by Vadim Gerhsteyn
JCUA’s Vadim Gershteyn sat as an observer in Immigration Detention Court as part of the “Court Watch” program. In this article he tells the stories he observed, including fathers separated from their children, trials conducted through computer screens, and detainees with no guaranteed legal representation.
The immigrant experience in the United States is at the foundation of shared history and a place of special importance for the Jewish community. On Monday, November 26, 2012 I attended a Court Watch training that allowed him to be an non-partial observer in Detained Immigrant Courts. The program was set up by the “Sisters of Mercy” and “Sisters and Brothers of Immigrants” in order to allow people to bear witness to the trials and stand in solidarity with detained immigrants. Each year, more than 400,000 immigrants are detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), many of whom have no criminal histories and are being detained on civil charges.
In one trial, a legal permanent resident (LPR) named Jose was applying for voluntary self-deportation after being arrested with fifteen grams of cocaine, a felony that includes intention to distribute. His wife’s moving testimony told the story of a good husband, caring father of four, and gainfully employed member of the community struggling with drug addiction. Now in drug treatment classes, and despite living in Illinois for over a decade, Jose was facing deportation. The judge gave Jose leniency for self-deportation, which allows him to leave on his own accord and reapply to enter the United States. However, reentry is not guaranteed, and the court may have separated Jose from his family (four of whom are U.S. citizens) due to the disease of addiction.