LatinaLista — One of the first signs there was big trouble in Iran was when the government banned foreign journalists from reporting on what was happening in the country.
Regardless of the event, whenever it is heard that journalists are banned, the news always evokes undemocratic and tyrannic images of oppression, suppression, intimidation and control — usually by force.
During a press conference, President Obama even chimed in on the press blackout.
Referring to the recent clampdown on the foreign media in Iran, Mr Obama said: “In 2009 no iron fist is strong enough to shut off the world from bearing witness to the peaceful pursuit of justice
Those governments that do ban journalistic coverage of any public event or proceedings certainly belong to the list of countries endangering democracy and the democratic ideals of all free societies.
Well, it seems that when it comes to banning journalists or the general public from certain events, the United States must unfortunately be added to the list.
The even sadder part is that it’s happening in our immigration courts system which tries the most vulnerable of individuals in our country.
Thanks to law professor Jacqueline Stevens, who writes the blog site, States without Nations, we now have verifiable proof that the Department of Homeland Security is restricting public access to immigration court proceedings — against federal regulations.
In her article, Secret Courts Exploit Immigrants, for The Nation, Stevens recounts her experience in trying to enter an immigration court only to be told that she had to do a number of things before being allowed in:
Two weeks prior to the proceedings, she should have submitted her name, date of birth, Social Security number, home address and the particular hearing she wanted to attend.
All of that had to be submitted before she would have to undergo the required background check.
And if for some reason Stevens had had a felony or misdemeanor conviction (which she doesn’t) in the last five years, then she would have been prohibited altogether from entering the courts.
This amount of security is obviously less for the immigrant facing deportation and more for the federal government to keep deportation proceedings, which have received extensive criticism in the ways they have been conducted, out of the public view.
But that’s not being transparent and runs counter to what the Obama administration has been striving for since occupying the White House.
As Lee Gelernt, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney stated:
“It is critical that the public and press have access to immigration proceedings to ensure that the proceedings are conducted fairly and consistent with due process principles. It is absolutely unlawful for the DHS to place unreasonable restrictions on access to immigration court.”
Dora Schriro has been appointed by DHS Secretary Napolitano as a special advisor who will be evaluating policy, including immigration court access. In keeping with the spirit of the administration in moving swiftly to make all proceedings transparent, it should not be any different in this case.
For too long, the DHS has operated under their own rules and on their own time tables but reforming these practices doesn’t have to wait for any comprehensive immigration reform bill to pass.
It just takes someone in Washington to notice and send out one memo to change it.
Free speech is always heralded as a hallmark of democracy but also the openness and transparency of our court system is another admirable hallmark.
When one is suppressed, it can’t help but affect the other.