John Oliver’s latest Last Week Tonight deep dive focuses on “a type of justice that you don’t get to watch on TV,” exposing some critical flaws in the immigration court system that will have you wondering whether “justice” is even close to the right word for what it serves.
Amidst many appalling recent headlines about ICE raids and detainments, it’s easy to lose sight of what happens next for those detainees: They’re sent to immigration court, an overwhelmed, under-equipped system that one immigration court judge likens to “doing death penalty cases in a traffic court setting.” And the problem is only intensifying as the U.S. faces a surge in Central American immigrants, a sharp increase in immigration enforcement and a Department of Justice that adds judges at an interminably slow pace, resulting in a staggering case backlog. Meanwhile, immigrants who spend years awaiting their hearings often watch their cases slip through their fingers in the interim before they are then forced to represent themselves if they are unable to afford legal representation—even if the immigrants in question are literal children.
Oliver’s story goes on to show that our broken immigration court system costs immigrants far more than their citizenship status—in some cases, it costs them their lives. Wisely, Oliver and the Last Week Tonight team end the segment on a silly note, albeit one that vividly illustrates just how absurd it is to ask a child to represent themselves in a court of law: Tot Bench, “the stupidest new court show imaginable,” starring none other than H. Jon Benjamin as an accused arsonist bedeviled by a bunch of three- and four-year-olds. “Is it stupid? Sure,” a voiceover intones. “But is it any dumber than how America’s immigration courts are run? Barely.”
Watch Oliver pull off his inimitable blend of information, indignation and entertainment below.