Since President Trump took office, each day seems to present new challenges for immigrants seeking safety and freedom in America. These past two weeks were no exception. On October 8, the White House released a laundry list of cruel and nativist "Immigration Principles and Policies,” the most draconian anti-immigrant document since the infamous Immigration Act of 1924, nearly a century ago. In the crosshairs are some of our country's most vulnerable immigrants: DREAMers brought here by their families as children; unaccompanied minors fleeing murderous gangs in the most dangerous countries in the world; and asylum-seekers desperately pursuing freedom from persecution.
The Trump Administration’s shameful policies would make it easy to deport children to their death, strip asylum-seekers of basic due process protections, and remove countless immigrants without affording them their day in court. Most damning, the Administration pits Dreamers against other immigrants without legal status, including Dreamers’ own parents and Central American children in search of safety.
"As a DREAMer, I'm not settling for a bill that will harm millions of other immigrants in exchange for my own protection. No matter how [President Trump] wants to sugarcoat the proposal, as immigrant activists and DREAMers, we cannot support demands that put unaccompanied minors and other immigrants in harm's way.” - Monica Lazaro, Americans for Immigrant Justice client and DACA recipient, October, 2017
This month the Administration also struck at the heart of the system immigrants must rely on for justice, with plans to impose “Numeric Performance Standards” on immigration judges. Quantity, not quality, is the new order of the day. The National Association of Immigrant Judges’ (NAIJ) response was quick and clear: Evaluating judges’ performance in this manner would destroy their independence and seriously impede the due process rights of immigrants. Even before the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) latest attempt to fast track immigration court cases, Judge Dana Leigh Marks complained that immigration judges “hear death penalty cases in a traffic court setting.”
Nationwide, immigration court backlogs have grown to 632,000, up from 540,000 since Trump took office, in part because the DOJ has transferred judges from their home base to “surge courts” on the border in order to expedite deportations. The number of deportation orders between February 1, 2017 and July 31, 2017 has increased by almost 28%, compared to the same time last year.
Requiring judges already facing crushing caseloads to take on even more work in order to meet harsh, unrealistic quotas makes no sense. Unless, of course, the Administration’s goal is to ensure that immigrants won’t have time to properly prepare their cases and immigration judges won’t have time to fairly review them.
"Tying numerical case completions to the evaluation of the individual judge's performance evaluation specifically interferes with judicial independence and clearly will put immigration judges in a position where they could conceivably violate their legal duty to fairly and impartially decide cases in a way that complies with due process." Judge A. Ashley Tabaddor, NAIJ, October 18, 2017
The public’s interest in fair, impartial and transparent hearings is clearly at stake. Immigrants fighting removal have no right to a court-appointed attorney, regardless of their age or circumstance, even though they are up against DHS lawyers who argue for their deportation. According to Syracuse University’s Transitional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), immigrants with attorneys are five times more likely to win their cases. This number increases when immigrants are in detention.
Yet immigrant advocates are being challenged as never before, struggling to provide competent counsel and advice when immigration policies are in constant flux and nothing seems outside the realm of possibility. Attorneys are riding an emotional rollercoaster along with their clients.
Since day one, Trump has been working to dismantle the current order of things, and immigration was his defining issue right out of the gate. But only working to appease anti-immigrant zealots is an agenda designed to fail. Recent polls, local and national, make clear that most Americans support reasonable comprehensive immigration reform that provides immigrants currently here without legal status a path to permanent residency.
We need to stand up. We need to speak up. Now.
Keep Hope Alive.