions that have legalized the massive detention edifice.  Decisions such as the Supreme Court’s Demore v. Kim, which upheld mandatory detention, and Matter of Rojas, where the Board of Immigration Appeals decided that mandatory detention applies to people released from custody years or decades ago, are underpinned by statements that Congress intended to impose an unyielding policy of detention in IIRIRA.

Finally, Congress has provided ICE with enormous sums of money to spend on detention.  As you know, nature abhors a vacuum.  As Congress states that it intends to tighten spending, the unnecessary detention of the thousands of people who present no real danger to society should be looked at skeptically.  ICE will spend the money Congress gives it on detention.  It is up to Congress to say “no.”

Congressman, thank you for taking a stand against the overuse of detention.  We are glad to have you as an ally and hope that you use your position in Congress to advocate for more sensible immigration policies.  Thanks again for speaking out and we hope that the words are matched with action.

Sincerely,

Benach Ragland LLP

 

Benach Ragland Submits Brief in Mandatory Detention Case

21 Feb

Earlier this month, Benach Ragland authored a brief on behalf of the American Immigration Lawyers Association in the case of Michael Sylvain v. Attorney General before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.  In Sylvain, the court must decide whether the Immigration & Nationality Act (INA) requires the detention of individuals convicted of certain offenses regardless of how long it has been since they were released from criminal custody. On behalf of AILA, Benach Ragland argued to the court that people released from custody prior to Immigration & Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) assumption of custody are entitled to a bond hearing where an immigration judge can make a determination as to whether they are flight risks or dangers to the community.  ICE argues that the INA gives immigration judges no authority to consider the release such individuals and that they must be detained for the duration of their removal proceedings regardless of how long it has been since they were convicted of an offense.

In Sylvain, the government defends a decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) in Matter of Rojas.  In Rojas, the BIA decided that the mandatory detention provisions of the INA require detention without possibility of release on bond regardless of when that person was released from criminal custody.  However, the INA mandatory detention provision states that certain individuals shall be taken into custody “when the alien is released.”  The BIA decided in Rojas that that language did not limit ICE to apply mandatory detention to individuals regardless of when they were released.  Under Rojas, an individual would be subject to detention without any sort of review by a judge even if they had been released from prison a decade earlier.  As immigration judges around the country cited Rojas and explained that their hands were tied, advocates went to U.S. District Courts around the country and sought habeas corpus review.  Almost uniformly, the federal courts told the immigration service that Rojas was wrong and that the detained individual was entitled to a bond hearing.  The immigrant was then released.   ICE rarely appealed these decisions to the courts of appeals.

However, they did so in Hosh v. Lucero.  In that case, a district court judge found that Rojas was wrongly decided and ordered an immigration judge to hold a bond hearing.  However, this time, the government, sensing a possibly friendly court in the Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, a court known for giving the government wide berth to operate, appealed the judge’s decision.  The government’s gamble paid off and the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court judge and deferred to the BIA’s decision in Rojas, foreclosing habeas relief in the states of the 4th Circuit (Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia).  Although district courts in the Fourth Circuit must follow Hosh, district courts outside of the Fourth Circuit have not found Hosh terribly persuasive.

Now this issue is before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which encompasses New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, in Sylvain.  A decision rejecting Rojas would create a split between the Third and the Fourth Circuits, possibly leading the way to Supreme Court review.  Oral argument is coming next month and we will report from the argument and when a decision comes down.

Hey FAU! Drop GEO!

20 Feb

geo-group-splash-13

Yesterday, after receiving a gift of $6 million, Florida Atlantic University announced that it was renaming its stadium “The Geo Group Stadium,” after the for-profit prison company, best known for operating detention facilities on behalf of Immigration & Customs Enforcement.  It is remarkable that any university would name a stadium after a prison company, but simply stunning that Florida Atlantic University, which sits in South Florida, a community that has been decimated by the overuse of civil immigration, would be so tone deaf as to think this was a good idea.  Although $6 million can certainly affect one’s “hearing,” FAU’s renaming of its stadium displays a failure of a university’s most cherished obligation, to empower students to make intelligent, ethical and moral decisions in a complex world.

