Brow Beat

Let John Oliver (and Some Adorable Toddlers) Teach You About Immigration Courts

Last night, John Oliver took a deep dive into how immigration courts function in the U.S. In true Last Week Tonight fashion, the host presented a thorough, anecdote-laden case for one of the country’s bleakest and most underserved issues (à la segments on Joe Arapio or flood insurance). Here are just a few of the issues: Immigration courts are overwhelmingly backlogged; they’re run loosely although the stakes for the people subject to them are quite high; and there’s no countrywide standard for immigration proceedings (bad luck if you live near Atlanta, where the deportation rate is nearly at 90 percent). Though Oliver takes care to mention those problems, he homes in on two key flaws. One, immigration courts answer to the executive instead of the judicial branch, meaning their fate is in the hands of known immigrant-hater Jeff Sessions. Two, immigration courts are not required to provide poor defendants with representation, leaving a majority of them—including children as young as 2 years old—to represent themselves.

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Last year, immigration judge Jack Weil tried to convince a Seattle federal court that this wasn’t such a big deal. In the Last Week segment, Oliver plays the clip where Weil insists that teaching immigration law to toddlers is “not the most efficient, but it can be done.” He then counters that assertion with some of the most adorable ammo you’ll ever see in a political debate: home videos of toddlers. Back in 2016, Michigan lawyer Amy Maldonado countered Weil’s assertion with a series of YouTube videos in which toddlers answered questions on immigration law. The results are predictably nonsensical and endearing. Oliver picked two particularly hilarious videos—including one where a girl insists she’d like to be deported back to the country of Pizza—to illustrate just how ridiculous Weil’s claims are. He even invented a daytime court TV show of his own, Tot Bench, to drive the joke home. The segment wraps up with an extremely cute Tot Bench promo featuring comedian H. Jon Benjamin.

While Oliver dwells on the darling and delightful, he also dedicates the segment to some of immigration court’s more terrifying issues, like neglected asylum-seekers, many of whom are also children. As Judge Dana Leigh Marks says in the segment, immigration courts “[are] doing death penalty cases in a traffic court setting.” This is truly scary stuff, especially under our current administration. These sweet kids will make you laugh out loud, but they also highlight just how dire the situation is for their undocumented counterparts.

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