Why Must Courts Take up the Immigration Slack?

Friday court ruling another reason for comprehensive immigration reform

After a three-year court battle, Cynthia Trevino was declared an U.S. citizen by a federal judge in Brownsville Friday. Trevino is one of hundreds, maybe thousands along the border, born with the assistance of midwives, who’ve had their citizenship challenged by the U.S. government.

Trevino’s legal battle is connected to something which happened back in the 60s. Law enforcement accused some Texas border midwives of fraudulently issuing U.S. birth certificates to families whose children were born in Mexico.  To this day, federal immigration officials are uncertain which birth certificates are false, however. It was never much of an issue until federal guidelines were implemented in 2007 requiring a passport for anyone crossing the international border. The new rule meant thousands of people who lived along the border applied for a passport for the first time.

The government started denying passports to anyone born with the help of those suspect midwives. Citizens like Trevino had no other choice than to fight their cases in court. Because Congress has failed to tackle comprehensive immigration reform the courts are the only avenue left.

The legal ruling on Friday sets an important precedent for others in the legal pipeline. Brownsville immigration attorneys Elizabeth Brodyaga and Jaime Díez are seeking class-action status for hundreds of other midwife cases.

Lawyer Jaime Díez makes an important point in Jazmine Ulloa’s article in the Brownsville Herald Friday when he says “the only option for people rejected by the State Department, like Trevino, is to turn to the court system, which costs time and money.”

Diez goes on to say that Trevino’s case “is a good example of how long it takes and how difficult it is to deal with a situation like this.  There should be a simpler process (for people denied passports) before they have to set a court date.”

Diez is right. But instead the Department of Homeland Security is fighting everyone in court. I don’t blame Homeland Security as much though, as I do Congress’ failure to tackle pressing issues like immigration. People have no other option than to look to the courts for some kind of sane government guidance in our patchwork of broken immigration laws. But most people don’t have the money to invest in such a lengthy court battle. And many have already been deported and have no way of challenging their deportation because they’re no longer on U.S. soil.

This was the case in June, when the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously overturned the conviction of Houston resident Jose Angel Carachuri-Rosendo. He had lived legally in the United States since age 5, and was deemed an aggravated felon in immigration court, because of two misdemeanor convictions, one for marijuana possession and one for possessing a single tablet of Xanax without a prescription.

In 2006, Carachuri-Rosendo was deported to Mexico by an immigration judge in the 5th Circuit. The University of Houston’s Immigration Law Clinic took up his case. When the case reached the nation’s highest court, the justices were openly critical of the harsh deportation rulings.

“Here we are talking about two crimes,” said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg during oral arguments. “One is a small amount of marijuana. He gets 20 days in jail. The other is a pill that I never heard of, a Xan-something, and he gets what, 10 days in jail for that.

“If you could just present this scenario to an intelligent person who didn’t go to law school, that you are not only going to remove him from this country, but say, ‘Never, ever darken our doors again’ because of one marijuana cigarette and one Xan-something pill—it, it just seems to me that if there is a way of reading the statute that would not lead to that absurd result, you would want to read the statute…”

Carachuri-Rosendo won that battle, but he still has to fight another to regain legal entry into the United States. Trevino prevailed on Friday. But there are still hundreds who must go through the same costly and stressful process. If there’s any question as to why we need immigration reform, critics should look to our clogged courts for the answer. The people we elected to Congress should be fixing this mess.

Melissa del Bosque is a staff writer and a 2015-16 Lannan Fellow at The Investigative Fund.

Published at 7:05 pm CST