CREDIT: ThinkProgress/ Esther Y. Lee
For the first time in about two decades, immigrants fighting deportation removal orders were more likely to win their cases in immigration court, according to a new report out Thursday by Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. Just over half of all immigrants who take their cases to immigration court are either allowed to stay in the country for an extended period of time or permanently.
During the first four months of the 2014 fiscal year (October 2013 to January 2014), immigration judges granted deportation reprieve to 50.3 percent of the total 42,816 cases. Almost 6,700 immigrants living in Texas were ordered deported, while 14,383 Mexicans made up 49 percent of all deportees throughout the United States. Judges in Georgia, Louisiana, and Utah were more likely to side with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, while judges in California, New York, and Oregon were more likely to side with immigrants.
The report found that immigration judges ruled 81 percent of the time to deport immigrant detainees in Georgia. Seventy-eight percent of immigrants deported from Georgia were detained at Stewart Detention Center, which is listed as one of ten worst detention centers in the United States. A 2013 Detention Watch report found that Stewart had substandard medicare care, no contact visitation rules, maggot and worm-infested food, and no outside access for detainees. And Stewart’s “far-flung location” could partially help to explain the spike in immigrants ordered deported — immigrants often have to represent themselves in English, without documents, without preparation, and without family and legal representation.
Inconsistencies notwithstanding, it’s likely that immigrants are winning more cases because they are able to get legal representation. Immigrants in immigration courts do not have a right to a lawyer. According to a study by Judge Robert Katzmann of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, an overwhelming 97 percent of immigrant detainees without legal representation lost their case, while 74 percent of those with legal representation had successful outcomes. But some immigrants with mental disabilities facing deportation are able to access lawyers thanks to a April 2013 federal court ruling that ordered ICE to provide legal representation to those “unable to adequately represent themselves in immigration hearings.”
And in New York — one of the states in the report with the highest success rates of judges siding with immigrants — a pilot legal representation program recently began that provides public defenders for immigrant detainees.
The report doesn’t show how many deportation cases were “successfully appealed” since ICE lawyers representing the government can appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals (a Justice Department branch). The report also doesn’t show how many immigrants were deported for non-serious offenses, but another TRAC report found that 77.4 percent of immigrants who were transferred from local and state law enforcement to ICE for potential deportation, had no prior criminal record and had only committed low-priority, non-violent offenses.