Evansville immigration case one of thousands in Minnesota

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As Julio Estrada Escobar sits in custody awaiting a ruling of his immigration status, there are more than 6,000 other immigration cases pending in Minnesota in the Executive Office of Immigration Review, the court system for illegal immigrants.

Jason Nielson, a partner at Igbanugo Partners, an international law firm in the Twin Cities and Escobar's lawyer, provided the data that he obtained from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a data research and distribution organization at Syracuse University.

Escobar, who lives in Evansville with his wife and two children, is an illegal immigrant from Guatemala who was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement back in July after he was pulled over in Otter Tail County. (Read related stories in the Oct. 18, 20 and 25 issues of the Echo Press.)

Nielson said, "I think Julio's case is a prime example of how drasticly things have changed in the world of immigration enforcement in the past nine months."

He said the time it takes from detention to bond hearing, if that is even available, has increased. And he said the willingness of the Department of Homeland Security to allow immigrants out during the course of their hearings has decreased.

Gail Montenegro, a regional public information officer with the Executive Office for Immigration Review, said there are actually 6,215 pending cases for the Bloomington Immigration Court. Five years ago, at this time of year, there were only 3,190 pending cases. The number of cases have nearly doubled in five years.

After a review of his case this past weekend, Escobar has to remain in custody while federal officials determine his immigration status. Nielson said his next court appearance will be at a merits hearing, scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 7, in Fort Snelling.

During that hearing, Escobar has to prove he fears going back to Guatemala. If the courts decide there is credible fear, Escobar will be able to remain in the United States. He would be given a temporary work visa, which he will have to renew every year. If the fear is not substantiated, Escobar would remain in custody until his deportation. If that happens, his family would appeal.

"Julio is not a flight risk, he's not a violent person and he's not danger to society. I continuously hear how everyone in the community (where he lives) loves Julio and praises his work ethic and dedication to his family and neighbors," Nielson said. "Unfortunately, the federal government currently feels it is worth spending tax dollars to hold him in detention rather than let him be with his family and neighbors while his case works its way through the system."

Nielson said he doesn't believe there will be any changes to the system anytime soon. He said the Department of Homeland Security recently asked Congress for a $1.2 billion budget increase solely for the purpose of more detention facilities.

"It is up to voters to tell their elected officials to not spend their money that way," he said.

According to the University of Syracuse research organization, as of the end of August, there have been 1,846 immigration cases completed in Minnesota — 964 of those immigrants were able to stay in the United States and 882 were deported back to their home countries.

Source of immigration cases

Of the more than 6,000 pending immigration cases in Minnesota, the top five countries represented were:

Mexico: 1,781

Guatemala: 1,233

El Salvador: 946

Honduras: 534

Ecuador: 298

Source: Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, Syracuse University

Minnesota immigration cases

Cases received:

2000 — 2,312

2001 — 1,718

2002 — 2,452

2003 — 2,835

2004 — 2,904

2005 — 2,637

2006 — 3,010

2007 — 4,045

2008 — 4,904

2009 — 5,251

2010 — 5,390

2011 — 5,420

2012 — 5,020

2013 — 3,058

2014 — 3,081

2015 — 2,925

2016 — 3,312

Cases completed:

2000 — 2,421

2001 — 1,764

2002 — 2,411

2003 — 2,849

2004 — 2,772

2005 — 2,762

2006 — 3,232

2007 — 3,602

2008 — 4,635

2009 — 4,715

2010 — 5,042

2011 — 4,996

2012 — 4,716

2013 — 3,503

2014 — 2,960

2015 — 2,948

2016 — 2,767

Source: U.S. Department of Justice