A group of immigration judges is defying rulings by the nation's largest federal appellate court and has kept hundreds of people, possibly thousands, behind bars, sometimes for years, without any chance to make their case for freedom. The detainees are caught in a crossfire between the judges and one of the highest courts in the land.
Tucked away in the back of his law firm, Matthew Green sits in his office day after day among stacks of manila folders filled with details of his clients' cases. Green is a Tucson-based attorney who began taking on cases pro bono when the “no jurisdiction” trend hit Arizona.
Green believes DOJ is intentionally preying on a vulnerable population that in most cases will never get access to a lawyer. Nationally, only 14 percent of immigration detainees have lawyers, according to a September 2016 report from the American Immigration Council .
“The problem is that people who are detained are much more limited in their financial ability and their ability to retain counsel,” he said. “The longer they stay detained, the more dire their economic circumstances become.”
Green said many detained clients become despondent and quit their cases as the holidays approach, realizing they will spend them away from family and locked up. He believes the denial of bond hearings is a part of a larger strategy by DOJ that could force more people to give up before their case has been decided.
The Scripps investigation found one applicant before Judge Davis quit last December after waiting 631 days with no bond hearing decision, according to the DOJ data.
“I have no doubt they are familiar with the statistics and the nuances of how all this works, and what the likely results are,” Green said."(DOJ's) interpretations I believe are completely at odds with the clear statement of the law as it has existed in the 9th Circuit since at least 2011. They should be following the law."
“(DOJ's) interpretations I believe are completely at odds with the clear statement of the law as it has existed in the 9th Circuit since at least 2011,” he said. “They should be following the law.”
Green began taking the fight for bond hearings back to the judicial branch where he could ask judges in the Arizona Federal District Court to order DOJ to comply.
In the 14 cases he has brought so far, seven federal judges ordered immigration judges to reverse course on “no jurisdiction” rulings and grant bond hearings immediately.
“Every single federal court judge in Arizona that has reviewed these denials of bond hearings — they have flatly disagreed, categorically, 100 percent of the time to my knowledge,” Green said.
The seven judges who have ordered compliance come from politically diverse backgrounds, with three having been appointed under a Republican president and four under a Democrat. Upon receiving the orders, DOJ judges have complied each time, Green said.
Green cautions that suing DOJ in federal district court is always a last-ditch option, and he said many immigration attorneys with private practices don't take the cases outside of the immigration court system. This, Green said, leaves many of those who are fortunate enough to have an attorney still out of luck and inside a cell.