The Wall at Home: Trump's Assault on the Immigration Courts.

AuthorGoodman, James

Dolores Bustamante Romero crossed the U.S-Mexico border fifteen years ago with her three-year-old daughter, Miriam--fleeing, she says, because of an abusive partner and the failure of police in Mexico to protect her. Now her fate rests with a clogged and compromised immigration court system that has grown harsher under President Donald Trump.

The system doesn't care that Bustamante, forty-six, has committed no crime. It doesn't care about the years she spent toiling in the apple orchards to provide for her daughter, who begins college in the fall.

Before entering the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) complex in upstate New York for her deportation hearing in May, Bustamante expressed appreciation for her supporters and hoped that her faith could give her strength in a court system stacked against her. "I am really nervous," she said. "Thank you all for your prayers and for your support."

The nation's immigration court system, consisting of sixty courts with 334 judges as of mid-April, is swamped. Its backlog reached 714,067 cases at the end of May, up 171,656 cases since Trump took office, according to Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).

Rather than delivering more resources, Trump has talked about getting rid of immigration courts altogether, so there are no obstacles to deportation. "Whoever heard of a system where you put people through trials," Trump told Fox & Friends in late May. "It's ridiculous. We're going to change the system." In late June, he reiterated that sentiment with a tweet: "We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country. When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came."

Attorney General Jeff Sessions's "zero tolerance" strategy calls for prosecuting undocumented immigrants who have crossed the border on criminal charges before putting them into deportation proceedings, and has included such inhumane practices as family separation. The immigration courts--never an independent branch of the judiciary, but nestled within the Department of Justice--have become part of the administration's anti-immigration deportation machine that, among other things, threatens to cripple the agricultural sector of the U.S. economy.

Undocumented immigrants make up anywhere between 50 and 70 percent of agricultural workers, says Bruce Goldstein, president of Farmworker Justice, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. As detention facilities swell with apprehended immigrants, farmers worry whether they'll make it through the fall harvest.

"Not many people like to do this kind of work--from sunrise to sunset," says Bustamante, who is now trying to overturn the deportation order that Immigration Judge Steven Connelly issued after he rejected her asylum plea at a May 8 hearing. Bustamante's lawyer, Jose Perez, has filed a notice of appeal.

Connelly, who was an assistant chief counsel for ICE before becoming an immigration judge in 2010, tempered his skepticism about Bustamante's case only mildly, by interjecting the word "regrettably" as he read aloud his decision. According to TRAC, Connelly denied asylum in 82.7 percent of the 225 asylum cases he decided between fiscal years 2012 and 2017. (Nationally, the average was 52.8 percent.)

What's more, victims of domestic violence have a much slimmer chance of gaining asylum following Sessions's June decree overruling a 2016 Board of Immigration Appeals decision favorable...

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