A recent headline loudly proclaimed (incorrectly) that Immigration and Customs Enforcement was now “losing” almost 50% of the cases brought before an immigration judge in all US Immigration Courts. The headline is deceptive, because it is simply not true. ICE does not lose almost 50% of its cases. There is no doubt that a much larger percentage of cases are “administratively closed” by Immigration Courts on a motion by ICE than in past years, but assuredly ICE is not “losing” these cases. Perhaps they are being more generous in their application of discretion, but losing them, no.
That said, one place where this is NOT happening is at the Stewart Detention Center (SDC), in Lumpkin, Georgia. Located 3 hours south of Atlanta (and one hour south of Colombus), in what can best be described as the middle of nowhere (go ahead click the link and see that I am right). According to the statistics released by TRAC, ICE attorneys have a success rate of 95.1% in front of SDC’s three immigration judges. Even worse, only 300 of the 1,676 cases processing through deportation at SDC were criminal related (only 17%)! ALL the rest were simply immigration violations. And, of these “immigration violation” cases, ICE wins 98% of them, when nationally ICE is at around 50%. Wait, how is that possible? Perhaps all the ICE attorneys at SDC are so much smarter and better than their colleagues in other jurisdictions? Perhaps ICE only sends “guilty” immigrants to SDC, making their deportation a foregone conclusion? Or, perhaps there are more troubling answers. Perhaps a lack of immigration attorneys, together with Immigration Judges not regularly granting a reasonable bond to the immigrants (and thus keeping immigrants detained in what can only be described as a hell hole, so far from their families and legal counsel that they literally give up hope and ask for an order of deportation) has a deleterious and chilling effect on the immigrant desire to stay and fight the charges.
Failure of immigration judges to grant reasonable bonds, when state and federal court judges grant reasonable bonds every day in similar cases, coupled with a lack of access to counsel, suggests a severe lack of due process available to the immigrant at SDC. Because once an immigrant is detained in SDC the ability of the immigrant to secure competent legal counsel is severely limited. Phone calls are outrageously expensive, when available. It is virtually impossible to mount a defense to removal when only you know where documents are kept or stored at your apartment, that will allow you to seek the relief offered you under federal immigration law. Many who have not been through this process do not appreciate the importance of being released to family and friends to fight the immigration charges near where their attorneys practice, as there is effectively no immigration attorneys nearer than an hour from SDC.
Yet, many of these same judges routinely grant a form of relief euphemistically called “Voluntary Departure Under Safeguards.” There is no statutory basis for this form of relief. The immigration statutes allow for “Voluntary Departure,” basically time for a foreign national to wrap up their affairs in the US, sell property and then leave voluntarily, without an order of removal. The invented “voluntary departure under safeguards” relief allows detained individuals to buy their own ticket and then NOT be released from custody and be escorted from the United States, to avoid having a deportation order. But that order is irrelevant since a deportation order carries with it a 10 year bar to return, and departure under voluntary departure also means a 10 year bar to return for those who have been in the US illegally for longer than a year. A difference without a meaningful distinction.