Deportations Delayed for more than 56,000 ‘Surge’ Migrants
By Sylvia Longmire
Contributor, In Homeland Security
In the summer of 2014, levels of migrants either being apprehended at the Texas-Mexico border or turning themselves in reached crisis proportions. Both federal and local agencies struggled to manage the influx, and the Obama administration laid out a plan to process—and likely deport—the tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors and family units who had arrived from Central America during this wave.
However, The New York Times recently reported that the federal government is delaying deportation proceedings for more than 56,000 illegal immigrants who arrived during or after this surge, allowing many of them to stay in the U.S. legally until as late as 2023. Government officials are describing this shift in policy as a “cost saving measure” that is necessary “because of a lapse in enforcement that allowed immigrants who were supposed to be enrolled in an electronic monitoring program to go free.”
Migrants: The Immigration Backlog
The primary reason for the delay in processing applications for asylum and other forms of relief from removal is the lack of sufficient immigration judges, combined with a backlog of over 330,000 cases. As a result of the migrant crisis of 2014, President Obama added more judges to the benches in immigration courts, but that did little to relieve the pressure on the system. Applicants who actually presented themselves to the court as ordered shortly after being apprehended were often given hearing dates three to five years in the future. This gave rise to the rumors in Central America that unaccompanied minors and family units were being given permisos, or permits, to stay in the U.S. with legal status. However, many immigrants never showed up for hearings, leading the courts to issue GPS monitoring units to ensure compliance.
Lawyers and judges have both said it is easy for immigrants to become confused. In addition to the language barrier, legal proceedings are overseen by two separate government agencies, and it can be unclear where applicants are supposed to appear and when. However, government officials also say it’s unclear if this is the primary reason why so many migrants fail to appear for their appointed court dates.
An Ineffective Deterrence Strategy
The Times article explained that while some deportation cases were being delayed by years, others were being catapulted forward. While speeding up some cases may appear to be a good thing on the surface, it often prevents the applicants from seeking counsel, or counsel from adequately preparing a case that might be described as life-or-death if the immigrant were forced to return to his or her home country.
The Department of Homeland Security is trying to work with the Department of Justice to expedite immigration cases—or at least prevent migrants from absconding—to send a message to their origin countries that no passes are being given, and that all migrants caught entering the U.S. illegally will be processed and deported in the absence of exigent circumstances. However, current Border Patrol immigrant apprehension statistics show that fiscal year 2016 is set to surpass 2014’s numbers, indicating that the administration’s current deterrence strategy has been wholly ineffective.
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