Denver’s already overburdened immigration courts will be taking over video asylum hearings for the relatives of an estimated 600 women and undocumented children who were detained at the U.S.-Mexican border, even though the court is understaffed and backlogged by more than 8,000 cases.
Denver judges are taking over the task from those in Virginia, after several groups filed a lawsuit alleging a violation of due process for the children, according to the Denver Post.
“I have run out of words strong enough to describe the process there,” attorney Laura Lichter told the paper, speaking of the detention facilities in Artesia, N.M., where the immigrants are being held. “We are seeing not only contempt for mothers and children detained down there. We are also seeing contempt for the rule of law.”
“I have every confidence that Denver judges will be more fair,” she said.
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But the Denver judges already have their work cut out for them. According to the Post, the immigration courts are already short two judges who retired last year and haven’t been replaced.
The paper also reported that there are 8,009 cases on its dockets and that hearing dates are stretched into 2018.
But the immigrants’ legal advocates are happy with the change. They said the courts in Virginia rushed the process. Some immigrants had no legal representation before their cases were heard and some had to sign legal documents they didn’t understand.
“The general feeling is that we are really happy to have these cases in Denver,” immigration attorney Bryon Large told the Post.
The Artesia facility — which Lichter described as a “hellhole” — was built with the intention of expediting deportation hearings. A U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement official told the Associated Press in June that the goal was to deport immigrants within 10-15 days of their arrival to send a message about the consequences of illegal immigration.
Over the summer, border guards were overwhelmed with a surge in unaccompanied children crossing into the United States.
A Justice Department official told the Denver Post that the change in venue from Virginia to Denver didn’t have anything to do with the lawsuit or complaints about conditions in Artesia, but because Denver is in the same time zone.
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