Judge Roger B. Colton has come under fire for reporting children that appear in his courtroom to immigration officials.
The Miami Herald, Jan. 19, 2004
WEST PALM BEACH — A judge is being criticized for openly questioning and often reporting the immigration status of abused, abandoned and neglected children in his courtroom.
Some lawyers call Roger B. Colton’s actions disturbing, saying he abuses his power by revealing to law enforcement details disclosed before him.
Colton says he is just doing his duty.
“They’re violating the law, and I’m a judge,” said Colton, whose background included nine years as a special agent with the FBI. “Don’t I have some type of obligation to the system to report it . . . when it’s smack-dab right out in front of me?”
At least four times since October, Colton has written down names, addresses and birth dates of immigrant children and their families and faxed it to the U.S. Border Patrol.
Barbara White, chief of the public defender’s juvenile division, says it is inappropriate for judges in any courtroom to report people to law enforcement. Most certainly not in a juvenile setting, where the clients are the most vulnerable, she said.
Most lawyers interviewed declined to comment on the record for fear of hurting their clients’ cases.
A former member of the governing board of the American Immigration Lawyers Association said Colton’s practice is “shocking.”
“He’s taken upon himself a duty he was not sworn to do,” said Mazen Sukkar, an immigration lawyer in Hollywood. “He’s a state judge enforcing federal law.”
By turning in illegals, Colton could prompt immigrants to stop coming forward as witnesses in cases, Sukkar said.
Legally, Colton is on firm ground, said Mike Hethmon, staff attorney for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
A recent federal court ruling in eastern Virginia supports a judge’s ability to report immigration information to law enforcement, Hethmon said.