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King, Zeldin ask feds for Long Island immigration court

Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), left, and Peter King

Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), left, and Peter King (R-Seaford) Credit: Ed Betz/Howard Schnapp

Two local congressmen have asked the federal government to attack the large backlog in deportation proceedings and immigrant petitions from Nassau and Suffolk counties by opening an immigration court on Long Island.

A letter from Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and Peter King (R-Seaford) said such a move could help in the fight against gangs, as the federal government pursues a crackdown on MS-13 that includes removing from the country alleged gang members who are immigrants.

“The backlog in immigration courts is a result of years of policy failures under prior administrations,” the letter states. “ . . . Suffolk and Nassau County could efficiently use these resources to address the backlog as well as prioritize incoming cases related to gang violence.”

The letter, sent on April 25 and released this month, follows a January report by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University that showed Nassau and Suffolk among the top 10 counties nationwide for the size of their immigration backlogs, with more than 23,000 pending cases combined. The letter references nearly 2,700 unaccompanied minors resettled on Long Island in the 2017 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30.

Long Island’s cases are currently part of the larger docket of New York City courts, ranging from deportation proceedings to asylum petitions. New York and Long Island together had nearly 80,000 immigrants waiting to be called.

The letter, addressed to Director James McHenry of the Executive Office for Immigration Review, says the region should get one of 150 new immigration courtrooms that Zelden said are planned for this fiscal year and next.

A spokesman with the Immigration Review office, which is part of the U.S. Department of Justice, said Friday that under Attorney General Jeff Sessions the agency “has looked for ways to increase adjudicatory capacity” to handle more cases.

The administration “is in receipt of the letter and reviewing it, and we are in constant contact with the Government Services Administration in order to identify existing government space across the country that would make for an appropriate immigration court space,” the spokesman said.

King said a Long Island immigration court would speed up the hearings for immigrants who qualify to stay as well as those who should go.

If suspects “have a longer wait to get a court hearing . . . then you have potentially dangerous people on the ground,” said King, adding that “those who are not a threat, and have a case to make, should be able to go to court to make it.”

Zeldin said in a statement that the case backlog would be reduced, while speeding up enforcement. “An immigration court on Long Island is necessary to ensure law enforcement officials have the tools they need.”

To Camille Mackler, immigration legal policy director at the New York Immigration Coalition, the delays signal larger issues with aggressive enforcement. A new court won’t cancel out the push for deportations as the Department of Justice takes away judges’ flexibility to administratively close cases, she said.

“They are increasing the backlog because of their punitive policies that don’t make sense,” Mackler said. “This is just one more example of the Trump administration trying to do something flashy that has no substance behind it.”

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