5. News from the Courts:
Immigration courts filled with cases, not judges
The Houston Chronicle reports that the nation’s immigration courts are facing their largest backlog in history. The national backlog amounts to 228,400 cases, and cases can expect to wait over 400 days to be heard. The four states that are most backed up and overflowed are California, New York, Florida, and Texas, respectively. This backlog has rapidly increased by 23 percent in the past 18 months.
The problem is neither inefficient judicial work, nor even a significant increase in cases, but rather an overall shortage of immigration judges. Of the 239 judicial positions available in the country’s 55 immigration courts, there are 48 vacancies. An effort to fill 24 vacancies in 2006, spearheaded by then Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, had little effect, and no actions have been taken by the current administration yet either.
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U.S. funds immigration cops, but not courts
An author with the Harvard Law Record reports that the increasing immigration court backlog is due in large part to the increased funding for organizations such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), while at the same time, the Justice Department and the immigration court systems have received no similar increase in funds, and already face personnel shortages. One expert explained that Congress is “funding cops, but not courts.”
Some immigrants face up to a four year wait for their cases to be heard. While not only inconvenient, this delay can cause serious hardship to the immigrant. Many times, while waiting for adjudication of their cases, immigrants are not legally eligible to work, so are forced into increasing desperation, and must choose between the extreme poverty that results, and returning to their home country, which some have fled in the first place out of fear of persecution.
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SCOTUS reluctant to hold docs accountable for detention care
The LA Times reports that the Supreme Court is hearing arguments in a case centered on a San Salvadorian immigrant who died from penile cancer after negligent treatment. The immigrant’s complaints of pain and discomfort were ignored for weeks, as he was treated with generic painkillers. By the time the cancer was discovered, it had spread, and was terminal.
Federal authorities admitted negligence in the doctors’ poor treatment, but argued that the individual doctors should not be held liable. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, and ruled against them. The Supreme Court is now scheduled to receive the case. At the center of the debate is a 1970 law passed by Congress that gave immunity to Public Health Services doctors who treat immigrants in detention. A decision is expected from the court later this year.
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