Realities in a Federal Court
By Division 2 student Rhys
After a trimester of learning about the modern refugee crisis and its connections to the immigration debates in the U.S., Division 2 visited a session of the juvenile docket at the Boston Immigration Court to see firsthand just a small part of the process of becoming a citizen of the United States. This was largely made possible by Judge Maureen O’Sullivan and Antonio Castro, a legal representative from Catholic Charities who helps inform individuals in the courts of their rights and how to find legal representation.
The courtroom, as soon as we walked in, completely caught us by surprise. Being a federal court, I expected it to be one of those really big courtrooms, with rows upon rows of seats, and a massive area for the jury to sit behind the fence. This court was not like that at all. First, there was no jury, as all of the decisions are made by the judge. There were also only three rows of seats. Three rows in the entire court. It immediately made me realize that I had no idea what I was about to see or how everything worked, and so I really had to just take all of my preconceived notions about courts and essentially throw them out the window (however, there weren’t any windows in this particular courtroom).
A few minutes after our class had packed ourselves into a little over a row of the court’s seating, the undocumented immigrants, along with the lawyers, an interpreter, and a clerk started to come in. To me it seemed pretty hectic as the clerk was running around the room trying to get everyone’s papers processed. Once she had done all of this, she started having a casual conversation with one of the lawyers who was present, along with the interpreter. This was one of the biggest surprises of the morning; in my mind, courts tend to have little in the way of informalities. They are formal and official places. But I saw that even though this court takes on cases that are tremendously serious, for the people who worked there it is also their everyday job.
Once the hearings began, undocumented minors were called one by one in front of the judge. It was clear that they uncomfortable based on how they were shifting around once they were called up. The judge worked to calm them down by asking them questions about school and encouraging them to work hard. As an onlooker, I grew increasingly more uncomfortable. Watching people my age, or close to my age, go through this process was something that I never seen or thought deeply about prior to this.
None of the stories or backgrounds of the undocumented minors were explained during the hearings. I was both a little bit sad that I didn’t get to hear the stories in real life firsthand, but I was also relieved at the same time. I can only imagine how it would’ve felt to be one of those kids, whose journeys from home to an unfamiliar country are aired in such a public way.
It was hard to be in that courtroom in that moment, but I’m glad that we got a chance to go. It gave me a new understanding of what it means to be an immigrant in the modern world. At this point time in a piece of writing, I would normally summarize the experience that I am writing about, and try to draw a conclusion, but there is no good way to do that here. There is no way to do justice to the way that an experience like this can change someone.