Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Court continues injunction against immigration officials

In 1988, a US federal court entered an injunction against the Immigration and Naturalization Service because of the illegal manner in which it handled the asylum claims of Salvadorans fleeing the civil war plaguing the country during the 1980's. That court decision, known as the Orantes decision, required that the INS provide procedural safeguards, including access to lawyers, providing information about their rights, and a hearing before deporting a Salvadoran believed to be in the US illegally. [Because the injunction was handed down in a class action brought on behalf of Salvadorans, it does not require similar rights be provided to migrants form other countries].

One impact of the decision is that thousands of Salvadorans now languish for weeks or months in detention centers in the US, waiting for the hearing which the Orantes decision requires. Until the last few years, because of a lack of detention space to hold them, US authorities simply gave Salvadorans who they picked up a notice requiring them to appear for a hearing. Not surprisingly, few ever showed up. But now new detention centers have been built, and immigrants need not be released and aren't released. In contrast, Mexican citizens who are picked up close to the border may be immediately deported without the necessity of a hearing process.

In November 2005, the US government asked that the federal district court which granted the Orantes decision lift the 19 year old injunction. In a lengthy decision handed down two weeks ago, the federal district court in California refused. The court found that there was still significant evidence that immigration authorities in the US regularly disregard the rights of the detainees, and so the injunction was still necessary to get them to change their ways.

A news article describes the new court ruling:

In a nationwide review of legal rights for immigrants in federal detention, a federal judge has found serious violations of the government’s own standards relating to detention conditions.

U.S. District Court Judge Margaret M. Morrow examined never-before-released reports regarding conditions at more than 200 immigration detention facilities and found widespread problems, including lack of access to telephones, attorneys and legal materials, faced by thousands of immigrants seeking asylum or pursuing legitimate claims to legal residency.

The court reviewed thousands of pages of government reports assessing conditions at facilities nationwide, as well as similar reports by a United Nations office and the American Bar Association. These reports showed that detained immigrants from all nations faced similar problems.

“The government’s treatment of immigrants betrays its promise of fairness and due process,” said Linton Joaquin of the National Immigration Law Center. “The government should not deprive immigrants in detention of basic due process rights, such as meeting with lawyers, reading law books, and making phone calls to family members.”

The judge’s findings came in a ruling, finalized on July 26, that upheld a nationwide injunction to protect Salvadoran immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S. The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Southern California and the National Immigration Law Center had opposed the government’s request to end the court-ordered injunction, which requires the government to treat people in immigration detention fairly.

Judge Morrow ruled that substantial evidence showed “a significant number of violations of critical provisions of the injunction dealing with detainees’ access to legal materials, telephone use and attorney visits.” The court also found that despite the end of the civil war in that country, immigrants from El Salvador continue to have legitimate asylum claims, and that they, like all immigrants, must be provided basic due process.
You can read the entire 78 page court decision here.

But I wonder......If you were a Salvadoran picked up after unsuccessfully crossing the border in a remote area of southwest Texas, which would you prefer -- to be held for weeks or months in a detention facility for a due process hearing where you will almost certainly be ordered deported, or to be immediately loaded into transportation south of the border?


elmisionero said...

Great article. I just recently found your blog, and I really enjoy reading it, especially since I fail miserably at trying to read the articles on elsalvador.com. I need to brush up a lot on my Spanish vocab.

That's really awesome that your church has gotten involved down there. The Lord is doing some amazing work in El Salvador.

As for your question, I actually have a good Salvadoran (or is it Salvadorian?) friend I met while working with Orphan Helpers in El Salvador, and he told me stories about how he lived in the States illegally, and how he was eventually deported. To be honest, I think psychologically Salvadorans would rather remain in the State detention centers as opposed to being deported immediately, because they are a hopeful people. But you're right. If they knew they were going to be deported anyway, they'd probably rather just be taken be immediately.

El-Visitador said...

You know, bureaucracy is as bureaucracy does. Orantes benefited Salvadoreans for decades, and now Orantes is probably robbing Salvadoreans of a few weeks or months before they can start the perilous journey all over again.

The only upside I see is that the lengthy wait times probably get recorded somewhere, and will eventually result in additional immigration court capacity being added to the system. Which will be of benefit to immigrants.