Navigating Immigration Court System Can Be Harder For Immigrants In Rural And Mountainous Areas

The backlog in U.S. immigration courts is now over 850,000 cases long. People canwait years for their hearings. And that can be a long time to pay for a lawyer and to make appearances in court. Both of these things can be much harder for immigrants living in rural and mountainous parts of the West.

That’s the case for Javier Dominguez. He lives with his wife and children in the small community of Dillon, Colorado, just over the Continental Divide past Breckenridge. He came here illegally from Mexico in his late teens back in 1994. All but one of his five kids were born here.

Things were going well for him and his family until 2009 when tragedy struck. One of his kids contracted swine flu and died suddenly. Dominguez fell into deep depression and his life spiraled out of control. It was a DUI in 2015 that put him on the radar of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“Sometimes we make mistakes,” said Dominguez. “Nobody’s perfect.”

But he was also quick to say “I’m not running away from the law. The law is the law and you have to respect that.”

Dominguez said he’s turned his life around and he’s trying to make things right for the rest of his family and his community now.  And he wants to gain legal status.

All of this was on the line in late January 2019. The government had just reopened after the five-week shutdown. And Javier Dominguez was frantically trying to get the Denver Immigration Court for his final immigration hearing. I-70, the main artery through the Rocky Mountains to Denver, was closed because of a giant winter storm. Dominguez likes living in the small quiet community of Dillon but it’s about an hour and a half from Denver on a good day. He knew he couldn’t miss his court date.

Being absent or even late to an immigration hearing can mean risking immediate deportation. “I mean you don’t show up on time and you missed it.” Dominguez said. “You miss everything that you were working on.”

By Ali Budner for WYOMING PUBLIC MEDIA

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