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Stanford Law School Lecturer On The Front Line Of Immigration ‘Surge’ Cases

Publication Date: 
August 20, 2014
Daily Journal
John Roemer

The Daily Journal reports on the work of Lisa Weissman Ward, supervising attorney for SLS' Immigrants' Rights Clinic, in assisting immigrants being deported in large groups. 

Small kids cry, babies nurse and families huddle in an overflow room as immigration rocket dockets take off here and in Los Angeles. The controlled chaos in immigration court mirrors uncertainty in the immigration bench and bar over the Obama administration's move to put new unaccompanied migrant children and families with kids at the front of the line for master calendar hearings.

Rocket dockets are designed to accelerate the return to their homelands of immigrants who have surged across the southwestern border in recent months. These dockets started taking place twice a day each day in San Francisco in late July, with as many as 50 cases on each. In Los Angeles, authorities estimate that about 350 surge cases will have been heard by the end of next week.


Lawyers pitch in to help, including Lisa Weissman-Ward, the clinical supervising attorney at Stanford Law School's Immigrants' Rights Clinic.

Weissman-Ward, who has done removal defense work for years in private practice and at Stanford, has pulled stints as attorney of the day in the San Francisco rocket docket courtrooms. She's had a front-row view.

"When a toddler doesn't want to sit still, it's a challenge for the interpreter, the judge and the adult trying to listen to really important instructions and directions provided by the court," she said.

Immigration Judge Stephen Griswold, one of three in San Francisco pulled from his regular calendar to deal with the rocket docket, brings books and games to help distract unruly kids, Weissman-Ward said.


"Everyone is at or past capacity," Weissman-Ward said. "There's a real concern that those who show up for their second hearing without an attorney will be expected to navigate an incredibly complex situation on their own."


To ease the lawyer shortfall, some private firms are stepping up to offer pro bono or low bono services based on sliding scale fees adjusted to the immigrant's ability to pay. "The courts and lawyers and judges are doing the best they can," Weissman-Ward said.