How to fix ‘massive crisis’ in immigration courts


AP National Writer

The mother from Cameroon came to immigration court bearing scars: She’d been imprisoned back home, she said, beaten with cables, burned with cigarettes and raped repeatedly, contracting HIV. Her husband had died behind bars; her three children she’d left behind were struggling to survive.

She was seeking asylum, hoping to remain in Los Angeles and bring her children there. They were on their own after their grandmother died, living in a bamboo hut without water or a toilet, begging for food. For years, the mother, who’d fled Cameroon, had no contact with her kids, fearing she’d jeopardize their safety. When she finally did, her oldest son – gravely ill with malaria – sent her a letter:

“Ever since you left us mum, six years now, life has become so miserable, hope God intervains,” the 20-year-old wrote. “Our greatest desire is to be beside you and … acquire the love we need from you mama.”

If the system had worked, this kind of asylum case would have been resolved promptly. But this was immigration court, where justice often moves at a glacial pace. Files were lost. Background checks delayed. Hearings scheduled at least 12 times over five years. The woman’s lawyers, fearing their fragile client had become suicidal, were so alarmed they appealed to two members of Congress – not to intervene, but to call attention to what they say is a system in desperate need of reform.

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