On December 29, The Los Angeles Times editorial board wrote a horrific, incompetent and hysterical opinion article titled “Why The Obama administration is right to deport migrants ordered to leave.”
Putting aside the cowardly premise, this article’s gravest flaw is that the basis for its conclusion is on its face a work of fiction. Bad fiction.
I will break it down, paragraph by excruciatingly bad paragraph, starting with the paper’s total failure to comprehend the most basic facts as they have played out in the real world.
From the start, the editorial leaps to a conclusion based on pure fantasy:
To not deport those whom an immigration judge has ruled ineligible to remain in the country is to throw over any notion of enforceable immigration law. And that is an indefensible position
The editorial imputed that “immigration advocates” (without citing to one immigration advocate) are opposing ICE raids against immigrant children, toddlers, babies and mothers because their “position” is open borders.
This is pure fantasy. Who stated that no one should be deported after an immigration judge ordered them to leave? Please, enlighten us, LA Times editorial board.
The article then reveals in the immediate following paragraph that it has no idea what it’s talking about:
We share some of the concerns that have been raised about the fairness of the immigration court system. It is understaffed, and judges carry excessively high caseloads. Studies have found that petitioners who have a lawyer at their elbow stand a much better chance of winning permission to stay than those without lawyers, largely because of the arcane and confusing nature of immigration law itself…So those without means to hire an attorney are at the mercy of the pro bono immigration bar, which is just as overextended as the judges. In that scenario, it’s likely that some people who have a legitimate right to asylum wind up getting deported anyway, a regrettable turn of events.
Since Google is free, the LA Times’ editorial board would have known that the immigration courts —supposedly the neutral arbiters of fact and law— started a specialized fast track to deportation on orders from the White House for both families and unaccompanied children in response to the 2014 surge from Central America.
That fast track is ongoing, and its purpose has been clear from day one: to maximize deportations of children and mothers by suffocating the supply of legal representation, thereby resulting in 61 percent of mothers and children not being represented by a lawyer.
Furthermore, 87 percent (15,306) of the women and children that the LA Times courageously calls for being deported had no attorney to represent them in immigration court.
94 percent (14,294) of the 15,306 unrepresented families ordered deported by an immigration judge were in absentia, which means that they were not given a meaningful, if any, chance to plead their case for asylum or special immigrant juvenile status before an immigration judge.
The high rate of families ordered removed in their absence is impossible to fully explain without analyzing each individual family on a case by case basis. However, it is likely that a significant amount of families simply were not provided notice of the hearing date and time.
The more likely scenario, based on our own experience with hundreds of Central American families as well as unaccompanied children, is that the families received notice but did not appear because they were not able to obtain a lawyer. The location of where there are the vast majority of removal orders is telling. (See immigration courts with top number of removal orders against women and children)
For example, Dallas’ immigration judges, particularly James Nugent and Dietrich Sims, are notorious bullies who routinely and with great frequency have decisions overturned by the Board of Immigration Appeals.
Atlanta has a similar reputation. Recently, the BIA issued a reversed an Atlanta immigration judge’s deportation order because he engaged in “bullying and hostile” conduct towards a child asylum seeker.
Houston suffers from prosecutorial immigration judges as well. Court observers saw one judge give only one three-week adjournment to a juvenile and then order the child removed at his second hearing when he appeared without a lawyer.
This same paragraph in the LA Times editorial lazily cites to the “pro bono immigration bar,” thereby missing the relevant fact that for-profit attorneys like us and hundreds of others represent tens of thousands of Central American children and families.
We are only overextended because of the fast track deportation policy. Without the expedited rush to deport, more families would be able to work and save up money to pay for private attorneys. Furthermore, capacity for more representation of families private and pro bono lawyers would increase as our pending cases are completed.
Stop Using Women and Children as “Boogeymen”
The editorial continues:
There is no doubt that the U.S. immigration system is in shambles. More than 11 million people are living here illegally, but most have been here for so long they are deeply entwined in our economy and our neighborhoods. To deport them all —a popular mantra from the nativist right during this presidential election cycle— would tear apart families and communities. It also would be prohibitively expensive, requiring billions of dollars in added enforcement capacity and causing billions of dollars in losses to the economy. The better approach would be for Congress to stop using illegal immigration as a boogeyman and start crafting meaningful reforms that would include a path to citizenship for those who have put down roots and been responsible members of society, while stiffening the government’s ability to enforce borders and track down people who overstay visas.
Why doesn’t the LA Times stop using women and children fleeing war in Central America as boogeymen first?
