by Marili Iturbe Guardarrama
On Thursday, March 14, 2019, the students who participated in the Adult Program for the Spring Break Border Project got to stay in Tucson, AZ for the first time that week. We stayed in Tucson because we were given the opportunity to observe VTC (Video Teleconferencing) hearings in Tucson Immigration Court. Some of us have already been to Immigration Court in California, however, this was the first time we were able to observe an immigration court outside of the California bubble. Over the past few months, I had heard and read about the concerns about due process with VTC hearings. The idea behind VTC hearings is that a judge may be able to
review cases at a quicker pace, however, for some cases (for example those that require documentation, often from out of the country) speed may not be as ideal as some may believe.
While I observed the hearings, I thought about the children that are part of the same system. Children who more likely than not, have no advocate or understanding of the complexities of immigration law.
While we were in the Tucson Immigration Court, we heard a total of fifteen cases in three hours. Only three of the fifteen had attorneys, the rest were pro se respondents. Although it was a completely different experience from what I had seen in San Francisco’s Immigration Court, what we witnessed was not shocking to me. What I saw in Arizona was what I expected, it was a reality that I knew about but had neglected. Not every judge will be sympathetic, that is true in any area of law, however, when most of the cases involve pro se individuals it does cause an ache of disappointment on how immigration law, as a system, is broken. While I observed the hearings, I thought about the children that are part of the same system. Children who more likely than not, have no advocate or understanding of the complexities of immigration law.
Throughout the week I have been listening to multiple immigrant stories, many of those held in detention centers because of a broken headlight, expired registration, or DUI infractions. Others had presented themselves at a port of entry and were detained without a right to bond. I was able to connect with each individual story and I was hopeful that each one would have relief. However, it was completely different hearing individuals who were tired of fighting for their case. Hearing people at court request voluntary departure or deportations (even though they could have requested cancellation) simply because they wanted to get out of detention centers was beyond difficult. Although Thursday was really hard on all of us, we were not discouraged, each one of us mentioned how we want to finish law school to get back there into those immigration courts and advocated for those without any legal knowledge. All of us felt more encouraged to continue fighting for the most vulnerable individuals in our community.