Visit to immigration courts across U.S. finds nonstop chaos

LUMPKIN, Ga. — In a locked, guarded courtroom in a compound surrounded by razor wire, Immigration Judge Jerome Rothschild waits — and stalls.

A Spanish interpreter is running late because of a flat tire. Rothschild tells the five immigrants before him that he’ll take a break before the proceedings even start. His hope: to delay just long enough so these immigrants won’t have to sit by, uncomprehendingly, as their futures are decided.

“We are, untypically, without an interpreter,” Rothschild tells a lawyer who enters the courtroom at the Stewart Detention Center after driving down from Atlanta, about 140 miles away.

In its disorder, this is, in fact, a typical day in the chaotic, crowded and confusing U.S. immigration court system of which Rothschild’s courtroom is just one small outpost.

Shrouded in secrecy, the immigration courts run by the U.S. Department of Justice have been dysfunctional for years and have only gotten worse. A surge in the arrival of asylum seekers and the Trump administration’s crackdown on the Southwest border and illegal immigration have pushed more people into deportation proceedings, swelling the court’s docket to 1 million cases.

Stakes high when seeking asylum

The stakes are high for those vying to remain in the country. Some want to stay under a provision that opens the door for those without legal papers who have American relatives.

Others, who arrived recently, are seeking asylum to protect them from violence or persecution.

Those hearings are especially daunting, and most asylum seekers don’t win.

The rest are mostly slated for deportation and often have little chance of being able to stay legally in the United States — at least for now.

Their fate often depends on the luck of the draw in a system with extreme disparities from judge to judge. There are judges who reject 99% of asylum cases before them; others approve more than 90%, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

By Kate Brumback, Deepti Hajela and Amy Taxin for DESERET NEWS
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