/ Modified feb 1, 2019 4:51 p.m.

Shutdown Debrief; Immigration Judge on Backlog; No More Deaths Trial

Plus, a journalists roundtable on the government reopening, water conservation and political leadership changes.

On this episode Arizona 360 looked back at the headlines that shaped January with a journalists roundtable that included Arizona Daily Star editorial page editor Sarah Garrecht Gassen, Green Valley News/Sahuarita Sun editor Dan Shearer and The Yellow Sheet editor Hank Stephenson. The panel discussed how local communities and the state responded to help affected families during the partial government shutdown.

"The local community will step up and help. We had a lot of local efforts, people giving to the food banks. The Town of Sahuarita gave to the food bank," Shearer said. "When we have these big events, we learn a lot about how government really affects our day-to-day lives."

The discussion also covered Kelli Ward's recent victory as chairwoman of the Arizona Republican Party, and how the former U.S. Senate candidate's leadership signals the party's shift to the political right.

"Do the people who are in the party of Donald Trump look at Kelli Ward as an extremist? No. But do the people who are in more the party of Doug Ducey look at Kelli Ward as an extremist? Absolutely," Stephenson said. "It is a war between those two wings of the party and right now the farther right wing just took over Arizona's party."

For analysis on the partial government shutdown's impact in Southern Arizona, Arizona 360 turned to Brint Milward, director of the University of Arizona School of Government and Public Policy. MIlward said Tucson was affected most among major cities in the state.

"We have 3.3 percent of our workforce in Tucson are civilian government employees. Phoenix is only 1.1 percent. So that's 13,000 civilian civil servants who did not get paid, who did not do their jobs," Milward said.

Milward also discussed the upcoming deadline imposed by the Trump administration for lawmakers to reach a deal on border security or face another shutdown, and the lasting impact of the previous shutdown.

For the thousands of immigrants who have come to the U.S. in recent weeks seeking asylum, their claims join the backlog of hundreds of thousands of cases in immigration court. The shutdown exacerbated the issue as about three-quarters of the country's immigration judges were furloughed. Judges were unable to hear about 80,000 cases, according to Ashley Tabaddor, an immigration judge and president of the National Association of Immigration Judges.

"It is likely going to take months and months before those cases can be put on those calendars. And for the people who had trial dates during the shutdown, most likely those trial dates are going to be bumped up to the back of the line," Tabaddor said. "So that means that person will have to wait another two or three or more years before they can present their cases again."

Tabaddor also said the backlogs would be eased if the courts were removed from the authority of the Department of Justice and ran independently.

"Our courts have to be independent of our prosecutor. Independent of the parties who come before us," Tabaddor said. "What we have seen are the courts being used as a political tool as an extension of law enforcement policies."

"We have grown from under 300 judges to over 400 judges. But our backlog has grown from over 600,000 cases to over 800,000 cases. … Just having more judges, just throwing more money at it is not going to solve the problem."

Four volunteers with the humanitarian aid group No More Deaths were convicted in federal court last month on misdemeanor charges related to leaving food and water in the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge for migrants crossing the desert. It remains to be seen how the judge's findings impact other humanitarian aid groups along the border. Despite the legal outcome, No More Deaths spokesperson Catherine Gaffney said, "We succeeded in putting the border crisis on trial and really putting pressure on the government to answer, 'Why are you prosecuting humanitarian aid volunteers when thousands of people are dying in this desert?'"

Nancy Montoya followed the trial and reported on the group's response to the guilty findings, as well as how its tactics differ from groups with similar missions.

Featured in this story: Rev. Robin Hoover, Humane Borders co-founder; Catherine Gaffney, No More Deaths spokesperson; Billy Peard, ACLU Arizona attorney.

Arizona 360
Arizona 360 airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m. on PBS 6 and Saturdays at 8 p.m. on PBS 6 PLUS. See more from Arizona 360.
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