Agency Faces Struggle as Immigrants Flee Justice

James Osborne, The Monitor (McAllen, Tex.), Feb. 13

HARLINGEN—The court administrator promised a busy day.

But at 10 a.m. on a recent Wednesday, the lobby of U.S. Immigration Court in Harlingen is just about empty, with only a bored-looking security guard manning the front entrance.

Down the hall, immigration Judge Elozar Tovar is running down a list of names with the well-tuned hum of an auctioneer. Fausto Turcias-Sanchez from Honduras . . . Gerci Gomez da Silva from Brazil . . . Fernanda Duarte-De Alercide . . .

The names and case numbers are read one after another, and yet the table reserved for defendants remains empty.

In less than two hours, Tovar will have ordered the deportation of about 34 undocumented immigrants.

Of those 34 cases, not one of the defendants has appeared in the courtroom.

Delinquency is the norm, not the exception, in the Harlingen branch of U.S. Immigration Court. According to the Executive Office for Immigration Review, a division of the Department of Justice, which oversees the nation’s immigration courts, 88 percent of the 10,401 people scheduled to appear before the court in 2004 failed to do so.

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When an illegal alien is apprehended, he is issued a Notice to Appear in immigration court at a specified date, usually within six months or less. At the time of apprehension, ICE decides whether the individual should be detained in the time leading to the court date. If the person has a criminal record or is perceived as a threat to national security, he will be placed in a detention facility. If not, the person is released, with or without bond, depending on whether he is considered a flight risk.

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