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Roger B. Colton, a juvenile court judge in Palm Beach County, Fla., says he’s just doing his job when he reports illegal child immigrants to the U.S. Border Patrol. But immigration lawyers say Colton is out of line in reporting kids to the authorities. He has come under heated criticism for his actions. “Clearly, we think this is outrageous,” said Marshall Fitz, an attorney and associate director of advocacy for the American Immigration Lawyers Association in Washington. “I think, ethically, to expose these kids-particularly ones who are coming before him as a result of abuse and neglect-to further consequences with the immigration service is unethical and outrageous,” Fitz said. Four recent incidents Colton, a state circuit judge who is preparing to retire after having presided in juvenile court for four years, said he is being criticized for four incidents since last fall in which he faxed the names, addresses and birth dates of immigrant children and their relatives to the border patrol. He would not elaborate on the cases, confirming only that one of them involved a 16-year-old deaf child whom he refused to shelter in October because he was in the U.S. illegally. Colton said he later reversed that decision and authorized shelter for the youth, but still reported him and his relatives to authorities. “All I can tell you is that if an individual comes in front of me, or his lawyer brings him in front of me and advises me that he is here in the U.S. illegally, I feel I have an obligation to notify the proper authorities,” Colton said. “I really am shocked that so many people are looking at me and accusing me of abusing my power, and I’m really not.” Colton said he didn’t start reporting children to the border patrol until last fall, when he grew tired of what he called “an abuse of my courtroom.” He said that for years, immigration lawyers had appeared before him and asked him to declare clients dependent on the state so that they could qualify for a special immigration visa and avoid deportation. “Finally I got to the point and said this is ridiculous,” said Colton. “When you put a lawbreaker right smack dab in the middle of my courtroom and say, ‘Judge, this young person is an illegal immigrant, but we want you to do something,’ I am going to report that. I have a duty to report that.” Colton may have good intentions, but he’s still hurting immigrants, asserted Mazen Sukkar, an immigration attorney in Hollywood, Fla., and a past president of the Florida chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Sukkar said Colton’s actions could make matters worse for abused or neglected children who could face deportation, a permanent separation from parents or time in a detention camp. “I found it to be shocking that a judge entrusted with the lives of children would endanger the lives of children,” Sukkar said. “I sincerely ask him to reconsider this tactic.” Sukkar argued that Colton is overstepping his authority. “I think he is totally out of his jurisdiction. He is not an immigration judge. He is not a federal judge,” said Sukkar, of Sukkar Arevalo & Associates in Hollywood. Esther Lardent, chair of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Immigration Policy, Practice and Pro Bono, said she has never heard of a judge’s reporting children to immigration authorities. “My human reaction was to be appalled and wonder why this judge is being so punitive,” she said. “They’re children in pretty tough circumstances anyway.” Judge has supporters Colton is only upholding the law, argues Mike Hethmon, staff attorney for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, an organization supporting tougher immigration laws. Hethmon applauded Colton’s actions, saying he has a legal and moral obligation to report illegal residents. He said that Colton’s tactic is legal, citing a Virginia federal court’s recent upholding of a judge’s ability to report immigrants to law enforcement. The case involves immigrants suing colleges over the use of immigration status on applications. Doe v. Murton, No. 03-1113-A (E.D. Va.). According to Hethmon, the judge in that case stated that judges in general may not impose noncooperation policies or noncommunication policies with immigration authorities. “This is very relevant to the situation with the judge down in Florida, who I believe entirely has properly inquired to [children's] immigration status,” Hethmon said. Baldas’ e-mail address is [email protected].

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