The Obama Administration has been delaying deportation proceedings for recent immigrants across the United States, allowing for 56,000 of those who fled Central America to remain in the country legally for several more years.
The shift, which is a departure from the Administration’s promise to rush the cases of those tied to the 2014 surge through the immigration courts, has been going on unannounced and without much public attention for a while now, according to judges and federal officials.
According to federals officials, the delays are intended to be a cost-saving measure, resulting from a lapse of enforcement that enabled immigrants to go free that were supposed to be enrolled in an electronic program.
Now that the government will not have to pay the fee of 4-8$ each day, many cases have been delayed years, with some being pushed back as late as 2023, judges and federal officials said. It doesn’t apply to every case, however, as those that followed instructions and reported are having their cases moved along at a rapid pace that makes it nearly impossible for lawyers and judges to keep up.
“The whole thing is docket chaos,” said Paul Schmidt, who retired in June after a 30-year career working for federal immigration agencies, the last 13 years as an immigration judge.
While it is unclear whether the failure to report was intentional or not, the system might have much of the blame. Deportations are carried out by two separate agencies – The Department of Homeland Security, which handles arrests of persons charged with violating immigration laws, and The Executive Office for Immigration Review, a branch of the Justice Department that adjudicates deportations. It is suspected that many of the failures to report are the result of confusion associated with the two agencies being distinct entities, according to several judges and lawyers.
“You’re coming into the country and you’ve got one reporting requirement for D.H.S. and another for the immigration court,” Judge Schmidt said. “Most people don’t understand that.”
While many cases are being delayed, some are being catapulted forward to the desks of newly appointed judges to alleviate backlog. This may result in more delays, as scheduling errors may arise due to the fast pace, and many immigrants who would have sought pro-bono counseling may be forced to go on trial without representation.
“We can’t take on someone else who is on a waiting list because someone we thought was going to be completed is now still our case for four years,” said Eleni Wolfe-Roubatis, the immigration program director at the Centro Legal de la Raza in Oakland, California, a legal services agency for immigrants. She said dozens of her cases had been pushed to as late as 2020.
According to a recent TRAC Report, the backlog has reached half-a-million cases, with a third coming from the immigration spike in 2014, when record numbers of Central American migrants sought asylum from gang violence and lawlessness in their home countries.