Immigration court speeds review of cases involving children

Immigration court speeds review of cases involving children

Baltimore Immigration Court, facing an increase in the number of cases involving immigrant children who crossed the border illegally, is expediting reviews to more quickly decide whether the children should be deported, according to attorneys with clients before the court.

The so-called “rocket docket,” created in response to a directive last month from the Obama administration to fast-track the cases, has meant the children receive initial hearings within 21 days and in some cases are given a matter of weeks, instead of months, to find an attorney.

Advocacy groups that represent immigrants in Maryland are voicing concern that the faster review has led to more children receiving deportation orders without having their day in court. Some don’t receive enough notice in advance of their hearing, they say, and others struggle to find an affordable lawyer amid a widely recognized shortage.

“Four to five weeks isn’t enough time to find an attorney,” said Michelle Mendez, a lawyer at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington who represents clients in Baltimore. “I’m not sure what the goal is, but the reality is that kids are getting removal orders in absentia.”

Maryland had received 2,804 of the children through family reunification efforts by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as of July 31, more than any other state on a per capita basis. In all, some 63,000 unaccompanied children have been apprehended at the U.S. border with Mexico since October, with many arriving from Central America.

The Obama administration realigned immigration court dockets in mid-July to make the unaccompanied children a priority. The directive required courts to schedule an initial hearing for the children within three weeks of when a case is filed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Similar changes have taken effect in New York, Miami and Los Angeles.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice, which runs the immigration court system, said the children will have due process.

“We continue to support our mission of adjudicating immigration cases fairly and expeditiously while uniformly interpreting and administrating the law,” said the spokeswoman, Lauren Alder Reid.

The systemwide changes, she said, were intended to “address the current influx of recent border crossers while providing shorter wait times for those who are waiting their day in immigration court.”

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Reference Article by John Fritze, The Baltimore Sun