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Early Arrival: New Judges Under Pressure in New York City’s Immigration Court

Wednesday’s Edition of Early Arrival: City and State Investigate Medallion Industry — 5th Migrant Child Dies in Government Custody — New Immigration ‘Czar,’ Kobach’s Demands

Mazin Sidahmed

May 22, 2019

Manhattan, New York - May 6, 2018: Views of Federal Plaza building. Photo: Christopher Lee for Documented.

As the backlog in immigration cases creeps up to one million nationwide, immigration courts find themselves under more intense pressure than ever before. A flurry of new judges have been hired to address the need, including in New York City. A WNYC investigation into the 26 Federal Plaza immigration court paints a stark picture of the ongoing pressures that immigrants and the 18 new judges hired to work in the court face.

New judges are under a two-year probation when they are hired, increasing the pressure they face to implement new rules put in place by President Trump’s administration. These rules make it harder for judges to grant asylum and impart quotas for the number of cases they must complete each year. Judges now see a dashboard on their computer indicating whether they’re on target for their case completion goal.

The new judges have a variety of backgrounds: Some were prosecutors at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, while others worked at nonprofits that represented immigrants. Their styles and the rate at which they grant asylum has also varied. WNYC also found data that showed the number of cases that were adjourned because judges couldn’t finish them had gone up from 9,181 to 14,450 in fiscal year 2018. WNYC

Hello, I’m Mazin Sidahmed with today’s edition of Early Arrival. You can email me at mazin.sidahmed@documentedny.com.

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City and State Agencies Investigate Medallion Industry

New York State Attorney General Letitia James and Mayor Bill de Blasio have both ordered investigations into the brokers who arranged loans for the city’s yellow cab industry. The orders come in the wake of a bombshell New York Times investigation, which revealed how taxi industry leaders made medallions artificially expensive and coupled them with predatory loans to low-income, mainly immigrant, buyers. It also painted a damning light on the industry’s regulators. James’ office will aim to establish if any illegal activity took place, while the city’s investigation will focus on the brokers. The New York Times

Immigrant Dies Crossing Border from Canada into US

A man from the Dominican Republic died in April attempting to cross the border from Canada into the U.S. Wilson Reynoso Vega wanted to see his 11-year-old daughter in Philadelphia where she lived with her mother. He flew from Santo Domingo to Toronto, went to the border between Quebec and New York, and paid a smuggler to get him into the U.S. Authorities believe he got lost and drowned in the woods on the Canadian side. Death’s of migrants crossing the northern border remain rare, but advocates worry they’ll increase amid a new push by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to shut down the border at unguarded areas. The Washington Post

Community Board Launches Immigrant Committee

Queens Community Board 3, which represents a community that’s half foreign born, has decided to create a new Committee of Immigration Affairs. The board’s district includes the very diverse areas of Jackson Heights, East Elmhurst and North Corona. The new committee consists of nine board members and meets monthly. Board leader Lobsang Salaka is an immigrant, and he hopes it can get more people involved with the community board through activities such as storytelling nights. The committee also aims to bring attention to issues facing immigrants in the community such as affordable housing, senior housing, public transportation and adult English education. City Limits

Susan Beschta, Punk Rocker Turned Immigration Judge, Is Dead at 67, The New York Times


5th Migrant Child Dies in Government Custody

Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez, a 16-year old Guatemalan migrant, became the fifth migrant child to die in U.S. custody since December. He’d been held for six days by Customs and Border Protection before he was diagnosed with the flu and transferred to another facility, and he died thereMonday. Unaccompanied minors such as Vasquez are usually transferred to Health and Human Services and placed in the care of contracted shelters within three days. It’s unclear why this did not happen to Vasquez, or why he wasn’t hospitalized when he reported having the flu. The FBI, local police and the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general are investigating his death. Associated Press

