Methods: We collected data at the Stewart Detention Center, directly observing a sample of 39 immigration court case hearings across four separate time points between June and September of 2018. We use univariate statistics to describe the sample in terms of hearing duration, demographics of detained persons, characteristics of judge and attorney interactions, removability charges, and hearing outcomes. Our analysis includes mappings of two courtrooms and a thick and rich narrative description of our first trip to the Stewart Detention Center.
Results: Identified themes across court observations include: (1) lack of uniformity in process; (2) adoption of criminal justice norms and procedures without inclusion of protective factors; (3) layers and barriers to communication that present as isolating; and (4) a seeming emphasis placed on the ‘voluntary departure’ option.
Discussion and Implications: The social work profession has a role to play in the discourse on immigration policy, and should make contributions through research, evidence-based practice, policy practice, and advocacy guided by the ethics of the profession. As social work professionals, we should understand where the current immigration policies stand in relation to our professional ethics, and accordingly, how we should situate ourselves within systems of care working with immigrant populations. As such, social workers should: (1) provide services to children and families in non-detention settings; (2) protect the safety of children and families; (3) collaborate with advocates to meet the comprehensive needs of children and families; (4) utilize advocacy and organizational skills to educate the public about immigration policy and human rights; and finally, (5) use policy and research skillsets to affect immigration reform.