My Latin Americanist colleague Steven Hyland (who is at Wingate University) has a really nice op-ed with the News & Observer.
In early December, my students and I sat in the federal Immigration Court in Charlotte. Judge Barry Pettinato presided, and an attorney with a massive rolling file cart represented the government. I wanted my students to witness what is normally studied in the abstract: the phenomenon of Latin American immigration. I wanted to humanize a group of people and a contentious issue.
In roughly 30 minutes, we observed the judge rifle through seven cases, most of which were postponed until this month. Of the seven, five involved men, a sixth a mother and her three sons, and the seventh a 15-year-old unaccompanied child from El Salvador.
Most of the men stood before the judge because their immigration status had been discovered after being arrested or cited by the police. Most of the criminal complaints were dismissed. Nevertheless, they stood before Judge Pettinato because they were here without authorization.
I was most fascinated with the Salvadoran teenage girl. She sat before the judge, her mother standing behind her. I can only imagine what she experienced as she traveled from El Salvador through Guatemala and Mexico to the Texas border.
The point about humanizing migrants is a great one. For most people migrants are an amorphous other that they don't feel they have anything in common with.
But something else jumped out at me that I've blogged about a lot, which is caseload. One sign of our broken system is the fact that a judge has to make decisions on lots of people in a terribly short amount of time. Even then, the backlog constantly increases.