Immigration courtrooms silent during ICE review

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For some, word that their cases have been postponed brings relief — but not closure. They’re still in the country illegally.

Jesus Gerardo Noriega, 21, of Aurora, Colo., said he learned in December his case was being closed.

“I’m happy that I don’t have to show up in court every six months so they don’t deport me,” Noriega said. But, he added: “I’m in limbo. I can’t do anything.”

Noriega’s family brought him to the United States from Mexico when he was 9. His parents and three brothers live here legally, and he graduated from high school — but only applied for a work visa last year. He faced deportation after being arrested in April 2010 for driving with no license plate light.

Deportation cases have risen sharply since 2007, when Homeland Security began using fingerprints collected from those held in local jails to identify and deport criminals and repeat immigration violators. Those cases increased from about 174,000 in 2007 to about 298,000 in 2011, according to figures compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a research group affiliated with Syracuse University.

Immigrant advocates have blasted the fingerprint program, called Secure Communities, for subjecting people to deportation after minor traffic infractions or misdemeanors. Some state laws require police to notify ICE of suspected illegal immigrants.

But advocates say they welcome the federal review as a way to deal with a sluggish immigration court system where cases can linger for years.

“The courts are a mess,” said Susan Barciela, Miami-based policy director for Americans for Immigration Justice. “The volume keeps getting bigger and people’s rights are being violated.”

During the pilot program, Denver and Baltimore immigration judges were assigned to hear detainee cases elsewhere.

“The immigration courts are empty,” said Denver immigration attorney Hans Meyer of the scene in December and early this month. “It’s a pretty busy place, so it’s kind of strange.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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