Immigration lawyers were puzzled late last month when news came out that, contrary to what was happening in the rest of the country, the number of deportations had dropped dramatically in the Pacific Northwest. "That doesn't quite comport with what we're seeing," Jorge Baron, executive director of Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, told SW.
Now he thinks he might have an explanation.
Baron and his colleagues were initially confounded by the statistics because the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, which serves the region, is more crowded than ever. But the stats don't reflect how many people are picked up and detained by immigration authorities. They only reflect the number of people who are actually kicked out of the country.
In other words, the authorities could be trying to remove people, but not succeeding.
Baron, after conferring with his colleagues, says what may be happening is that the new judges are more reluctant to sign off on a controversial practice known as "stipulated removals." That's when the immigrants detained agree to be sent back to their home countries without a court hearing.
The practice has come under fire by immigrant advocates because, as a report on the practice released this past September puts it: "Very few detainees have access to counsel or an understanding of their legal rights and options." They are, the report continues, given a "Hobson's choice: Accept a stipulated removal order and agree to your deportation, or stay in immigration detention to fight your case."
The report (above), written by two law professors and the managing attorney of the National Immigration Law Center, resulted from documents obtained by a lawsuit brought under the Freedom of Information Act. It showed that, in years past, Tacoma has been one of a dozen or so cities in the country where large numbers of stipulated removals--1,000 a month in our case--have been happening.
Yet, in other cities, "EOIR refuses to entertain the orders," according to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement document obtained for the report. EOIR is short for the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the federal agency that oversees immigration judges.
It may be that Tacoma now falls into that non-cooperative camp. Baron says he and his colleagues have noticed "there have not been as many (if any)" stipulated removals here in the last couple of years.
Neither Fitting nor Scala could not be reached for comment. But if Baron's theory is true, Tacoma's immigration judges may be finally stepping up to the plate in a secretive, Byzantine system long skewed in favor of ICE prosecutors.