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Advocacy group: Dallas immigration judge had "no concern" for children

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The recent announcement that Dallas Immigration Judge Deitrich Sims would no longer hear cases on the juvenile immigration docket was welcome news to local advocates, who often criticized the judge’s handling of cases. Cases involving juveniles on the North Texas docket are now being assigned to a different immigration judge. According to a Dallas immigration advocacy group, Judge Sims routinely showed no concern or remorse for foreign nationals appearing before him, including children. In one case, Sims’ actions may have violated immigration law and nearly deported an underage girl alone to a dangerous Central American country.

The staff of The Isenberg Center for Immigration Empowerment (ICIE), a Dallas advocacy group founded by businessman Ralph Isenberg, is very familiar with Judge Sims and his courtroom demeanor. They released a statement this week in response to his removal from the juvenile docket. “ICIE applauds this change, as it is long overdue,” the organization said. Many immigrants that the organization have assisted appeared before the judge, and according to the statement, Sims was often rude to immigrants, often accusing them of lying if he did not believe their testimony. “Sims acts more like a prosecutor than a judge,” the statement said. “ICIE staff have watched him badger foreign nationals. His conduct is downright rude.” Indeed, Sims’ lack of fairness and compassion for the plight of foreign nationals in his courtroom has earned him the nickname “El Diablo” from one immigration attorney, ICIE noted.

Often, Sims makes a practice of treating immigrants more harshly than government prosecutors. According to ICIE, a foreign national they were assisting was being held in detention by ICE and facing deportation. During a hearing before Sims, the judge began berating the foreign national and accusing him of lying. Government prosecutors were agreeable to a $5,000 bond to release him, but Judge Sims, without reason or explanation, raised the bond to $10,000. After ICIE complained about Sims’ behavior, the case was moved to another judge. That judge dismissed the charges against the immigrant, who is now a legal permanent resident on his way to citizenship.

According to the original story by The Dallas Morning News, other immigration attorneys and advocates noted Sims’ harshness and welcomed change. Even more troubling was Judge Sims’ rejection rate of asylum requests, which stood at nearly 84% according to a recent survey of his decisions. The national rate of asylum rejections for immigration judges is 51%.”It basically comes down to this,” an ICIE staffer said. “If you are in his courtroom, you can kiss your butt goodbye.”

Foreign nationals appearing in immigration court are not given legal representation. In those cases, it is imperative the presiding judge take all issues and circumstances into account and ensure the foreign national receives the full consideration of immigration law. ICIE contends that Judge Sims does not give foreign nationals this consideration. They cite the case of Sandra, a Mexican national recently in deportation proceedings before Judge Sims. Sims paid $7,500 to an attorney who failed to fight her deportation on several grounds, and instead told Judge Sims, without her knowledge, that she would voluntarily deport.

When Isenberg and ICIE became involved with her case, he filed two 126-page emergency motions with Judge Sims to stop her deportation as a non-attorney “reputable individual,” a little-known but accepted practice in immigration law. “This woman obviously had a bad attorney,” Isenberg said. “She was married to a United States citizen, had committed no crime, and had not even filed a I-130 (known as a Petition for an Alien Relative, it allows for spouses of U.S. citizens to apply for a visa and stay in the country legally). Even so, she was being deported. She was on a bus to Mexico when we filed the motions and asked for a delay in deportation while her I-130 was processed.” Isenberg noted that Judge Sims only ruled on one of four motions they filed, and by not immediately ruling on all motions and stopping her deportation, Sims made any further decision moot. Even though she was deported, Isenberg continues to work to bring her back to the United States.

In their statement, ICIE states that they have had issues trying to hire attorneys for foreign nationals facing Judge Sims, because most are either reluctant or unwilling to bother appearing before him, because of his aggressive approach. “They are afraid of him, because he takes such a strict approach,” ICIE noted.

ICIE says the most egregious ruling by Judge Sims came in a case involving a 14-year-old girl whom Judge Sims tried to deport to Honduras. “ICIE saw their first taste of Judge Sims over two years ago,” the statement said. “We received a call from a school counselor from a small town in the Texas panhandle where this girl lived. She was in deportation proceedings and Judge Sims offered her voluntary departure to her home country of Honduras, without even checking to see if any family were there to take her in. She accepted and the school actually raised money to pay for her plane ticket to Honduras. Her parents were not in deportation proceedings and were in the United States, and yet he granted her voluntary departure. Sims had no authority to send an underage, unescorted girl on a plane back to Honduras with no family take her in.”

When ICIE became involved in the case, staff noted how Judge Sims handled the case. “ICIE staff watched him in court. He had no concern and no remorse for the situation.” Thanks to ICIE’s efforts, the girl never left the country, and is now protected from deportation under the DACA Act (the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act, which prevents the removal of foreign nationals who were brought to the United States as children).

“These cases show his character inside the courtroom,” ICIE stated. “Immigration courts were created not to deport, but as a fail-safe against deportation. This is an administrative, not a criminal process. We are not talking about drug pushers. The court’s #1 priority is to reunite a foreign national with family. A neutral judge should make certain a foreign national is getting due process. Judge Sims does not. There must have been a large number of complaints for this move to have been made. Immigration judges can see between 20 and 30 cases a day, but it is still no excuse for his treatment of foreign nationals. People have no idea how brutal these people are being treated. They are being yelled and screamed at, and many of them only have a ninth grade education and do not speak English.”

Judge Michael Baird will now hear immigration cases involving juveniles in North Texas.

Victor Medina writes for Yahoo News and his political blog His other writing credits include The Dallas Morning News and He has served as a Dallas County election judge and on the Board of Directors of The Sixth Floor Museum. You can follow him on his blog, or on Twitter at @mrvictormedina. He can be reached by email at Click here to receive a weekly email update from To be notified of future stories by Victor Medina, click the SUBSCRIBE link here or at the top of this page.

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