DALLAS, Texas — Room 1060 at the Earl Cabell Federal Building in downtown Dallas was the most compassionate place on earth, Monday, August 11, for minors who were in the various stages of the legal process for “Hearings on Removal Procedures” because they entered the United States through Texas illegally. This was thebig rescheduled immigration court date, the result of the August 4 “no-show Monday.”
This very small courtroom sat maybe 30 people. Approximately 15 in the room were immigration attorneys and print reporters. Two of the minors seen were under the age of 12, the rest were of shaving age. Some minors were lawyered up. Some who’d been granted continuances to find pro-bono or paid legal eagles, returned only with a family member, who more often than not, had no legal status in the United States either but served as the minor’s representation. These were not unaccompanied alien children, anymore.
One attorney spoke pointedly into her cell phone in the larger waiting area just prior to the court reconvening at 1pm. “Abogado Melissa,” she said, pointedly. “I am your abogado, your lawyer per dia. You are supposed to be here, now, at the court.”
The smell of freshly laundered boy’s polo and tee shirts wafted from the outer reception area into the courtroom. Minors wore new sneakers. A pre-teen girl awaiting her hearing was fashionably clad in a trendy pink summer top with matching strappy jeweled sandals. One dad didn’t speak a word of English under oath but sported a $5 “Play it Forward” wristband.
Despite the hype, there were no quivering children cowering under the booming voice of the judge because there was no booming voice only a stern voice occasionally. There was no critical eye from the prosecuting attorney representing the United States government. The court clerk sitting to judge’s left was all too happy to come on down with i589 forms, the political asylum paperwork, upon request. Under the kind light of the courtroom, Judge Michael Baird held two hearing shifts, a shorter morning and a longer afternoon session.
Prior to the court date, Kathryn Mattingly, spokeswoman for the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) told Breitbart Texas that Baird was slated to see 41 cases: 20 in the morning, 21 in the afternoon. However, the load seemed lighter. On the unofficial Breitbart Texasafternoon tally mark count, there were only 17 cases. No electronic or recording devices were allowed in the courtroom.
The attorney for the federal government was kind and accommodating throughout. In cases of a pre-conclusion voluntary departure determination, which means deportation, she did nothing to contest the allowable maximum of 120 days a minor had before having to return to his or her homeland. She even gave an unsolicited assist to a mother who claimed to have hired an attorney but only showed up with a lawyer’s letter. The US attorney interjected that she’d gotten an email on this matter. The judge wasn’t asking.
However, as Baird oversaw cases, he acknowledged he’d seen a number of these same minors the week before, among others who had been to the courtroom as far back as July, making it cloudy as to whom didn’t show the week before or if the no-shows just didn’t show again.
Lawyer or no lawyer, everybody wanted more prep time no matter how much time they’d be given prior to the current court date. In only two cases were minors and their accompanying adults not provided ample time to hire an attorney. In both cases, Baird rescheduled to accommodate.
One young man from El Salvador took a voluntary departure rather than risk being formally deported on the US taxpayer’s dime with no chance to return to the United States for 10 years. Removal is what used to be called deportation. Voluntary departure is PC way to avoid the stigma of being forcibly deported.
Another advantage of voluntary departure is that it doesn’t impede on a person’s ability to re-enter the United States, legally, of course. When Baird ordered this departure, he waived the pricy pre-voluntary departure bonds of $1,900 and $3,000. All the judge asked for in return was proof of a ticket stub to their native lands.
Baird explained his rational for determining voluntary departure to the courtroom, saying he was okay with giving it to a 16-17 year-old but not for a 10 year-old. Interestingly, Breitbart Texas only witnessed three voluntary departure case determinations in the 16-17 year-old group. One of the teenaged minors being returned to his native land had an attorney. Guatamala, El Salvador, and Honduras were the Central American countries represented in the courtroom.
Over and over, minors with Anglicized first names told their tales of Texas entry points in Hidalgo and Laredo, ranging from March to May. Baird rifled repeatedly throughout the obligatory rigmarole of the court’s procedural language with the alarming speed of a 1980’s FedEx TV commercial before calling up cases like Christopher and William from Honduras.
