An Afternoon at Immigration Court

The immigration court in the city of Boston is located within a huge, grim, and somewhat dilapidated federal government complex built in the 1960s. The immigration courtrooms are windowless, chilly, and formal, though functional. This juxtaposition between a solid inner layer and the crumbling outer layer is a reasonable metaphor for how the immigration court works: well-intended, capable workers on the inside, but unfortunately saddled with some terribly dysfunctional infrastructure.

During my time at the courthouse, I observed the conclusion of one hearing and three hearings in full. All four cases were arbitrated by Judge Matthew D’Angelo, who has been an immigration judge since 2003. Prior to becoming a judge, he was a counsel for the Department of Homeland Security, detention division.

Judge D’Angelo runs his courtroom with the ease of long practice, and has an air of almost reading off of a script when he speaks. His general level of competence is apparent to all.

We arrived at the very end of the first case, just in time to hear the lawyer saying to his immigrant client, “… So get married as soon as you can.”

In the second case, the applicant was not present, though Judge D’Angelo gave her every opportunity to appear, even sending his interpreter to check the lobby. “Ms. S”, as I will call her, failed to appear. Judge D’Angelo ordered that the court proceedings continue despite Ms. S’s absence because it was already 30 minutes after the appointed time for her hearing.

Judge D’Angelo gives each applicant ample warning of the consequences of failing to appear. He explained to each that if they failed to appear then they would be unable to obtain the legal status they were seeking. He urged them several times to stay in touch with their lawyer (each applicant had a lawyer that day).

By Meredith M. Vaughan for Center for Immigration Studies
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