Computer Justice

Computer hardware malfunction has turned immigration courts upside down, and in some cases kept detainees from posting bond

When 23-year-old Manjnder Singh crossed the U.S.-Mexico border near Douglas last year, he told Border Patrol officers that he was seeking asylum. But rather than being given a hearing to determine his ability to post bond while his case is appealed, Singh has been sitting in an Eloy detention facility for more than six months.

His attorney, Victoria Trull, requested what's called a Rodriguez hearing, a bond hearing to redetermine custody for those detained for six months or longer. That hearing should have been held this month, but court clerks in Florence told Trull the hearing is delayed because of a computer hardware failure and no one knows when it will be fixed.

An email from the U.S. Department of Justice's Executive Office for Immigration Review, which operates the court system that processes immigration hearings and bonds for the undocumented at courts across the country, said the hardware failure began at midnight on April 12.

"We do not have an estimated timeline for the complete fix," the email said. "Please note that EOIR is not making any decisions regarding the release of detainees outside of normal court processes."

Trull says she questions the phrase "normal court processes." She says her client has been in detention for more than six months and it's time for him to post bond. "I think that that doesn't really explain anything. If there are no problems then why is my client still sitting in detention and why are they not scheduling Rodriguez bonds?" the attorney asked.

The reason for Rodriguez bond hearings is to address the constitutional issues involving those detained six months or longer. Holding people for more than 180 days without a hearing has been ruled unconstitutional, and her client should have had a hearing on April 16, Trull said.

Singh, who was apprehended by the Border Patrol last Oct. 13, has no prior immigration history or criminal record.

"Border Patrol should have given him a credible-fear hearing, which then makes him eligible for a bond as an arriving alien," she explained. Instead, she said, the officer put him straight into proceedings that made her client ineligible for a bond.

Singh, who is from India, is seeking asylum based on his political opinions, Trull said. He has family waiting for him in New Jersey, and family members are calling Trull weekly with concerns about his well-being as his detention continues.

Other attorneys who talked to the Weekly about the computer problems and delays said they have caused chaos in the courts, with judges and clerks using cassette recorders to keep track of cases and taking their own notes for each file.

This isn't the first time, according to Trull, that issues have come up with EIOR. Getting hearing dates can be a challenge either by phone or computer, and the website is often down, making it difficult or impossible to file briefs electronically.

Trull says that if Singh had been able to make bond, he would now be in New Jersey represented by an attorney secured by his family who speaks Punjabi. The translators Trull currently works with are from Pakistan, and the religious and political differences between their country and India are reflected in their relationship with her client.

"He's a kid and this is the first time he's been out of his country. He's no criminal," she said. "When he crossed he told Border Patrol, 'I don't want to go back to my country. I'm afraid.'"

Trull said she's heard that the computer system may not be back up until mid-May. In the meantime, "This poor kid needs to get out. He's done his time ... and then this happens."