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Shortage of staff for immigration hearings

The unsettled immigration laws keep North Carolina immigrants on edge. It's a waiting game -- waiting to see what new laws will be passed, waiting to see if they will be able to get permanent citizenship, waiting to be with family members again or even waiting in jail for deportation because they have no legal counsel.

To top it off, the immigration system is short of help and backlogged. There are an estimated 350,000 immigration cases in the legal system needing to be heard and not enough judges or staff to handle them. The immigration judges are retiring at an average of 5 percent per year, and the system is already carrying a large number of vacancies. Even new hires must be vetted and then trained, which takes time.

It appears as though the government is more interested in funding immigration enforcement and detention than resources to properly administer the laws for undocumented immigrants who are trying to legally work through the court system. This may result in even more judges leaving or retiring early from being overworked and short-staffed. Without proper staff, such as a bailiff, clerk or court reporter, judges are doing more than their position calls for.

While the government is not investing in the court's legal immigration process, taxpayer money is being used up on immigrants who have found themselves behind bars for one reason or another. They spend months waiting on something to happen or waiting on Immigration and Customs Enforcement to pick them up for deportation. Some are in the process of trying to legally obtain residences.

It's important for immigrants to have legal counsel to get them through the system and in front of the courts. Without legal representation, they are at the mercy of the "waiting" game. There are many U.S. immigration laws that immigrants may not be aware of, such as the "family-based immigration law," which allows a relative who is a U.S. citizen or resident to sponsor them to come to the U.S. There is the DREAM Act, which ensures children brought here by their parents can get an education. If a relative is incarcerated awaiting deportation, an immigration attorney should be notified right away. They may be able to help.

Source:  newsobserver.com, "Nearly half immigration judges eligible to retire," Laura Wides-Munoz, Dec. 22, 2013

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