The shambles of the U.S. immigration system has close to nothing to do with the ongoing exodus from Central America, which in Honduras and El Salvador resemble a civil war: 2015 saw the latter displace the former as the murder capital of the world at 90 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.
This paragraph is simply an attack on the Republican Party and totally unrelated to the purported subject of why it’s so righteous to deport toddlers to death or harm.
“We Are Talking About Human Beings Here”
The current wave of asylum-seekers raises some particularly vexing questions. The U.S. has a long and occasionally problematic history in Central America, and bears some moral culpability for the criminal gangs that relocated from U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, to thrive in urban neighborhoods of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. The U.S. also is the main market for the illicit drug trade that helps many of those gangs flourish.
This is hackneyed malarkey. We are talking about human beings here. Many are really little and cute. I’ve seen them in my office. 12-month-olds. 2-year-olds. 3-year-olds. Get back to the point: do you send the children and moms back to death or harm or do you not?
The solution to those issues, though, isn’t to allow entry to the U.S. for anyone able to reach the U.S. border after fleeing a dangerous neighborhood in Tegucigalpa or San Salvador. Those who face legally articulated persecution — usually based on religion, political beliefs or other recognized classes of special victimization — should be granted asylum if U.S. immigration courts say they are eligible.
First, “legally articulated persecution” is fiction. If one faces persecution, one faces persecution. Don’t quit your day job, LA Times editorial writers. Leave the law to us.
Secondly, the editorial prejudges the asylum claims of all Central Americans by saying “dangerous neighborhood” in Tegucigalpa or San Salvador without any additional context. To its readers, presumably most who reside in the United States, there is no “neighborhood” that comes close to Tegucigalpa or San Salvador.
Government officials in El Salvador have recently said that they are “at war” with the MS-13 and 18th Street gangs, citing that hundreds of gang members had infiltrated its armed forces and national police force.
The editorial’s description of conditions in Central America as a crime-ridden neighborhood in the United States is a carefully manicured lie to suppress reality: well-armed MS-13 and 18th Street “gangs” are in fact insurgent groups waging a bloody and ongoing war to challenge the power of the governments they operate in.
It may not even be that far of a reach to conclude that “dangerous neighborhood” language was the suggested use from the Obama administration.
The Confusion Continues
The government has both the right and the responsibility to determine who gets to enter the country, and who gets to stay as legal residents with the possibility of eventual naturalized citizenship. Openness to immigration has been a defining aspect of American history, and one of the nation’s strengths. Still, we have to expect the government to follow through on legal processes that have been completed. When the courts reject arguments that individual migrants have a right to stay, the government is correct in targeting them for removal. To do otherwise not only erodes the sense that we are a nation ruled by laws, but it also serves as an encouragement for others who think gaining entry to the U.S. is as simple as showing up and saying, “Let me in.” That only exacerbates our illegal immigration problem.
The LA Times appears confused again: it concluded that both “the government” and “the courts” get to determine if a migrant has the right to stay in the United States. Who is it?
By “government,” perhaps they didn’t realize that it would provide a hint: that this opinion piece appears like cordial suggestion from the Obama administration—which, with its obsessive quest to deport children and mothers fleeing harm or death in Central America, gutted due process for their asylum and special immigrant juvenile claims. This is the same Obama administration which authored the DAPA/DACA plan and believes it is the sole arbiter of what migrants have the right to stay or not stay in the United States.
The United States Constitution is the supreme law of the United States. The government does not get to selectively choose when to comply with the Constitution and when it trash it.
The Obama administration is not correct in targeting women and children who have been ordered removed in violation of their right to due process as guaranteed by the Constitution.
The LA Times editorial board should be embarrassed and immediately rescind this article.
It is devoid of any evidence to support its conclusion: that the Obama administration is right to deport women and children ordered deported.
The LA Times’ full headline also promised to its readers that it would explain why it is right to deport women and children ordered deported.
The paper failed on this promise because it failed to check if even one out of the over 10,000 families ordered removed was afforded due process of law.
Without erasing this craven attack on vulnerable children fleeing death and harm in Central America, the LA Times has accomplished the inconceivable: a return to the dark era of World War II when its editorial board blindly and cowardly authored several editorials in favor of jailing Japanese-looking Americans and immigrants.
An earlier version of this post was published here.
Bryan Johnson is a partner at the law firm of Amoachi and Johnson, PLLC in New York. His office represents over 300 Central American children in fighting their deportation by securing permanent legal protection through asylum and special immigrant juvenile status.