Backlogged Denver immigration courts will take on glut of asylum cases

Denver immigration judges will be shifted away from the growing backlog of Colorado cases and will begin hearing video asylum cases next week for some of the more than 600 mothers with children and unaccompanied minors detained in Artesia, N.M.

Switching the video hearings from judges in Arlington, Va., to Denver means that immigrants who have been held in highly criticized conditions and dealt with in controversial judicial proceedings in remote Artesia near the Mexican border likely will be treated more fairly, immigration attorneys say.

“I have every confidence that Denver judges will be more fair,” said Boulder-based immigration attorney Laura Lichter, who has been traveling to Artesia to represent detainees for more than a month and said that the living conditions are “a hellhole”and the way court cases are handled is “appalling.”

“I have run out of words strong enough to describe the process there,” she said. “We are seeing not only contempt for mothers and children detained down there. We are also seeing contempt for the rule of law.”

Half a dozen rights groups recently filed suit against the federal government to stop what they view as violations of due process at Artesia. The Department of Homeland Security has another 30 days to answer that complaint.

Department of Justice spokeswoman Kathryn Mattingly did not say the docket shift to Denver had anything to do with the lawsuit or the many complaints directed at Artesia. She said the change is more of a practical matter that puts the Artesia cases in a court that may be nine hours away but is in the same time zone.

The Denver courts — one in downtown Denver and one at the immigration detention center in Aurora — are already operating with a shortage of judges. Two judges retired in the past year and have not been replaced. Two judges will now handle Artesia cases while a third will continue to handle cases already on the dockets for unaccompanied minors and those currently in detention in Aurora.

Currently there are 8,009 cases pending in the Denver immigration courts. Hearing dates are being set as far out as 2018.

Mattingly said her agency will continue to shift resources around in immigration courts and to make changes as the influx of asylum seekers on the southern border continues.

Lichter and other immigration attorneys who have volunteered to represent clients in Artesia during the Arlington-based video hearings say that many immigrants seeking asylum because of persecution and violence in their home countries have been rushed through the system with no representation. Victims of rape and assaults have had to describe the attacks to judges in front of their children. Illiterate defendants have been coerced into signing documents they don’t understand.

“The general feeling is that we are really happy to have these cases in Denver,” said Denver immigration attorney Bryon Large, who also lamented the increased backlog of other immigration cases.

Nancy Lofholm: 970-256-1957, or

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Backlogged Denver immigration courts will take on glut of asylum cases
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