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OPINION | EDITORIAL: The immigrant song

The judge will see you now December 6, 2020 at 8:46 a.m.

It's become almost comical, the all-American phrase: So sue me. The kids use it today in place of a shrug. Whaddaya gonna do? Americans are a litigious lot, but lawyers aren't passing around business cards on the playground. (Yet.)

One of the strange but necessary characteristics of a society that conducts/molds/fashions itself according to the rule of law is that judges and courtrooms are the final arbitrators of disputes. At least after appeals run out. Americans, we are taught, are all equal in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of each other. And if you have a problem with that, let's take it to court.

But what if you aren't allowed your day in court?

Such a thing is mostly unfathomable to Americans. Even the little guy against Big Take-Your-Pick (Big Pharma, Big Oil, Big Government, Big Media) gets his day in court. And often enough wins. The courts are always an option.

Make that mostly an option. In the last few years, it has taken longer and longer for some to get their days in court, especially those who have cases to make before customs. Until a judge ruled otherwise.

Detained migrants at the border--some of whom are American citizens--must appear before a judge within 10 days. So ruled a U.S. district judge in New York this week.

In 2014, the average wait to see a judge was 11 days. By 2017, the papers say the wait had increased to about a month. The next year it was 90 days. Folks are sitting in what amounts to a jail, for months, waiting on a spot on the docket. Civil rights lawyers are right to be angry. Or as they put it in court, argumentative.

Not to put too fine a point on it--by which we mean the opposite--but some of these people are waiting to show their papers to a judge to prove that they are American citizens. Another significant percentage are lawful permanent residents, maybe up to a third of them. They just need a judge to release them from custody. But aren't being allowed a hearing.

Take the (awful) example of Shemar Michel, a migrant who was caught in the paperwork trap and helped bring a lawsuit that brought about the latest ruling. When ICE officers picked him up, they told him he'd be home by dinner. He sat in custody, waiting on a judge, for six weeks.

This isn't really a debate on immigration per se. Or comparing today's migrant policies to The Chinese Exclusion Act or whether Americans should pull up the ladder on the USS America. This is a matter of allowing some Americans to prove they are citizens, and others to prove that they are lawful residents.

If it takes hiring more judges--and legal counselors, aka lawyers--to get this right, that's a price Americans should be willing to pay. At least until the time in custody drops where it was in, say, 2014.

We remember reading somewhere, and even vaguely remember saying on repeated occasion, that this was a nation indivisible. It can't be if many of We the People are stuck in a cell for long stretches of time before we get our day in court to prove we are who we say we are. Perhaps the administration won't appeal this latest ruling, and ... .

The judge will see you now.


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