FAU is a public school with over 30,000 students and boasts that 44% of its students are “minority or international students.”  Twenty-three percent of FAU students identify as “Asian” or Latino.”  And FAU sits in Southern Florida, where GEO operates a notorious link in the immigration gulag, the Broward Transitional Center, in FAU’s hometown of Boca Raton.

Universities have long been at the forefront on civil and human rights issues.  Universities nurtured the civil rights movement, the women’s and gay liberation efforts.  Universities divested from South Africa during apartheid and universities have led the charges against foreign sweatshops that made apparel sold in college bookstores.  And it is no surprise that universities have been actively involved in the immigrant rights movement.  Leading educators have stood up for the DREAM Act, have supported efforts to get individuals out of detention and deportation proceedings, and have led urgency to the need for a better system for employment-based immigration.  So, why would FAU accept a donation and so prominently highlight a company who makes it profits off the maintenance of an immigration detention apparatus that is morally dubious if not downright repugnant?

The GEO Group operates 73,000 “beds,” but it is not the Best Western.  “Beds” is corrections-speak for “places where detainees can try to sleep.”  It has a ignominious track record.  Before they were GEO, they were they were the Wackenhut Correctional Corporation.  British journalist Greg Palast wrote of Wackenhut’s operation of private prisons in New Mexico, “New Mexico’s privately operated prisons are filled with America’s impoverished, violent outcasts — and those are the guards.”  The Wackenhut name was so tarnished with scandal that the board changed the name in 2003.   Yet, transforming the way that they did business was much more elusive. Some of GEO’s greatest hits include:

In addition, the GEO groups lobbies for punitive immigration laws and resists efforts to introduce more discretion for judges to release detained individuals.  After all, the trough must be refilled.  It has a very cozy relationship with ICE.  Just last week, we learned that a former ICE bureaucrat David Venturella, who had some ambitious ideas about pumping up removal numbers, has left ICE for his payday at GEO.  The revolving door between government and for profit incarceration is quite lucrative for ICE bureaucrats, but there is no such door for detainees.

It is simply stunning that a university would agree to name a stadium after this behemoth.  It is especially galling in South Florida, where brave immigrant activists Marco Saavedra and Viridiana Martinez infiltrated the Broward Transitional Center to document abuses and conditions.  Would FAU name their stadium after the Bushmaster assault rifle? Or after Phillip Morris (rebranded as Altria)?  No university in their right mind would ever be associated with such corporate pariahs.  The goal for immigrants rights communities is to make the name of GEO as toxic as those names.  The devastating impact that GEO has had on the immigrant community in South Florida simply makes it an unacceptable choice for naming rights at a stadium.  Especially one in South Florida.  FAU must know that GEO is as much a pariah as gun manufacturers and cigarette pushers.  How many FAU students have been detained by GEO?  How many FAU student’s parents and loved ones languished in GEO’s dungeons?  How many kids never got a chance to attend a football game because GEO got them first?

Dream Activist has started a petition.  Please sign.  Please share on all your networks.  While FAU may be intoxicated with GEO’s money, they need to be reminded that their community or “customers” reject GEO’s profiteering on detention misery.

The Immigration Industrial Complex

9 Jan

5a6cb_man-shocked-at-billThe Migration Policy Institute recently released a study documenting that the U.S. government spent $18 billion on immigration enforcement, dwarfing the $14 million spent on other federal law enforcement agencies. The FBI, the DEA and the ATF, combined, received $14 billion.  Immigration & Customs Enforcement’s budget, alone, is $6 billion.  Something is seriously out of whack here.

