In the bleak lobby of Boston’s immigration court, immigrants and their lawyers tried not to look at it. Others grimaced. One woman closed her eyes.
“Stomach-turning,” said one lawyer. “Frightening,” said another.
President Trump’s official portrait arrived last week in federal immigration court, his cherry-red tie and blue suit contrasting with the bland walls and gloomy mood.
The president’s unsmiling picture, against a backdrop of the White House, struck many in Boston’s immigration court Friday as severe, a throwback to his reality television show days barking, “You’re fired!” on “The Apprentice.”
Presidential portraits typically appear on the walls of federal buildings, but for immigrants and their lawyers, Trump’s picture is a visual reminder of all that they lost in the election. Trump’s rival Hillary Clinton had pledged to curb deportations.
Last week, Trump issued two executive orders vowing to dramatically expand immigration enforcement, putting those in the notoriously backlogged immigration courts on edge. Nearly 300 judges from Boston to San Francisco are juggling more than 500,000 cases, including more than 15,000 in Boston, according to TRAC, a Syracuse University clearinghouse that tracks court information.
“It’s not like we are unaccustomed to working hard. We all work very hard, but this is just overwhelming,” said San Francisco Immigration Judge Dana Leigh Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, in a telephone interview.
“It’s awful,” said lawyer Gayle Ghitelman, sitting on a worn wooden bench in the court lobby in Boston with a thick file in her lap. “It’s only going to get worse.”
Boston’s immigration court is in the John F. Kennedy Federal Building, across the brick plaza from City Hall, where Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said he would shelter immigrants facing deportation.
But there is no guarantee of sanctuary on the third floor of the Kennedy building. Hundreds of undocumented immigrants who pass through these courts are deportable, but they have a chance to ask the judges for mercy — or even a green card — based on an array of circumstances, such as if they have sick children who are American citizens or if they fear being killed if they are forced to return home.
On Friday, immigrants from Ghana, Poland, Honduras, and Brazil filed in to court to plead their case before a judge. Some were escorted by guards from local jails, where they are being held for civil immigration violations.
Some looked forlorn. Supporters of one detainee wept as their relative was brought in wearing arm and leg chains and a yellow jumpsuit.
“That’s it,” he said to them in English.
Some came looking for hope and found it. Before noon, Genaci DeOliveira, a house painter on Martha’s Vineyard, burst out of a courtroom, his eyeglasses crooked, with the beaming look of a man who had been given a second chance. He said the judge may let him stay because his 9-year-old daughter, an American citizen, has Down syndrome.
Then he dashed toward the elevators to catch the ferry home. “Now I have to wait for an answer,” he called back.
On the wooden bench, Carlos R. was less optimistic. His lawyer asked that his last name not be used because he is seeking a form of asylum in the United States because, he said, gang members attacked his wife and raped his stepdaughter in Honduras, forcing the family to move to another town.
Before, he had a job ironing shirts for an American company. But when he moved he couldn’t find work, so he paid a smuggler to take him to America in 2005. He rents a room in Manchester, N.H., and sends money home.
He was picked up in an immigration sweep four years ago at a friend’s house. He had no record, according to his lawyer and papers he shared with the Globe, but the others did. Carlos said he was detained for 24 days.
Before his hearing Friday, he could barely look at the picture of Trump on the wall.
“He terrifies all of us,” he said. “They’re doing everything against us, when most of us come to work, earn a living. I have a child.”
In his hand, he held a record from New Hampshire that said “no [criminal] record.”
Under the Obama administration, that might have made a difference. But not now.
“Does this matter remain an enforcement priority?” Judge Mario Sturla asked from the bench.
“Yes, your honor,” prosecutor Marna Rusher said.
Sturla set a final deportation hearing for July.
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