Deportation orders increase under Trump; fewer migrants prevail in court

Washington Post

Federal immigration courts ordered 57,069 people to leave the United States in the first six months of the Trump administration, up nearly 31 percent over the same period last year, the Justice Department announced Tuesday.

Additionally, 16,058 people prevailed in their immigration cases, or had them closed, allowing them to stay in the United States, according to the data, which tallied orders issued from Feb. 1 to July 31. That total marked a 20.7 percent drop from the 20,255 immigrants who prevailed at the same time last year.

In a news release, the Justice Department said the notoriously backlogged court system is making a return to the "rule of law" under President Donald Trump, who has vowed to speed deportations. But officials did not say how many of the orders were issued in absentia, meaning to immigrants who did not attend their hearings and therefore could not immediately be deported.

The Washington Post reported last week that thousands of immigrants, some seeking protection from violence in their homelands, have missed their court dates in recent years, often because they did not know about them or were afraid to show up. Advocates for immigrants have also raised concern about the lack of legal aid for immigrants, especially for those in immigration jails.

Last month, the president of the National Association of Immigration Judges said courts are severely understaffed, with about 300 immigration judges juggling a quickly rising caseload. An estimated 600,000 cases are pending nationwide.

Unlike the traditional federal court system, which is independent of the executive branch of government, immigration courts are administered by the Justice Department.

That agency said that from Feb. 1 to July 31, judges issued 73,127 final immigration decisions, an increase of 14.5 percent over the same period in 2016.

Of those decisions, 49,983 were deportation orders, an increase of nearly 28 percent from the same period in 2016. The rest were orders to leave the United States voluntarily, a process by which immigrants generally face fewer barriers if they wish to apply to return to the United States in the future.

Federal officials attributed the increase in case completions to Trump's Jan. 25 executive order dispatching more than 100 immigration judges to immigration jails across the country. More than 90 percent of cases heard in jails have led to orders to leave the United States. The department has also hired 54 new judges to work in immigration courts since Trump took office. More are being hired every month.

Dana Leigh Marks, an immigration judge based in San Francisco who heads the national association, wrote in Newsday last month that immigration courts should be separated from the Justice Department to ensure "judicial independence and protection from political influences."

"More skilled court management, provided by experienced court administrators, rather than a law enforcement agency with priorities other than fairness and efficiency, would greatly enhance our ability to complete the tasks," she wrote. "For example, cases would not be docketed to make political statements or serve as a show of force by the U.S. government."

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