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2010-10-22

"Lawless Courts": Lack of Accountability Allows Immigration Judges to Violate Laws, Deport US Citizens

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Guests

Jacqueline Stevens, political science professor at Northwestern University and author of States without Nations: Citizenship for Mortals. Her article for The Nation is 'Lawless Courts.'

Emily Guzman, wife of Pedro Guzman, who’s being held in a detention center in Lumpkin, Georgia, because the judge is resisting freeing Guzman on bond.

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A new report in The Nation magazine suggests that immigration judges who are supposed to give immigrants in deportation proceedings a fair hearing have been violating the law and even deporting US citizens. The article documents serious misconduct by immigration judges in Georgia, which has the country’s third-largest docket. According to the report, judges here appear more concerned about deportation quotas rather than immigrants’ — and citizens’ — rights. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We turn now to the latest scandal in the immigration debate. A new report in The Nation magazine suggests that immigration judges, who are supposed to give immigrants in deportation proceedings a fair hearing, have been violating the law themselves and even deporting US citizens. The article, titled "Lawless Courts," documents serious misconduct by immigration judges in Georgia, which has the country’s third-largest docket. According to the report, judges here appear more concerned about deportation quotas rather than immigrants’ — and citizens’ — rights.

AMY GOODMAN: In 2008, 83 percent of the respondents held in Georgia’s Stewart Detention Center were ordered deported, compared to 72 percent nationwide. According to the article, the office under which they work, the Executive Office of Immigration Review, or EOIR, protects them by sweeping complaints under the rug and hiding detention center hearings, even though regulations say they must be open to the public.

Well, the Executive Office of Immigration Review at the Department of Justice declined our offer to come on the show. But we are joined by the author of the report, Jacqueline Stevens. She’s a political science professor at Northwestern University and also author of States without Nations: Citizenship for Mortals. She joins us from Chicago.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Lay out the scope of this investigation.

JACQUELINE STEVENS: Good morning.

Yeah, well, I spent about the last year and a half going to immigration court hearings around country and focusing on hearings in detention centers. Right now about 50 percent of all immigration hearings are held in detention centers, and 85 percent of the people appearing in these courts don’t have any attorneys. And they find themselves in the situation before someone who’s called an immigration judge, but is most likely someone who used to be an attorney for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement service. And they go into this, you know, kind of fake court and don’t understand even, perhaps, the charges against them and are asked to assent to be removed without fully understanding what in fact they’re been charged with and what their legal rights are for remaining in the country. And the whole process is in violation of the regulations governing the immigration courts.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, also with us from Raleigh, North Carolina, is Emily Guzman. She’s the wife of Pedro Guzman, who’s being held in a detention center in Lumpkin, Georgia, because the judge is resisting freeing Guzman on bond.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Can you tell us your story?

We’re having a little problem there, so we’re going to have to go back to —

AMY GOODMAN: She’s not quite hearing us. But can you —

JUAN GONZALEZ: — to Jacqueline Stevens. I’d like to ask you, Jacqueline Stevens, what about the stipulated removal orders that you talk about in your article?

JACQUELINE STEVENS: Right. OK, so, in some circumstances, without having a hearing at all, individuals may be found by immigration agents to be deportable and have these orders, based only on the recommendation of the immigration agents, signed by immigration judges, and people will be deported without a hearing.

Now, the problem is that the immigration agents are not always accurate in their arrest reports. And I’ve seen numerous inaccuracies in their statements about the legal status of people in their custody or about the alleged crimes for which there were convicted. The purpose of an immigration hearing is to review whether or not the claims that are being made in the arrest reports are accurate. But instead, the Department of Homeland Security is taking advantage of the discretion afforded them under our law and deporting people through a process that does not require them to appear before an immigration judge. Now, some judges will not actually sign these orders. Others will only do so if they actually read them very carefully. And those who do read them very carefully have noticed errors in these reports and have therefore dismissed them. And these include reports that would indicate that people who were being held who are US citizens should be deported. Now, the vast majority of the immigration judges who review these do not review them carefully, and they just sign these orders by the hundreds. And as Rachel Rosenbloom, a colleague of mine at Northeastern Law School, points out, they are likely also ordering the deportation of US citizens among them.

AMY GOODMAN: Jacqueline, we just got Emily on from North Carolina. Juan, Emily Guzman.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yeah, Emily Guzman, a mental health therapist in North Carolina, can you tell us what happened with your husband?

EMILY GUZMAN: Yes. My husband has been detained by immigration for the past — for more than a year now. He was actually detained on September 28th, 2009, and it was actually because of an immigration error. A while ago, my — he came to the United States when he was eight years old with his mother, and they had work visas for many, many years under an asylum act called NACARA. In 2007, his mother came up for a permanent residency interview.

AMY GOODMAN: Emily, we just have thirty seconds.

EMILY GUZMAN: Oh, thirty seconds.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes.

EMILY GUZMAN: Oh, my gosh. OK. He is my soulmate, my best friend, and he is detained wrongly. Please go to our website and check out our whole story, logansdad.org. Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: And he is being — he awaits deportation now at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia. And we will link to that website at democracynow.org. Emily Guzman, mental health therapist in North Carolina, thanks so much for being with us, and Jacqueline Stevens, professor at Northwestern University.

EMILY GUZMAN: No problem.

AMY GOODMAN: Latest piece, "Lawless Courts."

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