None of this is surprising to immigration attorneys.  ICE runs a gulag archipelago of detention centers across the country, holding immigrants who have overstayed visas, entered without inspection, seek asylum, and  committed minor offenses.  ICE has continued to push in the federal courts for expansive definitions of mandatory detention, even if it means detaining people for offenses committed decades ago.  In 2011, ICE detained over 429,000 people, more than any other single government entity.  More than the Bureau of Prisons, the States of California, Texas, Florida, and New York.  ICE operates in its own jails, rents out space at local jails and contracts with private companies like the GEO corporation to manage this enormous population.  In addition, ICE has contracts with BI Incorporated to monitor individuals with final orders of removal.  This often involves ankle bracelets with GPS, telephonic and in-person reporting.  BI officials also monitor an individual’s efforts to obtain passports and plane tickets to depart the U.S. under an removal order.  In other words, they do ICE’s job.  And, frankly, they are pretty good at it.  Over 400,000 removals in 2011 shows how good BI is.  If budget hawks are serious about making government run like a business, how about saving money by eliminating the middleman?

The large budgetary excess for immigration enforcement also provides an explanation for the massive ICE resistance to immigration reform.  After all, if undocumented youth are getting DACA rather than being detained and deported, bed spaced is being underutilized and removals may go down.  In our current economic environment, it won’t be long before some budget-cutting legislator begins to question the excess of the the immigration enforcement budget.  If ICE were to exercise discretion and not detain and deport everyone that they possibly could, can they fulfill their contracts with the private companies that have built jails throughout the country.  If ICE were to take a more reasonable approach to enforcement, would they need to send out 20 agents before dawn to arrest four plumbers working a contract at Dulles because they are working on fake green cards?

The large amount of money at stake for immigration enforcement makes it clear that the efforts of some ICE bureaucrats to derail common-sense immigration reform is a result not of a principled belief in our national security and public safety, but rather to protect their exalted place at the public trough.

As we spend months debating the economic future of this country and what immigration reform will look like, it is worth contrasting the unproductive use of $18 billion tax dollars that ICE has commanded on an enforcement roid rage with the agreed-upon economic stimulus that would be provided by an immigration reform package.

New Memo on Detainers- Will it be Followed?

28 Dec

deport

 

A persistent and fair criticism of the current administration is that while it has made grand pronouncements of focusing its enforcement efforts on violent criminals and threats to the national security, programs like 287(g) and Secure Communities have scooped far more benign immigrants in their overboard nets.  While the administration has put forward numerous memoranda and made extensive public statements about focusing limited resources on the dangerous and the recidivist immigration violators, the reality has been that, as a result of Secure Communities, immigrants without status and without serious criminal issues encountered by the police either due to a minor offense, while reporting a crime, or while the police look for another individual have been swept into the immigration dragnet, detained and deported.  According to ICE, the government deported over 400,000 people last year and most of them were not “the worst of the worst.”

This practice is due to the combination of two practices.  The first is Secure Communities.  This is the cooperative program between local law enforcement and ICE that checks arrestees (not convicts) against ICE databases.  As a result many individuals stopped for minor offenses, such as driving without a license, are arrested when ICE can not confirm their lawful status.  Ordinarily, individuals stopped under such circumstances are not arrested.  Once arrested, the second practice kicks in when ICE places a detainer on the individual.  A detainer is a request made by ICE to the local police department to hold an individual for 48 hours beyond when they are due to be released so that ICE may assume custody.  Because people arrested for minor offenses are held for brief periods of time in local jails, a detainer placed by ICE has the effect of keeping them detained by the local police department far longer than they would have been without the detainer.  This is one reason that many police departments have resisted and rejected participation in Secure Communities.  When ICE assumes custody, they initiate removal proceedings against the individual, not due to the arrest, but because of the lack of status.  If the individual can not demonstrate that she is likely to obtain some form of relief from removal, ICE will often detain without bond during removal proceedings.  Thus, through the operation of Secure Communities and detainers, many non-criminal immigrants without status have been identified, detained and deported.  This sad procession has undermined the administration’s claims to be focusing on the worst of the worst.

Into this unhappy scenario comes a new memo from ICE Director John Morton issuing new guidelines for the use of detainers.  The director has been a prolific memo writer.  He has issued guidance about ICE’s enforcement priorities and attempted to force a recalcitrant bureaucracy to use its limited resources more wisely.  He has written memos regarding the increased use of prosecutorial discretion to make intelligent decisions about when not to bring removal proceedings, when to terminate removal proceedings and when to exercise discretion not to remove a removable individual.  These memos and his approach to ICE’s responsibilities have resulted in the ICE bureaucracy’s open rebellion against him.  And the continued presence of “Obama, why are you deporting my mama” articles and signs among immigrant youth show that ICE agents continue to resist the administration’s stated approach to enforcement.  So, here comes another memo.  If followed, the memo should have a significant positive impact as it will reduce the number of low enforcement priority immigrants who come into contact with ICE and are, therefore, not placed into removal proceedings.

