When Kids Go to Dallas' Immigration Court

Categories: Immigration

Courtroom123.jpg
Ammodramus
You're ten years old, you've just made your way across two countries, and you're here to explain your story to a guy you don't know in a language you don't speak. Go.
On any given day, the 10th floor of the Earle Cabell Federal Building in downtown Dallas is filled with men, women and children waiting to appear before an immigration judge. On certain days, like yesterday, many of them are Central American children, having arrived at the United States border, alone, during the recent so-called "surge" that's sent officials across the country, including in Dallas County, scrambling for a place to temporarily house them.

For a room filled with kids, teenagers, and their families, most were withdrawn and silent. The overhead lights bored into the crowd, as the bilingual secretary addressed them exclusively in Spanish. She arranged the kids and their families in order of age and home country, but just this first step in the court process was complicated and long-winded. Much of that has to do with miscommunication: Some kids didn't know they had to bring their parent or guardian with them to court. Some kids didn't bring the right documents. Some didn't know they could, or should, have brought a lawyer.

See also
- Where Migrant Kids Will Likely Live in Dallas
- "Deporter in the Court," our cover story about one of America's most feared immigration lawyers.

It's a process that two Texas lawmakers, Senator John Cornyn and Representative Henry Cuellar are hoping to scale back with their proposed Humane Act, which would cut down court times for these kids' cases. Under the Act, the kids would need to file a claim with immigration court within a week of being screened by the Department of Health and Human Services. From there, a judge would have to make a decision on their case within 72 hours, and many of the kids would be shipped right back.

But a morning in court reveals a system ill-equipped to process cases that fast, at least under current laws that provide relief for many Central American kids fleeing violence in their home countries.

The court secretary called roll, noting the absence of several kids. "Yeah, presente," one teen boy responded when his name was called. The secretary immediately chastised him. "You say, 'yes or no, si o no. Never 'yeah,'" she told him sternly. The boy, Miguel, reddened and looked down at his scuff-marked sneakers. But if the secretary seemed puritanical, it was only to prepare the kids for the ensuing formality of the courtroom.

There was no lack of gravitas when Judge Michael Baird walked into the room and began addressing the kids and their relatives. "All of you are here today because the government of the United States wants to remove you from this country," he said softly, his spectacled eyes slowly moving about the room and lingering on the youngest of the accused, a 10-year-old girl in pink overalls named Mariela.

But Baird has an excellent poker face. When each child was called forward -- and some unlucky enough to no longer be classified as children, if their eighteenth birthday had occurred in the last month -- a collected Baird read aloud the same scripted information. Is their parent or guardian present? Was this their address? Had they already provided fingerprints and a signature as court evidence? Did they understand why they were here?

The questions got more complicated when Baird asked each person if they had a lawyer representing them. Some kids, who had arrived without a parent or guardian, didn't seem to know if their parents had already contracted a lawyer or not. For these kids, Baird informed them that their case could not be processed until they brought a guardian. One boy, Javier, admitted his mother was downstairs in the lobby, too afraid herself to appear before an immigration judge. Out went Javier to haul his mother into court, fear be damned.

Only one child had a lawyer. This boy, Juan, was from Guatemala, and was granted Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status, for kids whose parents have abandoned them or been killed. Baird informed the rest of the kids, one by one, that they could reschedule their court dates for two weeks from now, if they desired, to allow them time to obtain legal services.

Each unrepresented child opted for the extension to find legal service. "Do you understand that not appearing in court on your appointed date would be devastating to your case?" Baird prompted each child before they left. He informed them that failing to appear would result in deportation and future permanent barring from American immigration services. A few visibly flinched, as the finality of the words cut each person he addressed.

Some will return to the Cabell building in August, sans lawyer. That doesn't mean they didn't try. Immigration lawyers, especially in Texas, report stretched resources and the increasingly desperate need for pro bono lawyers. If the kids can't convince the lawyer, very quickly, that they have a case to stay in the United States, they will have to argue their own cases.

"It's tough. You need to get their whole story," says Stacy Jones, an attorney for the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. "The younger a child is, the less able they are to articulate what happened to them or why they came to the U.S., and the younger they are, they're likely not traveling with a ton of documents."

If the scene described to you sounds confusing and laborious, it should. And picture all of this imagining you speak only a smattering of English. Judge Dana Marks, president of National Association of Immigration Judges, says that this is precisely why the Humane Act bill is so absurd to those in the know. "Immigration law is repeatedly compared to tax law in terms of complexity," she says. "So it's problematic to think that a judge can explain to minors what their rights and responsibilities are, and to do it in an expedited fashion is extremely difficult."

It's hard to look around the courtroom at the faces of these kids, sitting next to their tios and tias -- less frequently with a parent -- and not think about what awaits them if they are sent back to their home countries. "The stakes for these kids can be life threatening. We often say we're doing death penalty cases if a person is fleeing persecution," Marks says. "If a judge makes a quick call and sends them back to their home country, they risk the fate of sending them back to possible death. And that's why it seems unrealistic that this bill would be workable."


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23 comments
TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

"I think, though, that the “Pilgrims = Illegal Aliens” equation illustrates the exact opposite. The whites immigrated to America — and took over the place. ... Likewise, Jews immigrated to Palestine (adding vastly to the numbers already present), sometimes illegally — and eventually there were more Jews in some parts than Arabs, so Jews started running the place. Now Israelis are sensibly objecting to Palestinians’ asserted “right of return” to their and their parents’ homes, because if enough Palestinians are allowed to immigrate into Israel, they’ll start running the place.

