How Immigration Cases Are Prioritized: First Kids, Then Criminals, Then Everyone Else

Cases like that of Jose Antonio Vargas, a journalist and immigration activist who is undocumented and was detained near the U.S. border, could take years before they get to court, if ever. 

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Immigration Cases Awaiting Resolution at All-Time High

Jose Antonio Vargas might have received a “Notice to Appear” before an immigration judge after his detention in McAllen, Texas, on Tuesday, but it might be years before he goes to court — if ever, an immigration lawyer told Journal-isms on Wednesday.

“The first priority is the kids,” said Dan Kowalski of Austin, editor of Bender’s Immigration Bulletin and online editor of the LexisNexis Legal Newsroom, as he listed the categories of cases that take precedence. “Then those detained with criminal records,” then the noncriminals. It could be years from now” that Vargas’ case reaches a judge.

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, known as TRAC, collects such immigration court data. It reported last week, “As of the end of June 2014, the number of cases awaiting resolution before the Immigration Courts has climbed to an all time high of 375,503 — an increase of more than 50,000 since the start of FY 2013 . . . California has the largest backlog (77,400 cases), followed by Texas (62,143) and then New York (55,010). . . .”

Vargas, 33, the undocumented journalist-turned activist, spent the first day since his detention responding to charges that he had engaged in a publicity stunt.

Erik Wemple reported for the Washington Post that on the CNN program “New Day,” Vargas said, “Is it a stunt to get on a plane . . . to try to get out of south Texas?”

“Pressed by ‘New Day’ host Chris Cuomo on how he, an immigration activist, could possibly be ignorant of the interior check, Vargas responded, ‘I did not anticipate it. . . . I’d never been to the Texas border,’ said Vargas, noting that he hadn’t realized that the area was essentially a ‘militarized zone.’ Lawyers for Vargas advised him to attempt to fly out of McAllen, he told Cuomo. . . .”

Vargas posted a statement on the website of Define American, the group he founded. “As an unaccompanied child migrant myself, I came to McAllen, Texas, to shed a light on children who parts of America and many in the news media are actively turning their backs on. But what I saw was the generosity of the American people, documented and undocumented, in the Rio Grande Valley.

“I’ve been released by Border Patrol. I want to thank everyone who stands by me and the undocumented immigrants of south Texas and across the country. Our daily lives are filled with fear in simple acts such as getting on an airplane to go home to our family. With Congress failing to act on immigration reform, and President Obama weighing his options on executive action, the critical question remains: how do we define American?”

Writing for Mother Jones, Jenna McLaughlin listed eight reasons why Vargas would not be deported: