What happens when a family member, a neighbor, or a colleague confesses to you that they have an immigration problem and want to straighten it out… what should you do?
Well the one thing you shouldn’t say is go to an immigration court, because it is not a simple matter. That individual’s circumstances must be evaluated first to determine if there is a legal basis for remaining in the country, and if there is, there must be a determination about where that person should be making that claim. For example, if a legal citizen has a problem relating to his family unit, that person goes to family court; if he/she has a payment requested or alleged damage done below a certain value, they go to small claims court. A foreigner, regardless of the degree, has no specific place to go. The destination to file a petition depends on whether he/she is seeking to come to the country temporarily (as a non-immigrant) or permanently (as an immigrant), whether they seek to remain in the country or not afterwards, and whether their entry was with or without authorization. If that individual was not authorized to enter this country, that person will be placed in deportation proceedings.
What most people don’t know is that immigrants who have been placed in deportation proceedings can be detained in prison without a right to counsel. Immigrants, unlike any other person in this country (except felons) have contrary laws and decisions which deny the importance of liberty, which is proclaimed above all else. The detainees can be locked up for months, even years while awaiting a hearing regarding their deportation status, and immigration courts are not part of the judiciary branch – rather the executive branch. Therefore, the executive agency- the Department of Justice, which is run by a presidential appointee, oversees running the immigration courts and the Bureau of Immigration Appeals (BIA). Attorney General Jeffrey Sessions has used his authority to alter BIA decisions, or “refer” them to himself for review, meaning he can vacate or otherwise change any decision he doesn’t agree with.
For citizens, the judicial system, by comparison to the immigrants, is very straightforward; so, it is important that most of us know that there is no one place a foreign-born should go to obtain authorization or seek legal refuge. It is better to know first if that person has a valid legal claim for remaining in the country and can make that claim by filing the appropriate petition with the appropriate administrative agency, before assuming “an immigration court”.