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John Oliver Explains Why Immigration Courts Are a “Complete Mess” on Last Week Tonight

Yesterday’s Last Week Tonight discussed the Egypt election, the Sinclair Broadcast Group, and the daytime fascination with ballpark cuisine, but its main story was a devastating look at the American immigration courts. While upsetting and infuriating reports of ICE arrests and raids have been appearing in the mainstream media more lately, host John Oliver points out, we don’t see much of “the place many of those people end up” which is “no less troubling.”

The segment includes many clips of legal experts and those in immigration law who talk about these courts as a broken system that’s terrifying in “what passes for due process.” Another says that they’re essentially “death penalty cases in traffic court settings.”

That’s no exaggeration, unfortunately, as Oliver dives into some specifics within the massive backlog of immigration cases that determine whether or not someone can stay in the country. This includes the absolutely baffling fact that because the federal government isn’t obligated to provide a lawyer, only 37% of people have counsel going in. This means that undocumented children as young as 2 have to represent themselves.

The host calls this “clearly ridiculous…you cannot let a 2 year old be unsupervised in court. You can’t even let a 2 year old be unsupervised in a bouncy castle.” The segment shares a Youtube series where a lawyer attempts to coach 3-4 year old children about immigration law (something Assistant Chief Immigration Judge Jack H. Weil claims is possible), only to get answers like “pizza” to “What country would that be?” “You can’t teach immigration law to a 3 year old,” says Oliver. “You can’t even explain to a child that age that Elmo isn’t his best friend!”

As the episode continues, there’s only more and more cause for alarm. The host also mention that the courts are part of the judicial branch, “subject to shifting priorities” and the boss of these judges is Jeff “Bilbo Bigot” Sessions. The man has the power to refer cases to himself, and his call for more scrutiny and quicker cases is setting very real precedents that are making it harder for domestic violence victims to receive asylum.

You don’t have to look far to find tragic stories of individuals being denied asylum and facing horrible outcomes when they’re deported. This includes the story of Elena, who had a 1 minutes and 43 second hearing that led to her being deported back to Honduras, where she was assaulted by the man she was fleeing from (Full story here).

The segment ends with Last Week Tonight‘s own daytime-television-court-show where everyone, except the defendant, is a child. Enter critically-acclaimed voice actor H. Jon Benjamin as “Man Facing Arsonist Charges.”

“Is it stupid? Sure,” says a narrator. “But is it any dumber than how America’s immigration courts are run? Barely.”

(image: screencap)

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