On July 29, the Executive Office for Immigration Review — immigration court — reached out to various social agencies to announce its new hearing schedule for unaccompanied children and to ask the agencies to help find representation for these children.
Essentially, this order, which came from the Department of Justice, means that the Obama administration has decided to expedite hearings for all juveniles in the immigration court system.
While we, and others who work with immigrants, appreciate and applaud the concern the court demonstrated in asking these agencies to provide counsel (children in immigration court do not have a right to free counsel as they do in juvenile court), the court made this task virtually impossible by scheduling 150 cases each and every day through September.
This rush to judgment is not necessary, as the children whose hearings are scheduled already have been released to family members. They are not detained at the government’s expense. They are not part of the current crisis at the border. These compressed hearings serve no purpose other than to give the appearance that the Obama administration is being tough on immigrant children.
President Obama initially wanted to change current law to send these children back without an immigration hearing and due process. Since he is receiving opposition from his own party, he is now speeding up the process and, de facto, depriving children of these rights. Because there is little time to prepare a case in a complex legal system, this rush to judgment will, no doubt, help him achieve his original goal.
The compressed, mass hearing schedule will deny due process to these children, most of whom have family members in South Florida — and most likely will obtain relief from removal if the law is followed. With only three judges handling 50 cases each day for the next two months, they cannot possibly do their jobs, which is to uphold the law of the land while adhering to a lawful — and fair — process.
The true motive for this order is to send a message to those families and children contemplating entering the United States illegally. But the United States should not be using children as messengers through such a cruel action. These minors are already here, and the laws of our country provide them due process.
This judicial edict is unprecedented. If it stands, the nation will have lost sight of the welfare of these children. Their welfare should be the primary concern, not their immigration status.
Randolph McGrorty, executive director, Catholic Legal Services, Archdiocese of Miami, Miami