Immigration Courts Bracing for Influx of Youth Migrants

As of the end of June 2014, the 59 immigration courts across the USA, run by 243 judges, had a record backlog of 375,503 pending cases. Wait times for hearings are averaging about a year-and-a-half.

News Story (INTERNATIONAL, Texas)

Rick Jervis
USA Today
July 20, 2014
Link to story

Tags: Children & Juvenile, Immigration Process, Language Access

Organizations mentioned/involved: RAICES (Texas), National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ)


Jonathan Ryan, executive director of Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, a San Antonio legal aid group that represents many of the youth, said more of the children get deported than should. Of the more than 1,000 children he and his staff recently screened at Lackland Air Force Base, around three-fourths seemed eligible for asylum under U.S. law, he said. However, without representation, many of those will be sent back to their countries, he said.

More than 90% of the children he and his staff represent in immigration court win a favorable ruling and are allowed to remain in the USA, Ryan said. Unfortunately, he said, many don’t find lawyers and are deported.

“What really determines the outcome of these cases is whether or not these children have access to competent, affordable civil legal aid, not their actual eligibility,” Ryan said.

Most of the defendants in Martinez’s courtroom Wednesday had lawyers, but not all started out that way. Jose Enrique, the teen from El Salvador, showed up alone at a hearing in Harlingen in March and ran into a pro bono attorney who offered to take his case. Groups like RAICES send staff attorneys to sit in on hearings across Texas to make sure the immigrant youth are being represented.

On Wednesday, Linda Brandmiller, an independent San Antonio attorney, dashed between her clients and other minors appearing without representation. She went over their rights with them, filed motions with the court and answered the judge’s questions for them. Without help, the youth are likely to end up deported even if they qualify for asylum, she said.

“(The defendant) could tell the truth, have no fear in telling the truth, and still lose and get deported,” Brandmiller said. “How can you defend yourself when you don’t even know what the rules are?”