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Secret courts=unaccountable justice

July 01, 2009 - Posted by Lena Graber

In Kangaroo Court, I described a mass criminal court proceeding typical of Operation Streamline. I noted that two women in the courtroom that day had a birth certificate to prove that one of the men in the proceedings was a U.S. citizen.  The government dropped the criminal prosecution.  However, as the criminal attorney assigned to that man explained, the man would not be released, but would have to go through a proceeding in an immigration court, most likely in Eloy, where he would have to prove he is a citizen to an immigration judge.


It’s possible that man would fare no better in immigration court. And we may never know.


Writing in The Nation on June 16th, Jaqueline Stevens, a professor of law at UC Santa Barbara, wondered about the treatment of someone who, like the man I saw in the courtroom, had to prove he was a citizen before an immigration judge.


A judge at Florence had just deported a US citizen born in Colorado. I was curious about the courtroom demeanor of someone who would credit a 17-year-old's statement renouncing a claim to citizenship signed after a Border Patrol agent had torn up a copy of his birth certificate and threatened him with arrest, and would ignore his later freely made, sworn statement stating he was a US citizen.

Secret Courts Exploit Immigrants, The Nation, June 16, 2009


Stevens describes how ICE prevented her from entering the courts. 


ICE require[s] anyone entering the immigration courts at Eloy to undergo a background check, for which one would need to submit in writing two weeks in advance one's name, date of birth, Social Security number, a home address and the particular hearing one wanted to attend.


Open judicial proceedings are a cornerstone of the American justice system.  Without public access to courtrooms, there is no assurance of accountability to the law.  The importance of due process concerns are widely understood, and yet somehow different rules seem to apply to immigrants.  The federal prosecutions en masse of Operation Streamline curtail regular procedures for evidence, testimony, and representation by a defense attorney.  And meanwhile, despite federal laws requiring most hearings to be open to the public, immigration courts are finding it expedient to block public access to immigration hearings, such as deportation proceedings. 


Reduced public attendance at immigration court means reduced attention, reduced pressure for fairness or discretion, and reduced justice.  When the legal system prosecutes migrants without due process, and closes the doors on deportation proceedings, immigrants around the country are denied the protections of law that we all count on.  As we work to establish comprehensive immigration reform, this reminds us that adequate due process rights must be part of that package, or else reform will fall before an unaccountable justice system.

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