The bottom line is that for all the good that immigration can do (and I’m an immigrant to the U.S., who is very glad that America let me in, and who generally supports immigration), unregulated immigration can dramatically change the nature of the target society. It makes a lot of sense for those who live there to think hard about how those changes can be managed, and in some situations to restrict the flow of immigrants — who, after all, will soon be entitled to affect their new countrymen’s rights and lives, through the vote if not through force."

http://www.volokh.com/2013/02/14/the-pilgrims-as-illegal-aliens/

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

The actual people in this situation have taken a back seat to the news cycle.  Each story, whether on TV or radio, in print rags or online boards, seems to be an attempt to out sensationalize the previous story or comment chain.

The comment threads of UP blogs used to be wonderful mines of links to information useful in ferreting out the facts of a story.  Now, it seems each comment on this topic is a dart-throw of stats and percentages and accusations, with precious few citations or links to sources.

Catbird
Catbird

DHS statistics say that 60% of the "immigrant children" are males between 15 and 30 years of age (BHO's executive order considers the "children" to be minors until age 31) 40% of the males have criminal records as employees of the drug cartels. In other words, there is a real chance that Clay Jenkins is importing veteran child soldiers into Dallas county...paid killers in the south American drug wars. They'll be enrolling in DISD this fall. 

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

"There was no lack of gravitas when Baird walked into the room..."  First time Baird, whoever that is, is mentioned in the article.  No indication of who he is or what he does except that he seems fairly stern and (in liberal terms) probably frightens the children.  Is that common practice in journalism now, to introduce key figures in a story but not give any indication of what makes them 'key'??

DavidRoot
DavidRoot

Emily Mathis has been doing a really great job with this, using a journalistic but sympathetic eye.

My question: If some immigration judges are asking for more time to make status decisions, why are Cornyn and Cuellar saying it's more humane to increase turnover?

Amy S
Amy S

Thank you Emily. Your writing put us right in the middle of the court.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

Executive action can and will dispense with all this nonsense, and it will soon.

Tgrantco
Tgrantco

Nobody believes sources anymore anyway

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@RTGolden1

Refugrant numbers are dropping off, apparently the "Beast" (El Beasto) fell off los trackos del railroadós.

fred.garvin.mp.713
fred.garvin.mp.713

30 years old seeems a little old to be enrolling in DISD, but it's never too late to learn algebra, I always say!

dingo
dingo

@DavidRoot 

Is it her journalistic or myopic eye that refrains from quoting the overridingly relevant no-show percentage of the court ('noting the absence of several kids') or her ignoring a leaked report stating that 95 percent of the unaccompanied illegals arrived because they believed that permisos would be given and instead overstates the less relevant 'kids in danger' narrative ('The stakes for these kids can be life threatening')?

http://www.scribd.com/doc/233856565/Leaked-EPIC-Document

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@fred.garvin.mp.713

Most are enrolling to study lunch.

DavidRoot
DavidRoot

@dingo @DavidRoot 

That's an informative report! It doesn't make Mathis's article less relevant or true, but it raises great points. At best she fails to cite this particular unofficial report from the city of El Paso that has been out for weeks already. I wouldn't call that myopic exactly... 

I read the report. Everybody should read this report. Traffickers took advantage of a really bad situation. The report you posted confirms that violence in those countries is a driver, and emphasizes that the coyotes and Central American media are likely to blame for any misconceptions of DACA that might have given them hope. 

It's wrong to assume 95% of migrants will fail to meet asylee requirements. UNHCR and US immigration courts have independently confirmed that around 60% of children applying so far have had legitimate reasons to fear for their lives. They took the opportunity to leave when they could, when the situation appeared optimal. You can be angry at them or the Obama administration, but it doesn't change the fact that most of them really had no idea what would happen but took a chance anyway.

What page is that 95% stat on anyway? I can't find it yet... the report says 44% said violence was not a factor. 43% said gang violence was the main factor and another 22% said abuse at home. I guess there's some overlap, too.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@dingo

...95 percent of the unaccompanied illegals arrived because they believed that permisos would be given...

Pretty prescient bunch.

According to the administration, it's all happening because of a youtube video.

dingo
dingo

@DavidRoot @dingo 

From page 1:

"Of the 230 total migrants interviewed, 219 cited the primary reason for migrating to the United States was the perception of U.S. immigration laws granting free passes or permisosa to UAC and adult female OTMs traveling with minors."


Again she ignoring a leaked report stating that 95 percent of the unaccompanied illegals arrived PRIMARILY because they believed that permisos would be given and instead she overstated the LESS RELEVANT (NON PRIMARY) 'kids in danger' narrative, according to the report I cited and you perused.

dingo
dingo

@DavidRoot @dingo 

I notice you also have myopia concerning the no-show on the no-show percentage. Why did you choose to overlook that aspect of my comment?


Arriving at the 95 percent requires one to apply second grade arithmetic to the numbers presented on page 1. Did you overlook that on purpose or are you actually that obscenely obtuse?

DavidRoot
DavidRoot

@dingo @DavidRoot 

"Kids in Danger" is less important, less relevant? It's true the unofficial El Paso survey does say that 95% of those surveyed by EPIC said they left primarily because they sincerely believed permisos were being handed out (thank you, dingo!) 

Permisos are obviously not a root cause, as the survey also says. I acknowledge that it must destroy the migrants' credibility that they admitted they were willing to make the trip because they were convinced the US government would help them. Truth is maybe half are showing up for economic reasons, the other half to escape violence. Or it's a combination of causes.

That "95%" is a useful number, but for a different reason. It shows that people migrated because they intended to live in the US legally. Those 5% who intended to knowingly break the law, shame on them!

 

If 66% of children surveyed said they experienced violence in their neighborhoods and homes, that ought to be taken very seriously. It's not irrelevant.


And we should talk about the kids who don't show up to court. That's important, too.

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