Immigration Judges Making Dents in Backlogged Cases

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HARLINGEN – Backlogged immigration cases are now moving forward thanks to some additional federal funding.

The Rio Grande Valley has three new immigration judges: one immigration judge is in Port Isabel and two in Harlingen. This leaves 10 judges to work on the thousands of cases pending. 

Salvadorian Sandra Penate keeps pictures of loved ones, including her daughter’s, in her purse. She told CHANNEL 5 NEWS she came to the U.S. to provide for her child.  

"Yes, but we still have dangers in our country and if God willing, I can stay in this country. With everything in order, she would come too, legally of course,” said Penate.

The mother was forced to leave her family and escape the violence that plagues her home.

"In our country right now we have crime from the 'Maras' (Mara Salvatrucha – MS-13). You can't live in that country,” she said. “The Maras extort you for any reason. You can open a small business and they expect you to pay them daily but sometimes and one only makes enough to feed our kids and it can't be done. That's the reason that many go through the journey to this country that offers opportunities to those people.”

Penate left El Salvador seven years ago seeking political asylum. On Friday, CHANNEL 5 NEWS went to her court hearing.  

"It was very difficult to get to this country. Everything has its difficulties and with God’s help we will move forward,” she said. “The only thing to do is waiting. The important part is that I’m safe in this country and they have given me the opportunity to return in a year."

Penate's case is one of the thousands of pending immigration cases in the Valley.

The Executive Office of Immigration Review records show as of March 2016, the Port Isabel court had 238 pending cases. As of August 2017, there was a slight rise of 277 cases. The Harlingen Immigration court had 4,514 cases in 2016. In 2017, immigration judges had 2,428 cases to finish.

Penate's immigration attorney, Thelma Garcia, agrees the increase of judges helps with the backlog.

“It depends on which judge you are… I was before one of the senior judges and our case was set for today because of some technical difficulty,” she said. “It was rescheduled. His docket is a little bit more backlogged so it rescheduled for a year.” 

Garcia said it can also hurt someone's case too. 

"That may or may not be good depending on the case. The negative part of that is that it doesn't give you much time to have enough time to prepare your case to get your evidence,” she explained. “A lot of times, the evidence comes from their home country and it's a little slow getting some of the evidence from their home country.”

Garcia explained it's a quick turnaround for some cases.

"I know that my associate in my office was here this week on another case and I believe she told me that the judge offered a three-week continuance for a merits, which is a trial and really that was not enough time,” said Garcia.

Penate's life in the U.S. is undetermined and safe. 

"In the future when everything has been fixed, I want to work. That's the reason I came to this country because I want to work and help my daughter move forward,” the mother said.

Penate’s next scheduled is set for October 2018. 


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