Recently, the San Antonio Immigration Court announced the cancellation of its non-detained docket for September, the third consecutive month, and it may be cancelled in October too. The cancellations will result in delaying hundreds of immigrants’ cases, many with strong claims to remain here, for years. While they wait for their hearing, they cannot travel abroad, in some circumstances will not be able to obtain permission to work or drive, and will live with the anxiety of potentially being ordered deported.
The reasons for the cancellations is an influx of unaccompanied minors arriving in Texas and the government’s policy of detaining immigrants while they wait for their hearing before an immigration judge. Since unaccompanied minors and detainees have priority over those individuals who are not detained, the scheduling of their cases has resulted in the cancellations of the non-detained docket. There is a better way: immigration judges should not be involved with the children’s cases and the detention of so many immigrant detainees is unnecessary.
Many of the children arriving from Central America qualify for special immigrant juvenile status (SIJS) and will ultimately be allowed to remain in the country. SIJS requires the juvenile to obtain a state court judgment declaring that the child was abused, abandoned, or neglected and that it is not in the best interest of the child to be returned to their home country. After obtaining the state court judgment, the child applies for a visa with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The entire process, in other words, does not involve an immigration judge. Yet, the children’s cases needlessly stay on the immigration court’s docket, lingering until the SIJS case is resolved. The court’s docket would be considerably lessened if these cases were simply removed from the court’s purview.
Most immigrant detainees are far from dangerous. Indeed, it is not uncommon for an immigrant to be detained without bond based on a non-violent criminal conviction that occurred years, even decades, ago. Many immigrant detainees spend more time in an immigration detention center than they do in a criminal jail after being convicted of a crime. As such, they are punished far more severely than the criminal courtâ€”the court most knowledgeable about the crime committedâ€”ever intended. Not only does this needless detention result in the cancellation of pending non-detained cases, it causes considerable hardship to families and employers who rely on the detained person. The detention of these individuals does nothing to ensure safer communities and advances no good public policy.
Should the courts continue to cancel their non-detained cases, justice will be delayed for hundreds of individuals, many of whom can make strong cases that they should be allowed to remain in the country. The delay is needless and can be immediately reversed by making the above-recommended changes.