Want to understand what’s going on with refugees, immigrants, and immigration courts? Go. Take a morning or an afternoon and visit the immigration court closest to you. Look. Listen. Draw. Take notes. Then talk about it. (Talk about it. Talk about it….)
Most immigration hearings are public, although judges typically close cases when 1) either the immigrant or refugee, on her own or through her lawyer, or the lawyer for ICE, request it to be closed; or 2) there’s sensitive information involved. Almost all claims for asylum, withholding of removal, protection under the Convention against Torture (CAT), and cases involving child abuse, will involve sensitive information, including information that couldr result in danger to people if made public.
You may also encounter resistance if you want to go to watch court that is inside one of the prisons/detention centers (even if they are called “residential” centers). An example of such a court is at the South Texas Detencion Center, run by the for-profit corporation GEO in Pearsall, Texas.
So they don’t want you there. So what. Do not be deterred by people who tell you, at first, “No.” Be courteous but firm. Ask to speak to a supervisor and that person’s supervisor and then that supervisor’s supervisor. Show them the statement from the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) about observing court.
And if ICE officials keep you ought — as they sometimes will try to do and as they sometimes, though less often, succeed in doing — tell everyone you know and call the press. It is a big huge deal if and when law enforcement agencies believe that they own the courts, even immigration courts.
Don’t let immigration courts be secret, mysterious places far from the scrutiny of ordinary people. Courts are open to the public in the United States because they are supposed to be small-d democratic institutions. Don’t let immigration courts be an exception by default.
Middle and high school teachers, take your classes to immigration court for field trips.
College professors, require your students to sit in on immigration hearings
Students, watch and write.
Journalists, religious groups, civic groups, civil rights groups, labor unions, neighborhood organizations: GO.
The operations of immigration courts, part of the U.S. Department of Justice, are everyone’s business.
JUSTICE IS EVERYONE’S BUSINESS.