How lenient are Miami immigration judges? A study ranks the court

“Across the board, we have a great judiciary in the immigration court in Miami,” says Miami attorney Wilfredo Allen.
“Across the board, we have a great judiciary in the immigration court in Miami,” says Miami attorney Wilfredo Allen. El Nuevo Herald

The Miami immigration court is an important place for foreign nationals seeking asylum or who are in deportation proceedings. But it can be difficult to find because it’s in a cul-de-sac in downtown Miami, somewhat hidden among skyscrapers and soaring Interstate 95 exit and entry ramps.

Yet, the building at 333 S. Miami Ave. should not strike fear in the hearts of immigrants.

That’s because judges at the Miami immigration court are deemed among the most lenient toward immigrants in the country, according to a recently published study.

The report from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University says that the Miami immigration court is in the top five immigration courts in the country whose judges are more likely to allow immigrants to stay in the country despite deportation orders sought by government trial attorneys representing the Department of Homeland Security.

According to the TRAC study, the Phoenix immigration court ranks No. 1 with “the highest proportion of individuals who were allowed to stay.”

In second place was the New York immigration court, followed by Denver in third, San Antonio in fourth and then Miami in fifth, according to the study.

“There are a number of reasons why an individual may be allowed to remain in the country,” according to the report. “For example, the judge can find that the government did not meet its burden to show the individual was not deportable. Or, the judge may have found that the individual was entitled to asylum in this country, or may grant relief from removal under other provisions of the law. A person may also be allowed to remain because the government requests that the case be administratively closed through the exercise of... prosecutorial discretion.”

Prosecutorial discretion is a policy that the Obama administration promoted under which it encouraged officials to spare undocumented immigrants deportation if they found compelling reasons such as a parent who cared for small children.

Immigration attorneys in Miami said they were not surprised by study findings.

“I agree with that,” Miami immigration attorney Wilfredo Allen said. “Across the board, we have a great judiciary in the immigration court in Miami. No. 1, it is extremely diverse. They have a good representation of a cross section of the country and the community. There are Hispanics, African Americans, men, women, young judges and older, really experienced judges.”

Another Miami immigration attorney, Tammy Fox-Isicoff, had a different take on the TRAC report.

“Miami is not a border city as are many others on this list,” Fox-Isicoff said. “Many foreign nationals who are in front of Miami judges have longstanding ties to the community, U.S. citizen children and spouses, and thus are eligible for Obama prosecutorial discretion (low priority removals), and so DHS moves the court to administratively close the case.”

The study was based on case-by-case court records updated through the end of July, according to a TRAC statement. Outcomes are different for cases in courts inside detention centers like Krome in West Miami-Dade where only 38.1 percent of detainees were allowed to remain in the country.

Overall, the TRAC study says, immigration judges across the country determined in the first 10 months of fiscal year 2016 that 96,223 foreign nationals against whom government trial attorneys sought deportation were entitled to remain in the United States.

“By the end of the fiscal year this pace is on track to surpass the record set last year of 106,676 non-citizens that the court found could remain in the U.S.,” TRAC said in its report. “These outcomes account for 56.8 percent of all cases that judges have decided so far this year.”

According to the analysis, one in four individuals or 25 percent who were allowed to stay were from Mexico, one of the countries that comprise the largest number of immigrants to the United States.

More than four out of 10 or 44 percent were from three Central American countries: El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. These are the countries from which in recent years large numbers of unaccompanied children, and women with children, have come seeking asylum.

At the other end were the Oakdale, Louisiana, Lumpkin, Georgia, and Napanoch, New York, immigration courts where only between 11.3 percent and 17.5 percent of the immigrants were allowed to stay. Each of these courts also handles cases for immigrants in detention.