Wave of migrant children threatens to ‘implode’ U.S. immigration courts, judge warns

Tuesday, July 22, 2014
By Paul Martin

By Richard Cowan
Rawstory.com
Tuesday, July 22, 2014

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A deluge of Central American children pouring into the United States threatens to burst the seams of already overstuffed immigration courts, and President Barack Obama’s steps to ease the crisis are likely to make matters worse rather than better for some, U.S. officials and immigration lawyers said.

“We are reaching a point of implosion, if we have not already reached it,” said Judge Dana Leigh Marks of San Francisco, who has been deciding immigration cases since 1987 and is president of the National Association of Immigration Judges.

The problem, according to judges, lawyers and immigration groups, is the sheer number of cases clogging the courts, due in part to beefed-up law enforcement at the southwestern U.S. border with Mexico.

U.S. immigration courts have a backlog of 375,373 cases, almost 50,000 more than they faced two years ago, according to Justice Department figures.

Marks, one of the 243 judges presiding over 59 immigration courts in the United States, is setting hearing dates as far off as 2018. It now typically takes three to five years for cases to clear the system, judges and lawyers said.

On a recent Wednesday at a crowded immigration court in Arlington, Virginia, a judge was setting February 2017 asylum hearings for juveniles.

Some of the children who appear in court suffer from debilitating illnesses or are scarred from traumas experienced during the journey north, from rape and other injuries to hunger and forced labor by human smugglers.

“It’s like conducting death-penalty cases in a traffic court,” said Marks, referring to the high volume of cases and often weighty decisions judges face over whether to return children to crime-infested homelands.

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