This Week’s Horror Stories

love your neighbor no exceptions

A judge threatening a frightened two-year-old. The U.S. government shutting the door on asylum seekers. Border officials separating a twelve-year-old survivor of Hurricane Dorian from her family. 

The two-year-old Guatemalan boy was in immigration court with his mother, and he made noise, as two-year-olds do. The judge told him to be quiet. He was not quiet enough, for long enough. The judge got angry

“I have a very big dog in my office, and if you don’t be quiet, he will come out and bite you!” [Judge V. Stuart] Couch yelled.

“Couch continued, as a Spanish-language interpreter translated for the child, “Want me to go get the dog? If you don’t stop talking, I will bring the dog out. Do you want him to bite you?” Couch continued to yell at the boy throughout the hearing when he moved or made noise.”

This happened in 2016. A lawyer filed an official complaint, the matter was investigated, the judge “counseled” to behave differently. He was not removed from the bench, even though he said he had threatened other children with the dog and it worked better on them. He was not even demoted. The story resurfaced this week because the Trump administration has promoted Judge Couch and five others to the Justice Department’s Board of Immigration Appeals, at the same time increasing the power of the BIA. All six have a record of rejecting asylum cases at a rate much higher than the national average

The threat to have a dog bite a two-year-old doesn’t exactly show judicial temperament, but immigration courts are not exactly courts. This week, giant tent courts opened near the border, with the public barred from even seeing what goes on inside. No judges come to the tents: all hearings are by video conference with judges more than a hundred miles away. No media are allowed to witness the farce.

From this not-really-a-court in a Texas tent, move to the highest court in the land. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that the Trump administration ban on almost all asylum seekers at the southern border could be enforced until the cases challenging it make their way through the court system, which will take many months. 

The asylum ban says anyone who crosses through a third country on their way to the United States must apply for asylum in that country—regardless of whether that country is safe or has a functioning asylum system. That violates both U.S. asylum law and international human rights standards and treaties

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented from the decision, noting the procedural violations as well as the consequences for asylum seekers: 

“Although this Nation has long kept its doors open to refugees—and although the stakes for asylum seekers could not be higher—the Govern- ment implemented its rule without first providing the public notice and inviting the public input generally required by law.”

The dry legal language of the court’s one-paragraph decision does not hint at the desperation of asylum seekers waiting at the border.

 “Carlos Benjamin Dubon-Moro says that when someone shot his brother multiple times, he had no idea if those bullets were meant for him or if it was a random act of violence. The 27-year-old Guatemalan father of three said he had been receiving threats after campaigning for a political candidate before the shooting. That’s the problem in Guatemala, he told me: You just never know—and you better get out before you find out.”

His trip was long, difficult, and dangerous. He managed to get a first appearance before a U.S. immigration court. Does that mean he has a chance at safety? Or will the asylum ban also apply to him and more than 30,000 others who have had one U.S. immigration court hearing and then been sent back to wait in Mexico for a second court date months in the future? At this point, no one knows.

Finally, the plight of 12-year-old Kaytora Paul, whose home on Abaco Island was destroyed in Hurricane Dorian. Her parents, trying to find safety for their six children, sent Kaytora to the United States with her godmother. Once they arrived, U.S. immigration officials took Kaytora away because her godmother was not a blood relative

“Officials also refused to give the girl’s biological aunt, who had come to pick her up at the airport, custody. The young evacuee is currently being housed at His House Children’s Home in Miami Gardens, under the custody of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services….

“The mother, although having arrived in Miami on Tuesday, can’t pick her up. Paul was told she had to go through the process of applying to be her daughter’s sponsor with HHS. In order to get custody of her daughter, Paul would have to collect documentation that would prove she’s her mother — like a birth certificate, government identification as well as proof of address. In the past, this process has taken anywhere from weeks to months. 

“To make matters more challenging, Paul says U.S. officials told her that she can only stay in the U.S. until Sept. 26.”

The Trump administration has decided not to grant Temporary Protected Status to Bahamians after Hurricane Dorian.


About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet,, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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