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Immigrants have often been discriminated against in the United States. Never more clearly seen is this than in immigration court.
Immigration court in the United States, unfortunately, is no different. Locking up “undocumented” aliens for months, treating them as untouchables, and not helping them understand the legal system is all just part of the game. Americans may claim equality while really endorsing an ancient caste-like system where immigrants and people that are poor make up the bottom two rungs. Many immigrants sit in jail or are required to put their lives on hold for 11 months or more while awaiting deportation. The judges that work immigration court are protected by an obscure agency. As long as adjudicators process a high volume of cases, the agency will ignore and even cover up serious misconduct, including deportations of US citizens or people who have other avenues of relief. Due process is not a concern for immigration court. Often times, immigrants are present at hearings without a lawyer or a translator. They are confused about the process as most of us would be.
The national backlog has grown by 40 percent since 2008. The number of immigration cases awaiting resolution reached an all-time national high of 261,083 in fiscal year 2010, which ended on September 30. Partly to blame is the Secure Communities, a new federal program that requires local law enforcement officers to send fingerprints of everyone booked into jail to the Department of Homeland Security, which then compares the fingerprints to others in its databases. If officials find that the suspect is in the country illegally, or is a noncitizen with a criminal record, they may pursue deportation. Federal officials say the program will protect the public and streamline enforcement efforts. But critics protest that it will sweep up immigrants who have not been convicted of or even charged with serious crimes, and will discourage immigrants from going to the police as victims or witnesses, for fear of deportation.
According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) records obtained by the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network through a Freedom of Information Act request, 79 percent of individuals deported through the Secure Communities program from October 2008 through June 2010 had no criminal record or were arrested for minor offenses like traffic violations. “The Department of Homeland Security can inform the local enforcement agency that they should not release that person, even if there are no charges or the charges have been dropped, so that they can start deportation proceedings,” said Angela Fernandez, executive director of the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights.
Undocumented immigrants may be a convenient scapegoat, but we need to exercise caution. The United States still operates as being some champion for human rights. Deporting our own citizens is not a way to demonstrate any type of great civil rights. Despite how the United States tries to dehumanize immigrants, they are still people. And, whether they are here illegally or not, deportation is a very traumatic event, causing disruption in the life of the deported, their families, and their friends. We have to make sure that deportation is warranted and that the immigrant can understand what is happening.