ICE’s Use of Solitary Confinement Comes Under Scrutiny

A review of thousands of reports of ICE placing detainees in solitary confinement found that the agency uses the punishment for offenses as minor as consensual kissing, and to segregate hunger strikers and LGBTQ detainees. The Intercept and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reviewed 8,400 reports of solitary confinement in ICE detention and found that in a third of the cases, detainees were described as having mental illness. There were also reports of detainees mutilating their genitals, gouging their eyes out, cutting their wrists and smearing their cells with feces. The reports describe only a portion of solitary confinement placements from 2012 to early 2017, as ICE only tracks confinements that last more than 14 days. The Intercept & The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists

San Diego Seeks Aid From Feds Over Migrant Families

Officials in San Diego asked the federal government for resources on Monday to aid with the hundreds of migrant families expected to be flown from Texas to San Diego in the coming weeks. CBP announced Friday it would be sending flights carrying between 120 and 135 migrants to San Diego from the Rio Grande Valley where the agency says it is overwhelmed by an increase in migrant apprehensions. The agency intends to send three flights per week. Local legislators argue nonprofits and San Diego are not equipped to deal with the immigrants, and that the federal government needs to assist them. KQED

More than 52,000 People Now Detained by ICE

The number of people in ICE detention has surpassed 52,000, officials said on Monday, another record high. The exact number, 52,398, has spiked from over 49,000 just two weeks ago. The new figures reflect the increase in migrants crossing the U.S. border, but also  ramped up enforcement internally from the Trump administration. The number also exceeds the daily limit for detainees set by Congress of 45,000. The agency has repeatedly requested more beds while also disregarded the official caps. BuzzFeed News

Asylum Seekers Forced to Wait a Year in Mexico

More than 2,400 people crossing the U.S. Mexico border at El Paso, Texas have been sent back to Juarez, Mexico under the Trump administration’s Migration Policy Protocols to wait for their asylum cases to be adjudicated in the U.S. They were originally told they would only have to wait 45 days for their first hearing, but now some are being scheduled for as late as June 2020. Mexican immigration officials said 6,758 Central Americans have been returned to Mexico under the policy. A federal court recently sided with the Trump administration and allowed the program to continue. BuzzFeed News

Washington — New Immigration ‘Czar,’ Kobach’s Demands, TSA Cuts to Fund Wall

President Trump is expected to name Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II as his choice for immigration czar — a move that is catching many administration officials who work on immigration off guard. Cuccinelli is the former attorney general of Virginia and an immigration hardliner who previously opposed Trump.

Cuccinelli’s exact role and title have yet to be decided but, according to The New York Times, he will likely be based in DHS and not the White House. Cuccinelli recently met with Trump and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin K. McAleenan in the Oval Office.

Cuccinelli has supported proposals such as denying citizenship to American-born children of undocumented immigrants and allowing employers to fire workers who do not speak English at work. His nomination has the backing of White House Adviser Stephen Miller, who is also an immigration hardliner and believed to be the architect of many of the administration’s toughest immigration policies. The New York Times

Former Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach seemed to previously be Trump’s top pick for immigration czar, but appears to have ruined his chances with a list of demands that was leaked to The New York Times. His list included 24/7 access to a government jet, an office in the West Wing, guaranteed weekend time with his family in Kansas and the promise of being made Homeland Security Secretary by November. Kobach is a well-known immigration hardliner who helped craft Arizona’s law requiring local officials to verify the citizenship of suspected undocumented immigrants. The New York Times

DHS is reportedly requesting $232 million from the Transportation Security Administration to fund border operations in case Congress declines to provide $1.1 billion to fund the wall. The money could come out of funds for equipment, a worker’s compensation fund for injured employees and $3 million the agency has collected via loose change in trays at airports. Potential cuts to personnel are also on the table. NBC News

During a House Financial Services committee hearing, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson stood by his agency’s new policy to bar families with undocumented immigrants from public housing. The policy would evict 55,000 children from their homes. Carson said the agency was following the law and argued that U.S. citizens were on the waiting list for public housing. Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) slammed the response as hypocritical, as she pointed out that Carson had requested a $9.6 billion budget cut for the agency for fiscal year 2020. Politico

Mazin Sidahmed

Mazin Sidahmed is the co-executive director of Documented. He previously worked for the Guardian US in New York. He started his career writing for The Daily Star in Beirut and he also contributed to Politico New York.




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