The detainer memo instructs ICE to be more judicious in the issuance of detainers.  According to the director, ICE should issue detainers against individuals only where: (1) they have reason to believe that the individual is deportable from the U.S. and (2) one of the following factors is present:

  • the individual has a prior felony conviction or has been charged with a felony
  • the individual has three or more prior misdemeanor offenses
  • the individual has a prior misdemeanor conviction or has been charged with a misdemeanor offense which relates to: violence, threats, assault, sexual abuse or exploitation, DUI, leaving the scene of an accident, firearms offenses, controlled substance distribution offenses
  • the individual has been convicted of illegal reentry
  • the individual has illegally re-entered the country after removal
  • the individual has outstanding order of removal
  • the individual has been found to have knowingly committed immigration fraud
  • the individual otherwise poses a significant risk to national security, border security or public safety.

Under these guidelines, detainers should be issued much less frequently than they have been over the past few years.  Individuals stopped for driving without a license, arrested for simple marijuana possession, disorderly conduct, underage drinking, petit theft, or other minor offenses should not come to the attention of ICE.  By keeping the immigration detention facilities and the immigration courts free from these low priority individuals, ICE remains free to concentrate on those who present serious public safety and national security risks.  In addition, it has the potential to stop or slow the removal of parents, children, brothers and sisters who are good members of their community except for a momentary and unfortunate interaction with law enforcement.  Properly implemented, the new detainer policy has the potential to drastically reduce the removals of low priority immigrants that have sullied the pro immigrant credentials of this administration.

However, as before, there is a battle going on between the stated desires of the political leadership of ICE and the ICE bureaucracy.  The ICE bureaucracy has proven itself extraordinarily adept at undermining its political leadership and has been in open revolt against the administration for the better part of four years.  Like every other memo and political effort announced by this administration, the challenge will remain in whether they can force an unwilling bureaucracy to yield to the wishes of its civilian leadership.  Lincoln had to fire McClellan, Truman had to fire McArthur and Obama fired McChrystal.  We are not sure who in ICE needs to be fired, but, one way or another, this power struggle will need to be resolved.

Indifference

13 Dec

 

It is very true that the immigration laws need a wholesale revision.  Congress needs to make substantial changes, regulations need to be re-written, precedent decisions scrapped and new guidance forthcoming.  But another change is needed and this change may the hardest of all.  It is a change of attitude within the agencies.  We have written in this space on multiple occasions about the hostility that elements within ICE have for their political leadership and the “culture of no” within CIS has been well-documented.  However, less reported is the blase indifference that many civil servants within the agency take toward the people affected by the way they go about their jobs.

Here is where I am supposed to say that the majority of the people who work for the immigration agencies are hard-working, well-intentioned people laboring under tremendous workloads and inadequate resources.  I am supposed to say that those who are indifferent to the human lives in the case before them are far outnumbered by the valiant majority who struggle against the bureaucratic odds to make a difference.  Sorry, but I can not say that.  I have to say that indifference is the default and care and compassion and vigor are the exception.  Such virtues do exist within the immigration agencies, but they are rarely on display.  Initiative and “going the extra mile” are snuffed out like weeds in those Round-Up commercials.  The overwhelming majority simply have little concern for the people affected by the way they do their jobs.  Immigration reform will be incomplete unless it addresses this problem as the power of clerks and administrative staff to harm the interests of immigrants remains immense.

