Here’s the harsh truth about our immigration system: When 392,000 immigrants are detained per year and 33,000 more are detained everyday with limited staff and minimal federal oversight, institutional misconduct is inevitable.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is moving record-breaking numbers of immigrants through its ancillary agencies and, in the process, immigrant women are being raped by Border Patrol agents, LGBT detainees are being sexually assaulted at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities, and citizens and legal residents are certainly being deported.
How can such things come to pass? Simple: a combination of overworked and overzealous officials are enforcing overly broad immigration laws. It should be no wonder that people, inevitably, slip through the cracks—whether immigrant, citizen, or soldier.
Immigration judges subverting the law
Misconduct, corruption and a general inability to handle impossibly high caseloads aren’t exclusive to DHS and its many agencies. On the contrary, organizational mismanagement plagues every aspect of the immigration process.
As Jacqueline Stevens reports at the Nation, immigration courts are rife with lawlessness and corruption. Charged with adjudicating the hundreds of thousands of immigrants thrown their way by DHS every year, judges are authorizing deportations without even seeing the defendants, issuing rulings at mass hearings (usually with no lawyers present), and abandoning due process for a quicker turn-around.
What’s more: the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR)—a separate agency from DHS—is actively shielding this misconduct from the public and trying to avoid federal oversight:
The public’s ignorance of the idiocies endemic to the EOIR’s business as usual and the calamities these entail is no accident. The agency deliberately withholds basic information from the media and researchers, and its top officials routinely decline requests for interviews […] Complaints about immigration judges fall under the jurisdiction of the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), and people may file there directly, but the EOIR instructs immigration court stakeholders to lodge complaints with the EOIR itself. Instead of passing complaints on to the OPR, as the website promises, the EOIR top brass, to protect their cronies and avoid outside scrutiny, sweeps complaints under the rug.
Consequently, American citizens—as well as immigrants who could qualify to remain in the country—are being deported indiscriminately by judges whose decisions are rarely, if ever, questioned.
Immigrant soldiers deported after serving in the U.S. military
Immigrant soldiers serving in the U.S. military are among those routinely cheated by deportation-happy immigration judges.
Julianne Hing reports at ColorLines that 17,000 non-citizens are on active duty in the armed forces, and 4,000 immigrant veterans have already been deported or are facing deportation because of criminal convictions. Hing argues that, while some of those veterans are certainly guilty of violent crimes, many others have committed only minor crimes, like drug possession, and have already served time in jail. Deportation is a secondary, and wholly incommensurate, punishment.
A double standard is at play. Veterans, regardless of immigration status, are more likely than the general population to abuse drugs and alcohol and to commit violent crimes. But while non-citizen soldiers are indiscriminately deported for minor offenses, thousands of American military rapists have deftly avoided punishment in the past 15 years.The U.S. government’s prejudicial treatment of non-citizen soldiers isn’t new (to date, Filipino veterans who fought alongside American soldiers in WWII are still waiting to receive the benefits promised to them), but it remains reprehensible.
The unique plight of immigrant veterans certainly puts into perspective the ongoing push for passage of the DREAM Act—proposed legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for immigrant youth who serve in the military.
New York governor to pardon deportees?
Fortunately, some government officials are working towards a fairer immigration system. Elise Foley at the Washington Independent reports that New York governor David Paterson (D) has created a panel to review thousands of pardon requests from immigrant detainees awaiting deportation:
The idea behind the panel is to allow relief from the “extremely inflexible” federal law for green card holders “who have contributed as New Yorkers and who deserve relief from deportation or indefinite detention,” Paterson said when he announced its creation in May. […] While Paterson’s pardon panels would not change the way immigration courts are run, the effort is arguably a push to add a bit of discretion back into the system.
Paterson’s laudable commitment to protecting the interests of immigrants, particularly when doing so is far from politically expedient, is proof positive that rectifying our broken immigration system is entirely within the reach of our politicians. Misconduct and corruption within our immigration agencies are not merely the product of overcrowding and understaffing, but rather persistent inaction on the part of powerful lawmakers and government officials.
As Stevens wryly notes for The Nation: President Barack Obama, whose own citizenship is repeatedly questioned, ought to get on board.