The loving arm of the law reached out most notably to Jordan, the 11 year-old Honduran boy, whose mother left him behind at the age of 2 months old. Momentered the United States illegally over a decade ago. Her status remained “immigrante.” The court recorded her as illegal.
She told Baird that the elderly great grandmother who cared for him had eye surgeries and could no longer attend to the boy. Involuntary tears streamed down Jordan’s face while mom, whose name was Jessica, told the court how she had no money for a lawyer because she’d paid a smuggler $4,000 to bring him into the United States illegally. Also, she was eight months pregnant and not working. Normally, she cleaned houses but she was awaiting the arrival of her baby who will be born in the United States. Thus, she couldn’t scrape the cash together for a lawyer since her last visit with Baird.
Jessica also told the judge that the boy’s father was in Honduras but she was fearful of the gangs because they took Jordan’s sneakers and jewelry. The judge, who spoke much slower now, never asked Jordan or mom what gangs, where, when or why. He never inquired anything more about dad. Instead, he told Jessica through the court appointed interpreter, “not to cry, everything was going along just fine.”
Baird even kibbitzed with Jordan about last week’s visit. “Didn’t you tell me youwere 19 (years-old)? Then, he ordered up the political asylum paperwork followed by kind parting words to Jordan, “You taking good care of your mom?She needs your help.”
Then, there was William. The Honduran 14 year-old who crossed illegally into Laredo on May 2 to reunite with mom. She elaborated to the court of her own embroiled case ongoing out of Houston. Mom’s got an order of removal pending against her. She’s been living in the United States illegally for 6-7years.
“Your situation in Houston is up to that judge but you might mention to the judge there that you have a case pending for your son with the judge in Dallas,” Baird told mom through the interpreter.
Mom also went on a bender about how grandma was just released by the authorities in Los Angeles and the whole family was asking for political asylum because she claimed “they were told they would be killed.” No questions from the judge by whom. No admonishments that somehow William had been left behind while mom and the rest of the unnamed family were in the United States illegally. Mom then said “gang” and the clerk brought her the political asylum papers.
William was relieved by those papers. All he wanted to be able to do was register for public school. Baird set the boy’s next court date for Monday, August 25; however, when mom mentioned that was the first day of the new school year, Baird told mom through the interpreter, “I’m not going to make him miss the first day of school.”
Now, tears streamed down mom’s face. Baird asked William for a full report on his first week of school when he next sees him on the rescheduled date of September 2nd.
The court took a break at 3pm. Jordan’s mom was done with her son’s court appearance yet she shuffled off to chit chat with the other moms from the court hearing in the Ladies’ Room, leaving Jordan, who earlier she depicted as neglected by grandma, to hold up the wall in the hallway for at least 10 minutes.
Bottom line: got a lawyer, likely to get a continuance. No abogado, no worries either if a minor doesn’t age out of the judge’s age range. Baird, by the way, was appointed as an immigration judge by US Attorney General Eric Holder in 2009. In February 2014, the Justice Department booted Judge Dietrich Sims off the Dallas immigration bench.
The Dallas Morning News reported, “A Dallas immigration judge known for tough enforcement is no longer handling cases involving minors. Michael Baird has replaced Dietrich Sims in overseeing the juvenile docket in North Texas. Local immigration attorneys said the change could reduce tension and add flexibility to cases involving children and teenagers.”
According to the Dallas Morning News, Sims’ denial rate in political asylum cases for illegal minors was 83.5%, “far higher than the nationwide average of 51 percent.” He was perceived as pro-deportation towards minors entering the United States illegally. His replacement, Baird only denies 33.6% of these cases. That means, he grants 66.4% political asylum. Big bump up.
Following the court proceedings, Breitbart Texas asked Mattingly for an official number of cases seen and was told “we do not provide specific data broken down by immigration judge.” The EOIR is housed within the US Department of Justice.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.