Border kids to enter NE immigration court with longest wait times in nation

By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog

LINCOLN, Neb. — The 200 border kids placed in Nebraska will enter an immigration court system, where the average wait time for a hearing — when a judge decides whether they should be deported — surpasses two years.

NO MORE WAITING: Upset with President Barack Obama’s immigration policy, about 250 people march in Phoenix in October to the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement office with a goal of stopping future deportations.

Nebraska’s immigration court has the longest waits in the nation, averaging 839 days, dwarfing the national average of 589 days, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a nonprofit watchdog at Syracuse University.

Nebraska’s wait times shot up 55 percent in the past three years as the courts have become increasingly clogged. The number of backlogged deportation cases in Nebraska more than doubled —from 2,300 in 2007 to 5,285 by 2012 , before dipping to 4,700 now.

Nearly half of the immigrants awaiting hearings are from Mexico, a third are from Guatemala and 12 percent are from El Salvador, according to TRAC. The number of immigrants from Guatemala has increased in the past four years — from 1,094 to 1,483 — while the number from Honduras has spiked to an all-time high of 231.

And while the number of undocumented children swamping the Southern border has spiraled into a national story recently, immigration statistics show the problem has been growing for several years. The backlog of juveniles in Nebraska’s immigration court hovered around 40 to 50 from 2005 to 2011, but that number shot up to 127 in 2012 and 200 last year, according to TRAC’s court data. The data also shows only about 19 percent of the children are sent back home.

Part of the reason wait times are so long in Nebraska is only two judges to handle the caseload. Part of the $3.7 billion President Obama wants Congress to approve would beef up the immigration courts and speed up the deportation process, including $46 million to hire some 40 immigration judges nationwide.

Gov. Dave Heineman said on a radio show Monday the recently discovered wave of 200 children placed in Nebraska could wait two to three years for a deportation hearing. But Omaha immigration lawyer Amy Peck said the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review has prioritized the juvenile cases so they’ll be handled more quickly than usual.

She and other immigration attorneys have volunteered to represent the undocumented children who’ve been placed in Nebraska.

“These children are fleeing violent conditions in their own country,” she said. “This isn’t an immigration issue that we should be using for political fodder.”

Follow Deena on Twitter at @DeenaNEWatchdog

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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