Deportation while U wait

By Michelle Chen May 22, 2009

Immigration court often involves lengthy legal disputes and tedious bureaucracy. At one downtown Los Angeles courthouse, however, officials have found an efficient way to cut through the red tape: kicking people out of the country without waiting for a decision from the judge. The LA Times reports that ICE is speedily removing people who have pending court cases, but have previous deportation orders on their record. According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Virginia Kice:

Immigration agents are reinstating previous orders of deportation… which "enables the nation’s immigration judges to focus on the cases of those aliens who have not had their day in court." ‘ "People arrested for being in the United States illegally have access to due process," she said. "However, those who exercise their rights, then willfully ignore the immigration judge’s decision or willfully reenter the United States after being previously removed… must understand there are consequences for those actions."

But the consequences probably seemed pretty clear to Fernando Arteaga, who was just shuttled back to Mexico before his case ran its course. He was first deported over a decade ago following an assault conviction. He later crossed the border illegally and was arrested again, but was able to remain close to his family after judge issued a stay of deportation. The LA Times notes, “For the last six years, he had been fighting to stay in the country based on his marriage to a U.S. citizen. The couple have three U.S.-born children.” ICE says the speed-deportees have criminal convictions, such as drug offenses. But what looks on paper like a justifiable deportation often masks the nuances of individual hardships and structural problems that limit immigrants’ ability to press their legal cases. Access to judicial review in the immigration system has shrunk in recent years. And even those who do go before a judge may be at the mercy of a opaque and notoriously arbitrary court process. Harsh detention policies and barriers to legal assistance can make it near impossible for immigrants to seek relief in order to keep their families together. Of the hundreds of thousands of immigrants deported from 1997 to 2007 on “criminal grounds,” the vast majority had been convicted for nonviolent offenses, according to Human Rights Watch. It’s easy to frame deportees as reckless criminals. But there’s more to the story than that, as evidenced by the people like Arteaga, who continue to stream across the border to preserve family and community bonds. Curtailing their access to justice won’t end that pattern—yet it guarantees that many of those stories will never be fully aired in the courtrooms that most need to hear them. Image: American Bar Association