Many U.S. immigration cases are effectively life-or-death trials, and the Justice Department should not be fast-tracking deportation hearings for child migrants, said federal judges at a talk in Washington, D.C. “We deal with cases which are often in effect death penalty cases, situations where if the person is removed from the United States, they may be killed upon return to their country,” Judge Dana Leigh Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said at the National Press Club last week. The U.S. Justice Department recently began moving child migrant cases to the front of the immigration court dockets to help address the surge in unaccompanied children crossing the border. Judge Marks criticized the policy, which speeds up deportation proceedings, saying that the cases need special attention and “more time.” Catholic bishops have already argued that child migrants face a dire situation if they are deported, and must have due process. Auxiliary bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle wrote in an Aug. 1 Washington Post column that “subjecting these children to the removal without the due process of a formal immigration hearing would no doubt mean that the vast majority would be returned to the gangs and drug cartels that threaten them in Central America.” And in his June 25 testimony before Congress, Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso said the mass deportation of the child migrants would be like sending them into a “burning building.” “The US and its regional partners must avoid the simplistic approach of addressing the forced migration by forcing children back through increased border enforcement. This response is akin to sending these children back into a burning building they just fled,” Bishop Seitz told Congress. More than 40 percent of immigrants at hearings in fiscal year 2013 did not have an attorney, said Judge Marks. This, combined with the Justice Department’s policy of fast-tracking the deportation hearings of child migrants, puts the children at a disadvantage. “Our domestic law and international law have long recognized that children are different. They are a vulnerable population who needs special protections,” Marks argued. “You need more time in order to gain the trust and confidence of a child who is in a scary situation when they come to court. They need to be re-united with family members and with responsible adults who can help them to locate counsel.” “This is not an amusement park where you can fast-pass removal proceedings,” said Judge Denise Noonan Slavin, executive vice president of the National Association of Immigration Judges. Judge Marks added that the fast-tracking policy puts “subtle pressures” on judges who are already overtaxed by their workload. “I can honestly say that I have, in the 27 years that I have been an immigration judge, never been told what the ultimate outcome should be in a case. However, there are subtle pressures when you know that you are supposed to do the case as quickly as possible,” she explained. The number of pending immigrant cases is at 375,000, “the highest it’s ever been,” Marks stated. The fast-tracking of child migrant cases also means that the children often have their deportation hearings before their parents, who have been in the country longer. “If the child is coming here to be with his parents who are already in the court’s docket,” Judge Slavin said, “it doesn’t make any sense to hear the child’s case first. It makes more sense to hear the parent’s case first rather than send them to the back of our line 15-18 months out while the child’s case is heard.”
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