Let’s focus on the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), the Immigration Court system.  Here are just a couple of things that have happened to us in the past few months that show how bureaucrats affect people’s lives by the way they do their jobs:

  • Client was detained by ICE.  ICE said that he was subject to mandatory detention.  We wanted to argue to the Judge that he was not.  We filed a request for a bond hearing, which is a matter of right, on October 24.  The case was not scheduled until November 27, five weeks after we filed.  This meant that our client had to sit in jail for an additional five weeks after we asked for his release before a judge could consider his claim that he should not be detained.  Five weeks is a long time to sit in jail when the law says you do not have to sit in jail.  The decision on when to give him a hearing was made by the Immigration Judge’s legal assistant.  No doubt she was reacting to limits on how many cases a judge can hear on any given day, but the harm of the judge hearing one more case against an individual spending several weeks in jail ought to be considered.
  • Client was detained by ICE.  When ICE detains an individual that they are placing into removal proceedings, ICE must issue a Notice to Appear (NTA) charging the individual with removability.  ICE must file the NTA with the Immigration Court and the Court must schedule the hearing.  We requested bond.  Although the rules require the Court to schedule a bond hearing for any detained individual regardless of whether an NTA has been filed, the Court’s backlog in recording the filing of NTAs causes the staff to fail to schedule a bond hearing.  A hearing was finally scheduled 30 days after the client is taken into custody and the Judge orders release.
  • Client was scheduled for hearing on her application for cancellation of removal for 10/31/2012.  That hearing was set in December 2011.  Hurricane Sandy closed the Immigration Court that day and for several days afterwards.  Expecting that the court would reschedule the case once it reopened, we wished to inform the court that we did not need much time for a hearing.  In December 2011, the Court scheduled the case for three to four hours of time.  However, since then, we negotiated with ICE counsel and agreed that all issues in the case could be resolved in a hearing of an hour or less.  On November 15, 2012, we filed a motion letting the court know that we did not need much time, so that the Court could squeeze us in wherever it had time.  We made several calls to and left messages with the court’s clerical staff, none of which were returned.  We finally spoke with the legal assistant to the judge around December 1, who stated that she had not seen the motion and she would have to look for it, but that she was not going to stop what she was doing to do so.  If she found it and the Judge ruled on it, she would give us a courtesy call.  On December 4, 2012, we got the call- hearing on December 11!  However, on December 5, the rumors started flying- the cap on grants of cancellation of removal had been met and no cancellation grants could be made until October 1, 2013.  As these were just rumors, we went ahead with the hearing, traveling to another city to be there on December 11.  At the hearing the Judge informed us that, since there were no cancellation numbers, she could not and would not hold a hearing and we could come back in October 2013.  So many small acts of initiative could have made a difference here: (1) the clerk could have addressed the motion in a timely manner and we could have gotten on the calendar before  numbers ran out; (2) when numbers ran out, the court could have called and rescheduled knowing that we would have to travel to attend the hearing at substantial cost to the client.
  • They never call back.  Never.

These are problems that are not going to be addressed by legislation.  They require a wholesale change in attitude and a lesson in courtesy. This is not simply a problem of
“poor customer service.” I hate the idea of customer service in a government agency. I think they owe us MORE than a business owes its customers. We are citizens, we are a polity and they are our government. They derive their authority from us. A business derives its income from us, which it can choose to accept or not. Citizen vis-a-vis government is entitled to more respect and deference than a Slurpee-buying sap at a Seven-Eleven.  Homer_and_Apu

These problems require an understanding that immigration detention is a serious deprivation of liberty that must be limited in duration and for the most serious matters.  A culture must grow within the Immigration Court that anything that unnecessarily prolongs detention is to be avoided and that resources will be provided to ensure that immigrants have access to prompt hearings.  Employees of the court system must be trained to recognize that they should do all they can to ensure that detained individuals have access to process.  A person is charged with murder is put in front of a magistrate judge within 24 hours who sets bail (or not).  A person charged with overstaying a visa is often detained for weeks before he gets review of his detention.  How does that system make sense?

This post was mostly cathartic.  Future posts will explore some of the legal underpinnings of the immigration detention regime.  For example, a U.S. Supreme Court decision many years ago said that removal proceedings are civil and not criminal and many criminal procedural protections are, therefore, unavailable in removal proceedings.  Given the militarization of the border and the use of detention during removal proceedings, we wonder how much of that flawed doctrine still can stand.